While the United States and other nations struggle to respond to North Korea's recent aggressive military posturing, three recently graduated seniors are still moving forward with their planned trip to bring a group of about 18 students and professors to the secretive state by way of China in August.
Jonathan Warren '09, Matthew Reichel '09 and Nicholas Young '09, who all concentrated in East Asian Studies, received permission this spring from the North Korean government to bring Americans into the country to attend the Mass Games — a nationalistic, highly regimented form of performing arts.
Their original plan was to run two separate trips, according to Warren. But now, because fewer people enrolled than expected, Warren, Reichel and Young have altered their plans to condense their two planned trips into one.
Some individuals who expressed interest in the trip this spring were unable to follow through for a variety of reasons, Warren said. He said he did not think any enrollment decisions were influenced by recent nuclear tests in North Korea or the sentencing of two American journalists to 12 years of hard labor in the country.
Though attracting international attention to the region, these events have done absolutely nothing to change the agenda of the trip, Warren said, adding that the 11-day trip should go by "without a hitch."
The students' company, called "5 Passes" after the mountainous region in western China where it will be based, combines studying abroad and tourism.
Participants will fly into China to spend their first six days traveling the country before moving on to North Korea. Once across the border, a native guide will take over for the graduates. Two North Korean "government minders" will also join the group.
The three founders have over five years of combined experience living in China and have come to establish personal contacts in, as well as cultural and business knowledge of, the region.
A major attribute of the trip, Reichel said, is its focus on experiences not available to the average tourist.
"There are sections of the Great Wall that people will never be able to get to if they don't know where they are," Reichel said. "They're not tourist areas. You don't buy a ticket. You can't find a bus to get there."
"You have to know someone who knows about the wall, and then you find a little village and walk."