All over the world, language barriers are limiting the ability of refugees and immigrants to seek help, and aid workers to provide it. Tarjimly is a new service that connects people who speak one language but need to speak in another, with a person who speaks both — in just a couple minutes. They’re part of Y Combinator’s latest batch and are gearing up for a proper launch. Read More
North Koreans pay their respects at the Mansudae Grand monument in Pyongyang.
Fabian Muir is an Australian photographer whose documentary work aims to develop humanistic narratives in otherwise politically isolated regions of the world. After years documenting places like the former Soviet Union, Iran, and Cuba, his next series focuses on a country that epitomizes the phrase “hermit kingdom”: North Korea.
Since 2015, Fabian Muir has traveled to the isolated nation of North Korea five times to capture a side of life that many Americans may be surprised to see as nonconfrontational and somewhat relatable.
Here, Muir shares with BuzzFeed News the story of his journey and his thoughts on the pictures he walked away with:
The series began with many of the same expectations that anyone would have before going there — bleak cityscapes, expressionless people, soldiers everywhere. It’s difficult not to have such preconceptions since the dominant visual narrative pushes these tropes. I had hardly ever seen an image of a smiling North Korean before visiting.
So to start, I was also looking for things to confirm these expectations, no doubt exacerbated by the fact that my first visit took place in winter, which is excruciatingly cold there. After several days, however, various unexpected layers began revealing themselves, not least the way in which I observed North Koreans interacting among themselves and the fact that they can actually be very warm.
Schoolchildren make their way from the leaders' statues in central Hamhung.
Traditional female Korean haircuts and a customer at a Pyongyang hair salon.
A cyclist rides through rural North Korea.
With repeated visits the project became increasingly personal as I realized how limited most people’s understanding is of the country, making me feel a kind of obligation to tell the story. I’m not talking about the understanding of the political dimension, but rather of ordinary North Koreans in day-to-day contexts.
It’s estimated that up to 200,000 people are incarcerated in North Korea’s prisons, which are constantly in the media spotlight, but what about the other 25 million there, who are leading “normal” lives? These are the people I wanted to discover: What is a normal life in North Korea? How do they relax? What does family life look like? What do they read? What music do they like? What do they know about the outside world? How do they operate within their political framework? How do they respond to foreigners? What are the similarities and differences between us and them?
There are so many questions in this vein, and the fact that the answers at times ran counter to popular assumptions meant that the work initially hit brick walls in some quarters. At times, people were unwilling to entertain the notion of a “human” North Korean and instead suspected I had fallen for elaborate setups or that the North Koreans had stage-managed my photography. Occasionally things are indeed set up, but this is rather rare and very obvious when it does occur.
Nervous anticipation as locals prepare for the launch of a ride in Kaeson Youth Park in Pyongyang.
Munsu Water Park in Pyongyang.
Pyongyangites play volleyball at Munsu Water Park in Pyongyang.
It’s important to mention that any foreigner who goes to North Korea is assigned at least two guides/minders, who will almost always accompany you whenever you leave your hotel. They are trained as guides, usually charming, and do provide a lot of information, but part of their role is also to control your movements. This means that by definition there are significant constraints, so the possibility of an absolutely definitive survey of North Korea does not currently exist, even though one can indeed travel through large parts of the country and photograph quite freely.
This doesn’t mean there was someone on my shoulder every time I took a picture, but they were rarely more than 50 meters away other than the relatively few occasions when I was allowed to roam free for an hour or two. That said, my own experience was that the guides are also in a position to facilitate a great deal if you simply treat them normally, and I was frequently surprised by the access I was given considering the circumstances.
They generally offer frank responses to questions. It’s clearly not the ideal arrangement, but if one tries to understand their own sensitivities and thinks of them as fixers it’s possible to work quite effectively even within these parameters. As mentioned earlier, I’ve not experienced intervention in my photography there, nor did they ever try to prevent me from interacting with locals.
North Korean fast food and US '50s outfits in Munsu Water Park in Pyongyang.
Locals enjoy a picnic on Moran Hill in Pyongyang.
Locals admire Kimjongilia (red) and Kimilsungia (purple) flowers at a flower festival in Pyongyang.
It has occurred to me that perhaps some people feel certain images are contrived because their composition makes them feel like tableaux. Such skepticism riles me since it’s difficult not to take it personally when an individual who has never even visited North Korea believes they know more on the topic than someone who has completed a two-year project and studied every text available. So it certainly became a personal mission on two levels: first to supplement the established narrative through a balanced survey of ordinary North Koreans and, as it turned out, lending them a dignity that has previously been lacking; and second, the task of convincing armchair skeptics that the images are truly candid.
The image of people laughing at a picnic is important to me since it is the last thing most viewers might expect to see in a body of work on North Korea. I've occasionally been challenged on this photo by people thinking it was staged, yet it was a completely spontaneous moment. Since it was a national holiday, there must have been thousands of picnickers in the park, and this particular group were laughing when a man in a neighboring gathering, who had evidently had one soju too many, stood up and began swaying in the breeze while singing painfully out of tune.
