One day during lunch break from my summer journalism internship, I found myself sitting at a table across from two North Korean defectors at a Japanese restaurant in the backstreets of Seoul. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be sharing a meal with two individuals who had lived through so much. Even more, this was just an ordinary lunch out with coworkers from my office at Daily NK, an online news publication which reports the latest developments inside of North Korea.
Although my North Korean coworkers did not speak English, we were able to connect over good food and a shared dedication to our organization’s mission of providing the world with accurate information on one of the world’s most opaque countries. This was a reoccurring theme throughout much of my summer—people from different parts of the world coming together over tables filled with bulgolgi, rice, kimchi, and the more than occasional bottle of soju.
When we were not busy writing or translating news articles at my small office, coworkers would volunteer to teach each other our native languages. We had Chinese lessons on Mondays and Wednesdays, Korean on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my fellow American intern and I taught English lessons as well. These language exchanges and frequent social gatherings after work created a bond within our office that kept everyone motivated in working towards the at times frustrating cause of North Korean human rights.
Outside of work I enjoyed immersing myself in Korean culture. I mastered the dance moves to this summer’s Kpop hit “Gangnam Style” and can now quickly maneuver through Seoul’s crowded yet extremely clean subway system. Aside from discussing North Korean issues, I also enjoyed talking about Korean dramas with Korean friends from my host school, Ewha Women’s University, while sharing a bowl of the delicious summer dessert, patbingsu, consisting of shaved ice and red beans.
My summer in Seoul was extremely rewarding on multiple levels. I used my last week in Korea to explore some of the other parts of the southern Korean peninsula. When I return to Harvard, I look forward to continuing to study Korean and writing my senior thesis on North Korea.