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[Readings]

Customs of the Country

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By Suki Kim, from notes she took during teacherorientation sessions at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, included in her book, Without You, There Is No Us, out next month from Crown. In 2011 Kim taught English for two semesters at PUST, a foreign-run private institution in North Korea founded by American and South Korean Christian evangelicals. Kim’s article “The System of Defecting” was published in the July 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Dress for class as if going to a work meeting. Jeans are forbidden. Kim Jong Il does not like blue jeans, because he associates them with America.

When you step outside the campus — which won’t happen except for shopping or sightseeing trips — do not approach or start a conversation with anybody. If you must, there should be a good reason.

If a student comes to you and asks for a Bible, you should be very polite and say that you cannot do that. There is always a chance that these requests are made in order to test you. One faculty member was tricked by a minder and then asked to leave.

Be careful with your terminology: Great Leader, Dear Leader, Precious Leader. Better yet, just stay away from discussing them at all. Be careful about images too. For example, Air Koryo offers in-flight magazines. You take one to your office and it has a picture of Kim Jong Il, and let’s say you end up sitting on it by mistake. Then you are in big trouble. Same with the portrait of Kim Il Sung on the pins every North Korean wears. Do not throw away, fold, tear, or damage any visual representation of them.

Be careful with gifts. You must not give one thing to one person; you have to give it to everyone. Otherwise, it could be considered a bribe.

Do not say Bukhan (North Korea) or Namhan (South Korea). Choson (the name for the last Korean kingdom) is what North Korea calls itself.

Do not make comparisons. For example, do not say their food is different from yours because that could be construed as critical.

Never hint that there is something wrong with their country.


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September 2014