Frequently Asked Questions - about the DPRK
1. Can Rotary clubs do service projects in North Korea?
Yes. (that was an easy one). Rotarians, Rotaractors and even Interactors would be most welcome.
2. Can Rotarians visit North Korea? If yes what is the process to get a visa?
In general yes, but obtaining approval for a visa will depend on many factors. The basic process is for you to provide the project partner with a copy of your passport and a Curriculum Vitae, and for the project partner to prepare an itinerary for approval. At least 30 days is required.
3. How can I fly to North Korea?
Through Beijing, China. Unless you come from one of the few countries with a DPRK Embassy, you would obtain your visa from their embassy in Beijing - usually a day or two before you travel.
Air tickets are booked in advance, picked up and paid for in the Air Koryo office in the Swissotel, Beijing.
4. How safe is it for Rotarians to do service projects in North Korea?
The Koreans take very good care of their hosts. So good that you won’t be let out of their sight but the corollary is that they are always looking after you and you probably will not have had such care since you were a toddler. (try to recall that).
Physical crime is out of the question but if you travel outside of Pyongyang you will encounter fewer creature comforts and this could be an inconvenience and not advisable for people with health conditions who may need medical care.
5. Can religious organizations support your projects in North Korea?
Yes but as Rotary is non-political and non-religious we would not accept any religious agenda or proselytizing efforts in country. People with strong faiths are generally very kind hearted and generous and so we (and the Koreans) can appreciate this. Just don’t go over any “red lines” and respect your hosts’ feelings.
6. How can you be sure that aid is reaching the intended recipients?
We always ask for a report on who has received the aid that we have provided - and in some cases we have been able to work with foreign NGO partners, like Handicap International, to check up for us.
7. Why do you work with the Committee for the Promotion of International Trade (KOMT)? Why is it abbreviated as KOMT?
“Rotary” (via the Rotary Club of Shanghai) was first approached by Dr. Jong from KOMT to seek our support. Within the DPRK there is normally a single point of contact managing a relationship with a foreign NGO. This person “owns” the relationship. KOMT “owns” the relationship with Rotary and this is primarily because we are not a typical charity, but a service organization (clubs) made up of business leaders. This fits more the mandate of KOMT to connect with foreign business leaders.
And why "KOMT"? This goes back to the Soviet days and this reflects the Russian translation.
8. What is the biggest challenge in doing a service project in North Korea?
Communication. It is very difficult to establish communicate but it is even harder to maintain it. Most North Koreans are shut off from contact with people outside the country - and those that have contact are restricted. It takes patience and persistence to keep the lines of communication open and to overcome any cross-cultural conflicts.
9. How easy is it to communicate with North Koreans in English/French/Spanish/Japanese etc.
Relatively easily because North Korea has many graduates of foreign language programs who speak perfectly their second tongue.
10. Are North Koreans Deadly serious? Or Do they have a sense of humour?
No. Especially when drinking beer or stronger beverages. It takes a while for North Koreans to warm up to a new counterpart but once they are comfortable they open up and can be extremely witty, sarcastic even with foreigners. Some topics are taboo, but if not - then they are not afraid to “take the piss out of” you.