My time in Korea as a British English teacher was all spent in South Korea (or Republic of Korea). In the South, North Korea is a land no one talks about (although many still have family in) which became divided from the South as a result of the 1950-3 war. I decided to attend the lecture by teachers from the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) at the London School of Economics on Thursday, February 16, to learn more about the strange other-world of North Korea.
The first part of the lecture was delivered by a Colin McCulloch, a British English teacher at PUST who had been working there since 2010. PUST was founded as a public-private partnership in North Korea, with a Christian ethos. “The whole enterprise is motivated by the faith background to those of us teaching there,” said Mr McCulloch. Another young Briton there, Hannah Davey, also spoke briefly about her experience of teaching English in North Korea at PUST.
The main part of the lecture was delivered by PUST’s President, Dr James Chin-Kyung Kim. Most courses at PUST are taught in English. “How do we instil ingegrity into a country where most people are just struggling to meet their basic necessities in life, such as food and clothing?” he asked. “We are teaching them English, basic modern agricultural technology and basic communication skills which they need to complete the courses.”
In classic Korean style, he challenged his smartly-dressed South Korean audience to strive to achieve more, and be motivated by a sense of vision. He had been motivated in his own life and work by neither capitalism, nor communism, but ‘loveism’, the Christian idea of loving one’s neighbour. He emphasized the European education of Chinese leaders such as Chou En-Lai and Deng Xiaoping, saying this was why China had not gone the way of North Korea economically. To accusations that PUST was an outpost of Western imperialism, he pointed to the internationalist ethos of PUST and its worldwide connections.
Among its several distinguished patrons are Lord David Alton, Liberal member of the House of Lords. It is also twinned with the Yanbian University of Science & Technology (which Dr Kim is Chancellor of), located in China’s ethnic Korean Jilin province. A promotional film described how lectures were delivered there in English, Korean and Chinese. Graduates of YUST went on to work with Samsung, LG and Hyundai subsidiaries in different regions of China, or go on to pursue masters degrees in countries such as Japan, the US, and Switzerland as well as the UK.
The lecture was well-delivered by both teachers, and also well-illustrated with slides. The students from the LSE’S Korean Society thanked Dr Kim at the end, and gave him a leaving present.