How Does It Feel To Be in North Korea during Rising Tensions?

Through our work we have the unique opportunity to be in contact with people on the ground and get a sense of what it feels like within the country itself.

Our experience so far in 2017 has been less affected by the breaking headlines compared to 2013 when tensions were also high. This may seem surprising at first, but the reality is that North Koreans have lived so much of their lives around an intense narrative and have been through the rise and and fall of tensions multiple times.

Furthermore, the majority of North Koreans have limited regular access to international news sources and therefore their perception of the situation is less affected by the international reaction.

In addition to reading our DPRK partners, our volunteer workshop leaders also have a chance to be on the ground to get a sense of what’s on the minds of North Koreans. Hear from one of our most recent workshop leaders from Vietnam about what it feels like in North Korea.


Describe the general mood while you were there:

Things seem relatively normal in Pyongyang. Families and friends were out having dinner and drinks, going to the grocery store, etc. and there was no real sense of anxiety. I found it very striking actually how orderly everything in the city was. No one was particularly rowdy and everyone minded their own business. Not chaotic at all.

Tell us more about the workshop participants. What kinds of questions did the North Koreans ask you? What were they most curious about?

They were a mix of women and men around my age (late 20s early 30’s) from various backgrounds (government, academia, business). They were pretty shy during my Real Estate presentation, but afterwards came up to me with a ton of questions. Everyone had very specific and pointed questions, even the people who had no previous experience and exposure to real estate concepts. Their curiosity was fantastic. When I discussed the taxation, zoning and planning laws of Vietnam, they seemed encouraged to hear that the laws were somewhat similar to their own. The participants were also very eager to find out more and discuss recent international financial events with me, and seemed very aware of their own current economic situation. But despite the challenging economic environment they work under, they still wanted to learn as much as possible and use their newly acquired knowledge to create their own visions and ambitions for the future.

What do you think is most important to the North Koreans you met?

It was definitely not politics, missiles, or anything else most people see in the headlines. The people I met were just like us-- focused on their families, jobs, and how to live their best life. What I really appreciated about the trip was how I got to mingle with normal North Korean citizens and hear about their daily lives, listen to their ambitions, and share my own experiences with them in a helpful way.

These anecdotes help remind us that there is so much more happening in North Korea than the typical political narrative. The current situation solidifies our mission to continue bringing knowledge into the country through education. No one knows what will happen with North Korea in the next 6 months or even 10 years from now, but in any scenario, business knowledge will be a fundamental part of development.

We cannot wait until there is more certainty or for the politics work out before we get on the ground and start fostering an entrepreneurial mindset. The fact of the matter is that there are ambitious, intelligent, and capable North Koreans who want to build and manage their own businesses and there are scarce resources for them to utilize without our workshops.