Knowledge, the great unifier: A look at UBC's little-known relationship with North Korea
Published Tuesday, January 16, 2018 6:03PM PST Last Updated Tuesday, January 16, 2018 7:13PM PST
As world leaders gather in Vancouver to address the North Korean nuclear crisis, a professor at the University of British Columbia is quietly fostering relations with the Asian country through an exchange of knowledge instead of threats.
"I happen to believe that educators are powerful agents of change and educational institutions like UBC can function as a powerful medium in pursuing engagement and co-operation," said Kyung-Ae Park, a political science professor who also runs the school's Canada-DPRK Knowledge Partnership Program.
Launched in 2011, the initiative brings groups of North Korean professors to Canada for six months at a time.
The scholars take courses in business, finance and trade alongside UBC students. They also have an opportunity to improve their English and learn about Canadian society.
"The reason I chose professors as a target group is that they are teaching students. When they go back…they can transfer the knowledge through their teaching to the students, most of whom will become the next generation of decision-makers in that society."
Park said she has already seen signs of that knowledge being passed down during her regular visits to North Korea.
"I find that they create new courses based on what they have learned at UBC and they incorporate some of the theories and perspectives and concepts in their existing courses."
Others, she said, have written books or translated English textbooks into Korean.
Representatives from 20 countries met in Vancouver for a first day of talks Tuesday amid an escalating war of words between North Korea and the United States.
By the afternoon, the message behind the gathering was clear: Pyongyang will have to end its nuclear weapons program if it hopes to avoid sanctions and restore relations with the international community.
Park, however, said UBC’s academic partnership with the country is a "purely educational, academic program which does not have any political agenda.
"There were many political ups and downs. Everybody made a real effort to make this program keep going," she said, including North Korean officials who have remained open-minded about the partnership and a Canadian government that has been helpful in securing visas for the scholars.
Now, Park hopes to expand the program to include more fields of study such as environmental issues and forestry.
"We started the program with the belief that access to knowledge, the right to education is a universal human right.”
With files from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber and The Canadian Press