Lessons in Juche: What Is It Like to Study Abroad in North Korea?

Lessons in Juche: What Is It Like to Study Abroad in North Korea?
Sep 21, 2016 Translated by eChinacities.com

Editor’s Note: A number of Chinese students currently attend university in North Korea. This translated article profiles a Chinese student from He Feng who attended university in the DPRK for five years. While the article glosses over the harsh realities of life for many in North Korea, it is an interesting look into the life of an international student.

While most Chinese students chose to study abroad in the United States, a small number chose to study in North Korea. What is it like to study abroad in the world’s most isolated and mysterious dictatorship? A Chinese student named He Feng (pseudonym) spoke with us about the five years he spent at North Korea’s Kim Il Sung University.

Why North Korea?
He Feng is from Dandong, China and is about to graduate from Kim Il Sung university. The two North Korean university semesters run from September to mid-December and March to July. He Feng is not the only Chinese student at Kim Il Sung- he has classmates from Dandong, Zhejiang, Henan and other provinces. Chinese students can apply to study at Kim Il Sung University and Kim Hyong Jik University of Education- the top two universities in the DPRK.

In order to apply to Kim Il Sung University, He Feng had to had to personally apply with the Korean embassy and explain why he wanted to attend school in North Korea. He had to take a special examination and then was placed in a school. Chinese students can study language at DPRK universities. Chinese and other foreign students do not take classes with North Korean students.


There are many Russian and Chinese students currently studying in North Korea. In addition, He Feng said that he has classmates from Laos, Cambodia, Mongolia and other countries. There are even students from France and Canada.

Daily Life in Pyongyang
He Feng said that tuition for a North Korean university costs $5,000 a year. Total fees come to $7,300. This includes room, board and tuition but does not include spending money and travel. The students were able to go on an organized tour during the Lunar New Year.

He said that foreign students were fairly comfortable in North Korea. The food- mostly North Korean- was decent, and the chef occasionally made Chinese food. He lived in a basic single room with shared dormitory bathrooms. “The dorms had a TV, but they were old fashioned. They showed three or four central government television channels. There was also a movie theatre in the city with cheap tickets, but most students were not very interested in the movies they showed.”

There were also several North Korean students living in the dorms with the international students. He Feng said that these students were the best in their class and were placed in the dorms to help the foreign students. They were generally very confident and had wealthy parents.

There are portraits of North Korea’s leaders in many of the school’s buildings. Students must respect the portrait and North Korean students regularly clean and dust the pictures. Students are not required to wear a special badge honoring the leaders. He Feng said that some North Korean students wear the badge and it is not easy to get. North Koreans generally do not give foreign students badges because they do not want the students to lose the badges.

The university does not have many restrictions on what students can wear. International students are allowed to wear jeans, as long as they look appropriate. North Korean students wear uniforms. The boys wear black dress pants with a white shirt and red tie, and women wear a black skirt.  

Accessing the Internet can be difficult in North Korea. In He Feng’s first year of university, smartphones were not common yet and students only had local mobile phones. By his second year, smartphones had come to North Korea. Many international students used iPhones or Chinese-brand smartphones.

International students are able to purchase a SIM card with the help of a local teacher. The North Korean teacher must co-sign for the SIM card in case there is an issue. SIM cards are slow and expensive- about $120 for 100 MB of data. There is also a cable Internet connection for international students in their dorm.

RMB, U.S. Dollars, Euros, and Yen are accepted in a few stores in Pyongyang. Students are allowed to shop at selected North Korean stores, but items at the stores are expensive. Most items sold are imported, mainly from China.

Academics in the DPRK
In his five years at the university, He Feng spent his mornings in class and his afternoon studying in the dorms.

Students take classes in Korean and study the North Korean Constitution and political system, philosophy, history, classics, and advanced mathematics. He Feng said that Juche, North Korea’s political ideology, is incorporated in all subjects. There is a quote from a North Korean leader in the beginning of every chapter in the textbooks.

While the day to day schoolwork was not very intense, international students were busy during exams. He Feng said that students study for the tests in class for three weeks and then have a few days off to cram for the exams. Students are tested in reading, writing and recitation.

The university also organized opportunities for students to watch parades and other major celebrations. Students attended the celebrations at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun for the anniversaries of the birth and death of North Korea’s leaders. He Feng said that he could see the nation’s top leaders when he watched a military parade.

In October 2015, He Feng and the other international students attended a Moranbong Band concert in Pyongyang for the 70th anniversary of the Korean Worker’s Party. “The other students and I got to see the Moranbong Band. There was a portrait of the late leader on a giant screen. The audience gave the band a standing ovation and the Korean students around me burst into tears,” said He Feng.

The university organized trips for the international students within North Korea. Students would not be able to leave Pyongyang if the university did not organize trips.

“The university took us to tourist destinations like Mount Kumgang, Myohyangsan, Wonsan, Kaesong and Nampo.” He Feng learned that when you visit statues and portraits of North Korean leaders, the group will first salute the monument and lay flowers and then the guides will give a speech. He said that tours are almost like extracurricular school activities.

Source: QQ News

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Keywords: study abroad in North Korea university in North Korea


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Curious as to how the foreign students of N.Korea intend to use their college education from N. Korea! What jobs or careers can they anticipate from their experiences?

Sep 24, 2016 21:49 Report Abuse



Aaah North Korea

Sep 23, 2016 17:24 Report Abuse