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Personal touch 'key' to narrowing South-North divide

Choi Chi-hun

Publication Date : 06-08-2012


Open-minded young people need to view North Korea on a more personal level to minimise the culture shock that will come once the two Koreas are reunified, according to Choi Chi-hun, a 20-year-old participant of the Young Leaders for the Millennium Development Goal programme.

As part of the programme, the participants are organising a TED conference concerning the two Koreas to be held next year.

Through the conference, Choi and his fellow organisers hope to target younger people to help them develop open but realistic views about the North.

“Young people have not had fixed opinions (about North Korea) for a long time; they are still malleable,” Choi said.

“One of the best ideas we’ve had includes inviting North Korean defectors and experts to approach the issue from different angles in order to develop three-dimensional views.”

Choi, the youngest participant of the Young Leaders programme, is currently studying biology at the Northwestern University in the US and says that the inter-Korean issue could be approached from a “biological” angle.

“[Biology] doesn’t necessarily have to do with cells, DNA or other micro-scale things. I think that interpersonal relations have biological relevance.” He added that while the two Koreas are engaged in an ideological confrontation, there is little difference between the residents of the two countries on a biological level.

“After reading books by Dr. Lee Jong-wook and Father Lee Tae-seok, I felt that now is a time when we need to understand each other as one human being to another.”

Dr. Lee is a former chief of the World Health Organisation, and Father Lee was a Catholic priest who worked in Sudan.

Choi, who has been studying in the US since fourth grade, says that he became interested in the issue of unification through questions directed to him regarding his country of origin.

“When I say ‘I am from Korea,’ it is followed by the question ‘North or South?’ Since high school I have questioned why we need to fight when we are one people and share the same history,” Choi said.

He said such ideas have taken shape since he began participating in the Young Leaders programme where he met many like-minded individuals.

He says that the people of the two Koreas should see each other as all being Korean and human beings rather than as individuals of differing ideologies, but that today’s society does not provide any tools to facilitate such efforts.

“This is one of the reasons we are organizing a TED conference on South and North Koreas. We want to show people the realities of North Korea and increase awareness. That way, when people are finally able to go to North Korea, the culture shock will be reduced. This will bring forward the day when we can meet on a person-to-person level,” Choi said.


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