In a bid to increase its tourist sector, North Korea is advertising for English-speaking volunteers to come over and teach the country’s tourism students in Pyongyang.
The new month-long travel scheme takes place at the capital’s Tourism College and aims to improve the language skills of North Korea’s future tour guides and teach them the basics of working with tourists.
Each volunteer must pay a fee of €1000 Euros (£765) which includes travel, accommodation and excursions and Juche Travel Services (JTS), the certified travel company running the course, is hoping to take five people on trips in May and November but says it would consider alternative dates.
JTS says it's looking for people with a Tefl (teaching English as a foreign language) qualification or a background in tourism management, “who can contribute positively to growing the country’s tourism industry.” It promises the experience will be full of “unparalleled levels of interaction and engagement with local Koreans.".
One 21-year-old British student Benjamin Griffin was a guest English language teacher at the Pyongyang Tourism College for a month last summer, and described his experience as a “wildly unique but deeply enriching learning experience for both you and students alike.”
He taught a class of 44 students, some of which had studied English for over nine years, and often used classic television show Only Fools and Horses to help teach his class.
This proved to be one of his most popular methods and speaking to The Guardian Griffin said: “My students were on an advanced level although I’m sure that they felt Del boy’s cockney slang was almost a different language in itself. Even so comedy scenes such as Del boy’s ‘falling through the bar’ or ‘the chandelier repair’ transcended any language barrier.”
Travel agencies estimate 4,000 to 6,000 people visit North Korea every year and although the secretive nature of the country may make some wary of visiting, this also appears to be part of its appeal. Speaking to the LA Times, Cyrus Kirkpatrick has visited North Korea twice, explaining “this idea of a country that no one is really allowed to visit always fascinated me.”
Those who do visit North Korea have no opportunity to explore on their own as they are guided by pre-prepared tours. David Thompson from JTS claims this will still be the case for the volunteer teachers. “To my knowledge there will be no opportunity to wander freely” he told The Guardian, but Griffin claims that he never felt closely monitored during his time there and was allowed to be flexible with his itinerary.
In spite of people’s reservations about visiting North Korea, Thompson believes that promoting tourism can only be a good thing: “By building bridges and engaging with the country, you are helping to break down mistrust and preconceptions that have persisted for the past 60-odd years.”
Others have also put forward this argument claiming that a better understanding with the country could be the key to changes within the totalitarian regime they have in place.