Former prisoner of North Korea builds university for his former captors
Decades after being imprisoned by North Korea on espionage charges, Dr. Kim Chin-Kyung is opening the first privately funded university in the north as a way to increase dialogue with the closed-off country.
Seoul, South Korea
On a Korean War battlefield in 1950, the young, patriotic Kim Chin-kyung, then just 15, lay limp on the ground, wounded by shrapnel. In the months leading up to that moment, nearly all of the 800 troops in his South Korean Army unit had been wiped out. He wasn't sure if he would make it, either. So he struck a deal with his creator. "I told God that if I survived, I would return the love to my enemies," he says – his enemies at the time being North Korean and Chinese soldiers.Skip to next paragraph
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Nearly 60 years later, Dr. Kim has kept his promise – but in a way that has dropped the jaws of even the most hard-headed naysayers. He's the founder of the first privately funded university in communist North Korea, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a $35 million graduate school in the capital, Pyongyang, expected to start classes in April.
With an international faculty, courses taught in English, and eventually 2,600 students picked by the North Korean government, his work is a monumental step in opening relations between the two Koreas, which have been divided for more than half a century, his supporters say.
Kim first conceived of PUST about 15 years ago, when he decided educating youngsters in science and technology would be the best way to open diplomatic bridges between the North and the South.
"Educating people is a way to share what they love, and share their values," muses Kim who, ironically, was imprisoned in Pyongyang in 1998 on suspicion of being an American spy.
Around the 248-acre campus will be a "Pyongyang Techno Park" in which foreign firms are invited to invest. Ben Rosen, an early investor in Compaq Computer, who toured the construction site in 2008, has given the project his thumbs up.
The university will start out modestly, with only 150 students enrolled in the first class. At first, PUST will consist of three schools: industry and management; information and communication technology; and agriculture, food, and life sciences. Within a few years the university plans to add an engineering school and a public health school, Kim says.
Even after four years of delays, the project's humble beginnings haven't deterred Kim (who now goes by the Western first name of James). After all, this is the second time he's built a college in an isolated communist country, an earlier success that in part led the North Korean government to approve PUST in the first place.
In 1992, at a time when China was much more closed to foreigners, Kim, a philosopher and theologian by training, founded the first foreign-owned university in northeastern China, called the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST).