Life for the rare foreign students who study in Pyongyang

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Authorities rarely stopped Australian postgraduate student Alek Sigley to ask for identification when he lived in Pyongyang, unless he was trying to catch the metro with one of his classmates who’s European and sticks out.

“Everything is pretty quickly smoothed over when we tell them that we’re foreign students and we show them some ID,” Sigley said. “But when I’ve gone alone, actually they’ve never stopped me, so I’ve kind of been able to blend in.”

Overall, Sigley said his experience with security in Pyongyang was “fairly laid back,” with authorities who were friendly and showed an “innocent curiosity” in foreign students like himself. “People there are people just like anywhere else,” he told ABC News. “They’re curious, especially in a sort of place where we don’t really get to see a lot of foreigners.”

According to Sigley, North Korea is one of the least wired nations in the world. Internet users are scant, with access restricted to regime elites, foreigners and select university students. Only the ruling elite and foreigners have direct access to the unrestricted global internet, as the outside world knows it. Privileged North Koreans use a domestic intranet network that is tightly-controlled by the government and only accessible from within the country’s borders.

Because he was a foreign student, Sigley said he had access to both. There’s a computer room in the foreign student dormitory at Kim Il Sung University where students can access the internet. But Sigley also used the domestic intranet service to play video games with the other foreign students, he said.

The country’s cellular networks along with a relatively new Wi-Fi service allow citizens in Pyongyang with mobile phones and other portable devices to access the intranet network, but not the global internet, according to Sigley.

North Korean laws and customs generally keep foreigners and locals separate in most aspects of life in Pyongyang, according to Sigley. For instance, foreigners are allowed to bring qualifying mobile phones into the country and purchase a SIM card with a local carrier or rent a handset with a SIM card; but they aren’t allowed to call locals, whose cellphones operate on a separate network. Read more

[ABC News]

This entry was posted in by Grant Montgomery.

One reference to “Life for the rare foreign students who study in Pyongyang

  1. […] Sigley said he had also seen an increasingly colorful and modern array of womenswear promoted in North Korean fashion magazines, which are regulated by the government. High heels are all the rage now, and every woman — from office workers to security guards — can be seen wearing them in Pyongyang, according to Sigley. Read more […]

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