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Students in prison state

At a sprawling $35 million campus in Pyongyang, 146 North Koreans study for master’s degrees in food and life science, information technology and agriculture.

At a sprawling $35 million campus in Pyongyang, 146 North Koreans study for master’s degrees in food and life science, information technology and agriculture. Selected by the government, they can even earn MBAs — though the degree is called Industry and Management.

They attend a new university, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) — and it’s private. “It’s a miracle,” says Kim Chin-kyung, a South Korean businessman who founded PUST, tells Metro.

Indeed it is. Only 12 years ago, North Korea threw Kim in prison, accusing him of being a CIA agent. That was his second North Korean captivity; during the Korean War, Kim was a 15-year-old prisoner of war. While captive, Kim made a deal with God to always love his enemies if God let him survive. “After I was released from the POW camp, I never criticized the North Koreans,” says Kim. “Instead, I paid them back with love. And in the end, they invited me to found a university.”

In the 1990s, Communist China allowed Kim, by then the wealthy owner of a fashion chain in Florida, to found the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST). Today YUST ranks among China’s top universities. Kim, who has a doctorate in economics, provided funds for YUST, whose motto is Truth, Peace, Love. “Peace comes at a price,” he explains. “We capitalists have the resources to pay that price.”

In a move that surprised even believers in miracles, North Korea has now allowed Kim to build PUST — aided by donations from evangelical Christians in the U.S. and South Korea.

PUST welcomed its first students last month. “I’m not interested in politics,” insists Kim. “My motivation is to bring peace to our region, and the only way to do it is through education. I went to university in England and discovered what the EU does with the ERASMUS program. That’s what I want to do for East Asia.”

European and American professors teach the young Communist cadre. In the future, PUST will admit more students. But, says Kim: “We don’t want big numbers. We’re training leaders.”

Decades of scaring the world

Ever since South Korea declared independence in 1950, North Korea has been provoking the rest of the world.

Its 1950 invasion sparked the Korean War. Thirty-six years later, North Korea announced that it wouldn’t honor the armistice and sent troops to the Korean demilitarized zone. Today, the country claims to have nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year, North Korea sank the South Korean warship Cheonan. And in November, North Korea attacked the South, killing two soldiers. South Korea has vowed to retaliate if the North attacks again.

Heat, imported food and basketball

PUST’s students and 13 professors (from Canada, Holland, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S.) live in newly built university housing, featuring heat, water and backup electrical generators. While taken for granted elsewhere, these amenities are rare in North Korea. The campus also includes PUST support staff, including a South Korean-American couple that cooks for the university using foods imported from China. Staff members teach students games like Frisbee and basketball. “We were prepared for the students to be restrained, but they’re normal,” says PUST’s academic coordinator Norma Nichols. “And since North Korea spends a lot of time teaching school children English, their English is quite good.”

 
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