In looking at a place like North Korea through the gaze of a humanitarian, there is a buried lesson behind the negative stigma generated by hearing its name. When analyzing the human condition, every life and story should be valued, even half a world away.
North Korea is seen as a government machine that rules by authoritarian means and propagandist truth. It is one of the most publicized humanitarian moral inadequacies, joining the fallacies of political agenda and diplomatic rivalry rather effortlessly as portrayed by the media.
Arius Derr, senior political science major, is one such individual who has come to understand the depth of human identity. Through is own story in understanding North Korea and working with an organization that aids North Korean defectors, Derr recognizes why it is essential to care about other human beings and their stories.
“They are 24 million people just like us; they want to pursue their dreams, they want to pursue their goals, they want to go to school, they want to take care of their families,” Derr said.
It is of interest to note the similarities human beings share. No matter from what culture, country, or way of life, people seek to find their own identity with the world they live in. Whether someone is a Boise State student, or North Korean defector searching for a new life to start, the power of understanding the human condition begins in recognizing connectivity.
Derr uncovered his passion for Korean humanitarian efforts through an unlikely source, falling in love. His fiancé is an international student from South Korean, and after meeting his future wife, he decided to move to Seoul, South Korea in order to better understand her culture as well as to learn her language.
It is in his time in Seoul that he joined with a group called “People for Successful Korean Reunification” (PSCore). PSCore is Canadian-based human rights organization that works with North Koreans that have defected. Specifically in regards to life after these defectors gain asylum. While Derr was in Seoul, PSCore became recognized by the United Nations for its work.
South Korea, the United States and Canada are some of the few countries that provide automatic asylum to North Korean defectors.
Derr went on to describe feeling empathetic with the tough journey defectors have to take not only to make it out of North Korea, but also to integrate into a new country, but also a new world.
“You can imagine growing up in a place like North Korea, you’re still looking at a 1940’s Stalinist style place that has a total-personality cult mentality,” Derr said.
He told a story of taking a young North Korean girl to a mall in Seoul. Walking through the revolving doors while texting, Derr noticed that his companion was no longer by his side. He looked back to see the young girl standing outside the revolving doors staring at them in awe. She had never seen revolving class doors before.
Much of the world has an understanding and view of North Korea that is predetermined by their media source. Often times these views are negative depictions of the regime which governs the country, perhaps justifiably considering stories told by North Korean defectors.
Shelton Woods Ph.D., associate dean of the college of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, spoke in regards to the phenomenon.
“We look through a lens of North Korea that is sensationalized. I think there are no other windows to see North Korea,” Woods said. “Perhaps seeing the ugliness of the other helps us not to see our own ugliness.”
Woods went on to analyze the relationship between how North Defectors transition identity when starting a new life, and did so relating it to that of what a college student might experience in his/her own life beginning at a university.
Specifically regarding the human condition, Woods used a metaphorical depiction of a merry-go-round to explain the similarities that these two groups of people experience.
“I liken it to jumping on a merry-go-round while it spins, nothing makes sense. You’re disoriented, you’re dizzy, but if you hold on long enough, things start to make sense,” Woods said.
What both Derr and Woods recognized was that human beings not only seek to uncover their own identity, but also to define human experience in a way that benefits quality of life. Woods defined three questions that should be at the forefront of decisions made by every human being.
“What are the things that I believe, that I hold to be true, things that are most dear to me,” Woods described.
Derr’s path took him from student, to activist with PSCore, and now into the film world working with the North Korean Human Rights film festival called “Jayu,” which means freedom in Korean.
In assessing his own path up to this point, Derr went onto describe the need for people, especially students, have to find something they are passionate about and see where it takes them.
“Me at 23 years old, given that I am a senior, I have found this interest, this one major thing that I want to do for the rest of my life,” Derr said.
For his journey, he was taken down a road of relating the search for identity to the perspective of being willing to see the world through varying cultural understanding.
Human beings and their experiences, no matter the background or story, can often inspire others to find their own sense of purpose.