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Detail of a tradition gateway in China.

This summer, a group of Lafayette students will explore the diverse and interconnected cultures of Northeast Asia through a new, faculty-led course to China, North Korea, and South Korea.

The course is a first for Lafayette and will also be the first time an American institution is offering a for-credit study abroad program bringing students to North Korea.

Through the two-and-a-half-week course, Interconnections in Northeast Asia, students will spend five days in each country. It is being taught by Allison Alexy, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, and Seo-Hyun Park, assistant professor of government and law, and is being organized with the help of the P’yongyang Project, a Beijing-based nonprofit organization.

A statue of Kim Il Sung in Kaesong, North Korea.

Students will gain an understanding of the history and politics within East Asia since 1945 and examine how the countries’ contemporary politics, economies, and cultures fit into an increasingly interconnected world.

“I hope the students gain a much greater knowledge of the diversity of these three countries and their cultures,” says Alexy, “But at the same time, look at how they are fundamentally linked through issues such as trade and security policy.”

A key aspect of the course is the numerous opportunities through discussion and other activities for Lafayette students to interact with students from Chinese and Korean institutions. In China, students will hike along the Great Wall and engage in a session on U.S. and Chinese relations with students from Peking University. They will meet with students from Kim Il Sung University and Kim Ch’aek Science and Technology University in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. In South Korea, students will hold discussions with professors and students at Yonsei University about Korean unification.

Kyongbok Palace in Seoul, South Korea.

“Students learn a lot from people of their own age group,” says Alexy. “Interaction with people from radically different backgrounds provides a learning experience that a professor just cannot teach.”

Some other highlights will be a lunch discussion on minority rights with the Uighur people of Central Asia and visits to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in China; a visit to the Migok cooperative farm in Sariwon city and attending the famous Arirang Mass Games in North Korea; and exploring South Korean technologies at Sang-am Digital Media City and the Korean Folk Village living museum in Yongin. Students will also take guided tours of the DMZ (Korean demilitarized zone) by military personnel in both North and South Korea.

Due to the political climate in North Korea, a number of precautions have been put in place to secure a safe learning environment for the students. All students must have their visas and proper documentation in order to participate. At any time the North Korea portion of the course can be cancelled and the Chinese and South Korean portions extended.

Should the need arise, there are plans to evacuate immediately from the country via charter flight or train. Should a student become ill or require other medical attention, he or she would be transported out of the country or treated at a clinic operated by the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang.

Alexy and Park stress that American citizens have been able to legally travel to North Korea for many years, including Alexy in June of 2010, and tourists with proper documentation have been welcome in the country.

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