Yes, There's A Summer Camp Dedicated To Learning About North Korea : Parallels On a beach resort in southern South Korea, the government sponsors camps each year where kids as young as 11 are taught about North Koreans, to prepare for a peaceful "reunification" — one day.

Yes, There's A Summer Camp Dedicated To Learning About North Korea

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For children these days, it seems there's a summer camp for everything - sports, music, theater camps, computer camps. Still, South Korea has managed to add an extra twist to this extracurricular enrichment. NPR's Elise Hu reports from a summer camp that is all about North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Korean).

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Snap a couple selfies. Roll in your suitcase to a sprawling beachside resort lined with palm trees. Check in.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Korean).

HU: And before long, you're quizzing North Korean defectors in a hotel banquet room where you'll stay.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Speaking Korean).

HU: This is what camp is like if you're one of the 120 South Korean ninth-graders sent to Unification Leader Camp, a government-sponsored getaway to teach the youth about the North.

EUNHA PARK: My name Eunha Park. I'm 16 years old.

HU: Park is from Seongnam in Korea's Gyeonggi province. She wants to be here. Like the other kid campers, she's grown up with the idea that the two Koreas should reunite. Despite 70 years of post-Korean War tensions, the goal of reunification has never faded.

PARK: (Through interpreter) It's widely known that it's necessary and important. But I think - I'm worried because there seems to be no prospects.

HU: That's why the South Korean government's official Unification Ministry exists. One charge is to keep unification hopes alive among younger generations. Sung Chan-young is a manager from the ministry here in Jeju to observe.

SUNG CHAN-YOUNG: (Through interpreter). As time goes on, the awareness about unification becomes weaker. When need these campus to help the kids think about being leaders in unification one day.

HU: The government started these camps across South Korea in 2012. They reach about 4,300 students each year. At the start of this two-day session, kids open up by sharing what they know about the North.

KANG DAWON: (Speaking Korean).

HU: Kang Dawon lists defectors, dictatorship and spies. She adds she thinks that North Korean spies would be very handsome.


HU: Over the course of camp, the kids make bracelets called unification bracelets of hope, hear lectures about North Korea policy and act out their own music video versions of a government-sponsored unification song.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh - one dream for one Korea.

HU: It's a "We Are The World" of sorts for the Koreas. Despite ongoing hopes of reconciliation, cooperation at the top government levels has been cut off in response to the North's nuclear tests. But these camps continue.

SUNG: (Through interpreter) So at a high level, there is this dualistic structure. That's what we tell the kids.

HU: Which means these kid campers have to balance the same paradox faced by South Korean policymakers - how can they imagine unifying with a North Korea from which they're increasingly isolated? South Koreans aren't allowed to read North Korean news sites or social media without the threat of getting arrested for breaching national security.

SARAH SON: It is really a pretty serious contradiction that does exist there.

HU: Sarah Son is a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. She says the contradiction is tied into the South Korean state seeing itself as a parent to the people.

SON: There's just this sense that they want to keep this story safe. They want to keep it secure. They want to keep it within tightly controlled realms.

HU: Once such realm is this camp itself. The beach is just outside. But kids don't see it because the windows are covered up with blackout shades. Much like South Korea's hopes for unification, you can learn a little at this camp, but within limits. Elise Hu, NPR News, Jeju, South Korea.

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