In 2010, while working on a PhD in South Korea, Andray Abrahamian visited the other Korea, a country he had studied for years but never seen. He returned determined to find a way to work closely with North Koreans. Ten years and more than thirty visits later, Being in North Korea tells the story of his experiences helping set up and run Choson Exchange, a non-profit that teaches North Koreans about entrepreneurship and economic policy.
Abrahamian was provided a unique vantage into life in North Korea that belies stereotypes rampant in the media, revealing instead North Koreans as individuals ranging from true believers in the system to cynics wishing the Stalinist experiment would just end; from introverts to bubbly chatterboxes, optimists to pessimists. He sees a North Korea that is changing, invalidating some assumptions held in the West, but perhaps reinforcing others.
Amid his stories of coping with the North Korean system, of the foreigners who frequent Pyongyang, and of everyday relationships, Abrahamian explores the challenges of teaching the inherently political subject of economics in a system where everyone must self-regulate their own minds; he looks at the role of women in the North Korean economy, and their exclusion from leadership; and he discusses how information is restricted, propaganda is distributed and internalized, and even how Pyongyang’s nominally illicit property market functions. Along with these stories, he interweaves the historical events that have led to today’s North Korea.