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More overseas students interested in N. Korea

Nearly 200 Korean college students studying abroad have applied for a Seoul internship program focusing on relations with North Korea, the Unification Ministry here said Wednesday, indicating the growing interest among youngsters in the issue.

Among some 185 students who applied for the one-month summer internship program, a total of 60 students studying at colleges in the U.S., Canada, Britain, China, Japan, Australia and France have been selected, the ministry said.

The ministry initially planned to select 30 overseas students as interns, but as the number of highly qualified applicants exceeded expectations, it doubled the number.

Up until recently, the younger South Korean generation, which did not experience the 1950-53 Korean War and grew up in a wealthier, Westernized environment, has been somewhat indifferent to the issue of reunifying with North Korea or the realities of the communist state.

The Korean War ended in a truce rather than a permanent peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war and in a state of constant military tension.

But after South Korea was attacked twice by the North last year, students including those residing overseas have recognized the necessity of thawing frozen inter-Korean ties and achieving reunification, and want more information about the North, ministry officials said.

Yoo Min-Kyung, a 21-year-old student at the College of William and Mary in the U.S., said she hopes to “broaden perspectives” about North Korea and overall inter-Korean ties through the internship program.

“We hadn’t been expecting so many applicants. In the end, we decided to increase the number of interns to give more people a chance,” a ministry official said on condition of customary anonymity.

“Many students appear to be interested in the ministry itself due to the uniqueness of its affairs,” he added.

Established in 1969, Seoul’s Ministry of Unification deals solely with issues related to North Korea such as defector training, food aid and inter-Korean communication.

The summer intern program began last year as part of the South Korean government’s efforts to use so-called “global talents” residing overseas in promoting Seoul’s policies toward North Korea and telling the world about the realities of the North’s dictatorial regime.

Many of these interns have the potential to work in the fields of unification and diplomacy in the future as international relations and politics majors, according to the Seoul ministry.

The new interns will receive briefings on such issues as North Korean defectors, inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation, and submit their own reports every week, the ministry said.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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