This past March, I was asked to lead a group of Harvard students on a trek to North Korea. I had never expected to find myself back in North Korea, but given my previous experience in the country, it made sense for me to assist with the logistics and execution of this trip for my classmates.
I was first inclined to say no. As an ethnic Korean who is open to the idea of working in South Korea in the future, I knew that having your name associated with the North in any way shape or form is not necessarily a good thing. There is still stigma attached to those who engage with the North and Southern employers are wary of individuals with any connections to the North for reasons obvious. And there are also more personal, family-related reasons for me not going that I will not delve into here.
But then I looked at the proposed itinerary: Pyongyang, Kaesong, Wonsan, Hamhung, Hamju.
Hamju is the ancestral home, the gohyang, of my father’s family – a village no one in our family had visited since prior to the break of the Korean War.