North Korea is a country in transition, moving from isolation to fast food, smartphones and plastic surgery
Many people would balk at the idea of a westerner setting foot in North Korea, which is known internationally for its nuclear weapons, human rights record and its highly regimented, militaristic society.
They might be somewhat shocked to hear then, that one young Australian thats me would give up two years of his 20s to study at Kim Il-sung University, North Koreas top university, in the countrys capital, Pyongyang.
And perhaps theyll be curious to hear what life in Pyongyang is like as one of only a handful of long-term western residents, one of only three western students, and the only Australian in the entire country.
I am well aware that my experiences are very much those of a foreigner. But I do think Ive gleaned some invaluable insights into how Pyongyang residents live, work and play.
I had been interested in socialism ever since studying the Russian Revolution at high school, while my sinologist father, Chinese mother and childhood love of Japanese anime had sparked a passion for Chinese and Japanese.
I went on to study in China and lived on the same dormitory floor as the North Korean contingent. I became intrigued by their lapel pins depicting their national leaders and the North Korean flag stickers on their doors (no other students did this).
The interactions I had with these students really piqued my curiosity they were completely at odds with the stereotypical view of a brainwashed people.
I soon began learning all I could about everyday life in the country, from its architecture and fashion to how its people viewed the world. Eventually, I managed to arrange a trip to Pyongyang.
I became particularly close to two Koreans who worked for a local tour company, and in partnership with them founded my own tour operator specialising in educational tourism to North Korea, Tongil Tours, through which I began to make regular trips to the country leading groups of western tourists.
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