For over a decade, Suki Kim has traveled North Korea to report on the nation she believes remains an informational black hole to the international community. Kim is known for her extensive undercover documentation of the North Korean lifestyle. Sharing her experiences with the Loomis Chaffee community in the all school convocation on her work, Kim sought to explain the radically different North Korean mindset she had encountered, in the process touching upon the true power of near absolute control over information.
Stopping at the dining hall after her convocation presentation, Kim seems to possess a certain self-assuredness, gained perhaps from experience. Born in South Korea but educated in the US, Kim works as a journalist, writing for the New York Times, Slate, Washington Post, etc. The only known writer to have gone undercover into North Korea to experience and investigate life inside the isolated nation, Kim rose to national attention with her bestselling memoir, Without You, There is No Us. Over a quick lunch and before her return to the road, the writer explains her call to journalism.
What drives you to journalism and especially investigative reporting?
Well, it took over ten years to research and finally write the book; I travelled all around the region to cover the defectors – I went there five times. I looked in there for six months undercover and I needed to get to the core of the place, to understand it as much as I humanly could. It was pursuing a topic that I consider a desperately important in the contemporary world where violations against humanity is unsurpassed according to the UN. I really needed to understand that and deliver that world which has never been exposed to the outside world from the inside. I thought it was my duty to do that as a writer. It was unacceptable to not do it.
How did North Korea’s elite compare with her commoners?
You know, I covered the defectors for a long time, who do come from um the bottom line of the society; the kids I taught were the crème de la crème, and I thought there would be a gigantic difference. In fact, not much. The rest of the people, sure, have physically not much material-wise. No food, no electricity, nothing. So they’re dying of hunger, so yes, a huge difference that way, superficially. Lack of freedom. My students had zero freedom. No personal time, no individuality, constantly living in fear; on some level it was not that different.
Do you have any personal connection to reporting in North Korea?
Well, I come from families that were separated by the Korean War. I’m from South Korean origin and I think having seen the sorrow that had carried on in my family, I thought about millions of mothers and sons who were separated by that war, whose lives were forever never united, whose sorrow never got communicated; that generation died without their stories being told…It’s been seventy years, which means that generation died. Millions of people. I needed to tell their story, and this was my way. In order to get to the truth of it, and deliver it.