In college, one of the key skills that students learn is how to be critical of what paradigms and norms they have been brought up with. This takes a few different forms, whether that be actually experiencing other cultures for the first time or being challenged to view history from a different lens than what was considered standard in high-school. However, there are a few areas that are not as frequently discussed even in higher academia. I believe that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is one of those topics. The presence of a DPRK mission to the United Nations in New York City gives work related to the UN a new and personal dimension that is not accessible to most North Americans. This was one reason that the MCC UN office decided to hold our Student Seminar this year on the topic "North Korea: Towards Peace and a New Beginning."
Speakers at the seminar covered a range of topics, including advocacy from an MCC perspective; a multi-dimensional history of the Korean War and its lingering impact on current events; a UN perspective on the Korean conflict; the construct of credibility in the media; and finally how we can engage with advocacy around the DPRK. Students also took a tour of the UN Headquarters to get a look at an important space in international relations, and had the opportunity to hear some words from a DPRK diplomat stationed in NYC. Having these discussions is very important to share with young people, as MCC is one of the few NGOs with actual projects in the DPRK. Therefore, being able to discuss the DPRK and the messages that we receive about it in our society (especially as Americans) is vital to MCC's work. The United States has had volatile relations with the DPRK for many years, and as a result of that, the messages we get about people within the country are generally negative. Thus, a higher than usual proportion of Canadian students at the seminar made for even better discussion.
Throughout the seminar, students asked engaging questions and applied their own personal experience and knowledge to discussions. Our office greatly enjoyed seeing college students' interest in advocacy and MCC's international work. They were receptive to the messages that our office sends about the work we do, even in countries that have volatile relations with others. As we look forward to next year's Student Seminar, we will think back on this year to guide us in reaching more students and continuing to make our office's advocacy work tangible to our constituents.
Victoria Wiebe is a Program Assistant at Mennonite Central Committee's United Nations Office.