The Square Peg in a Round Hole

One of the best perk of our work is the opportunity to read what young North Koreans write when applying for our overseas programs. I often laugh or smile on reading some heart-warming aspirations, or get a sober reminder that North Koreans live in a very different society. One thing that caught my eye is how North Koreans use English idioms that are no longer commonly used. A candidate talked about how he was a “square peg in a round hole” on his first job, failing to fit into a role that was prescribed for him. Luckily for him, he eventually found his calling in a new position that clearly suited his expressive character.

Other metaphors reflect the militarization of North Korean society. One candidate was advised to “stand local, see global,” and “studied against the clock” to perfect her language skills. She called English her “gun” and talked about how her goal of “stand local, see global” was a battle in which she was “armed with a powerful weapon [English] to guarantee the victory in battle.”

Another theme that emerged is how personal aspirations are often linked to national imperatives. Many candidates talked about their desire to learn how to help the country’s economy grow, or how they need to obtain knowledge that would enable them to improve relationships between their country and the rest of the world. Others focus on the desire to learn and to gain new experiences, but tied this back to how they want to improve their organizations.

It is a lot of work picking the right people for programs, but it is also where we get our fun from in this thankless job!