Tim Gilmour, assistant professor of engineering at John Brown University, had the opportunity to teach a class in a North Korean university over the summer.
Gilmour has spent a lot of time in Asia, and jumped at the chance to teach and to build relationships in this hard-to-reach area.
Though relations between North Korea’s and the United States’ governments are tense, and North Korea has traditionally been closed off to foreign interests, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, or PUST, is looking to develop the economy and scientific community in North Korea by training its future leaders.
Unfortunately, experts in science and technology are in short supply, so the administrators at PUST look for outside instructors. Many of Gilmour’s colleagues were non-native, from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Albania.
Gilmour flew to North Korea most concerned about the class, “Computer Networking.” “I had never taught that class before,” said Gilmour.
Many of Gilmour’s students had little previous experience with the internet, so Gilmour not only taught them basic internet skills, but also the technical explanations for how the internet and email work.
“North Korea is interested in increasing its technical expertise these days,” said Gilmour.
Students at PUST were very respectful and team-oriented. “When I would walk into the classroom, they would all stand and say, ‘Good morning, professor,’” Gilmour said. All the students at PUST spend a full year learning English, so Gilmour had no trouble communicating, and taught his class completely in English.
Equally important to Gilmour was getting to know the students. He ate lunch and dinner with them every day, and played soccer with them on occasion. He also participated in their English practice, hosted by the ESL (English as a Second Language) program once a week.
“I built some nice relationships,” said Gilmour. “I’d like to go back to build on that.”
Gilmour was especially glad about the impact his students would have on their country. “PUST is a very wonderful place,” he said. “[Professors are] benefiting North Korean civilians by not only technical teaching, but also conversations about more important life issues.”
PUST’s growth reflects Gilmour’s enthusiasm. The administration is currently seeking to add a medical school and expand their research. Their researchers are working on projects such as efficient solar power for rural areas, among other ventures.
When asked about the political implications of Gilmour’s teaching, he said, “I was careful not to teach them anything detrimental to the U.S.,” but added, “I do want to help their country to develop good economic and commercial [practices].”
“It’s difficult to desire to talk with them about Jesus and to not have much opportunity to do that, because of the situation,” Gilmour said. Gilmour urges students to pray for the long-term faculty at PUST, that they would be strengthened and encouraged. About ninety-five per cent of the volunteers are Christians.
“I would encourage JBU to be a part of [North Korea’s development] in the future,” Gilmour said. “They not only need engineering teachers, but also life sciences, English, and business teachers.”
People with Masters Degrees or higher have the best chances of getting involved.
Gilmour hopes to go back again next summer to “continue relationships with students, and to deepen them.”
“I feel very privileged to have been able to go.”