North Koreans never interfered with my image-making, deleted photos, or instructed me on what to shoot. The conviction that the whole thing is a huge Truman Show for visitors can take on extremes — for example many Westerners genuinely believe that the Pyongyang Metro only actually runs when a foreigner is on it!
Students participate in a mass dance on Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang.
A newlywed couple outside Pyongyang Folklore Park.
A guide translates a female soldier's comments about the Wangjaesan Monument in North Hamgyong province.
People in provincial North Korea pass before a mural of the leaders standing upon the North Korean “sacred mountain” of Mount Paektu.
As mentioned, it was my experience of North Koreans as thoughtful, kind, and humorous people, in many ways not different from us, that I found most illuminating. Children are cheeky and fun. Obviously the people are indoctrinated, but the automatic conclusion that they have all been completely desensitized to become unthinking cogs in the state apparatus is an exceedingly simplistic analysis and typical of the kind of assumption one makes without having been there — I had made it too.
I hope that the images open up unexpected perspectives on the country and particularly its people, and help viewers to attach a different face to North Korea from the bombastic version the state tends to project on the world stage.
A man runs past monumental mosaics at Pyongyang film studios.
A child sings at a kindergarten performance in Chongjin, North Korea. Talented children are trained to a very high level from an early age.
Young girls perform at a kindergarten in Chongjin.
A nurse tends infants in an orphanage in Nampo.
Children line up in an orphanage in Nampo on North Korea's west coast.
To see more of Fabian Muir's work, visit his website at fabianmuir.com.
Schools are often late to taking advantage of new technologies, so today still do much of their business over paper forms. One pain point in particular – for school administrators, teachers and parents alike – is handling permission forms for activities and field trips. A young startup called Script aims to help. Schools can use Script’s app to manage the entire trip… Read More
Travel is a powerful agent for change. It broadens our horizons, fills our lives with friends, gives us incredible memories, and (sometimes) helps us find purpose in our lives (at least it did with me).
Not everyone can travel and it’s a great privilege to do what we are able to do. Whether you saved up for a year, found work overseas, won a trip, or struck it rich buying Bitcoin, to be able to travel is to do something few in this world get to do.
Think about the first time you traveled overseas. Remember those feelings of freedom, possibility, and excitement? Remember what got you hooked and made you say “I need to do more of this!”?
Well, for kids, travel can be even more life changing than for adults, because it exposes them to different ideas, cultures, and people at a crucial developmental time in their life.
And, over the last few years, I’ve been focusing on trying to get more high school students overseas.
I remember the school group I met on my first ever trip abroad in 2003 and thinking about how lucky those kids were to have that experience. I remember meeting Conor and Carolyn, kids of my friends Dani and Craig, while in Bangkok. They were all on a year abroad and being homeschooled along the way. Now, as adults, they still view that trip as one of their most formative life experiences. It made them better people.
But not everyone has parents to take them on round-the-world adventures or send them to study abroad. Most high schools don’t have the resources to maintain their art and gym classes, let alone send students on trips outside their community.
Two years ago, I started FLYTE, the Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education, as a way to make travel and study abroad possible for those who lack the resources to do it on their own. Since then, we’ve run three trips: we’ve sent a class from Atlanta to Mexico; one from DC to Cuba; and one from Newburgh, NY, to Ecuador. And we’ve raised over $100,000 in donations to make that happen.
All told, we’ve helped send around 45 students overseas on educational trips, helping to create a positive impact on their lives.
And none of this could have been possible without YOU. Over 1,000 readers have helped get this organization off the ground!
So let me say right away: thank you, thank you, thank you! Like it’s amazing! More than me, the students, parents, and teachers of the schools you’ve helped are blown away by your generosity.
Today, I want to mention FLYTE again for two reasons:
First, we used the summer to make some improvements to the website and organization. We have a brand-new website that now features our past trips, a new volunteer program folks can join, and a new system that now allows for annual donations (yay!). Additionally, we’re now more active on social media, so follow us for updates on our students, teachers, news, and pictures from the student trips. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay updated on our programs!
With interns and volunteers helping us out, the organization is moving forward. We’re going to have in-person fundraising events in early 2018, we’ve set a goal of applying for two grants per month, and we are reaching out for more corporate donations. In fact, we got an $11,000 donation from the Golden Rule Foundation! (Yay!)
We’re an organization on the move – and I wanted to share that with you!
Second, and perhaps more importantly, we’re now accepting applications for our next grant award. If you are a high school teacher in the United States and would like to take your students on an overseas trip, come apply for funding and let us help make that trip a reality!
As a school partner, some of our requirements include:
- At least 40% of your students are receiving free or reduced-price lunches.
- Your students are aged 14-18 and enrolled in high school at the time of the program.
- All of your students are legal residents of the U.S.
- You have support from your school administrators and leadership to take your students abroad.
- You will be able to have at least three chaperones for your trip who will be able to pay or raise the funds for some or all of their expenses.
If you’re a teacher who would like to send your kids on an overseas trip, click here to learn more and apply. You’ll see more of our requirements and expectations there.
(If you are not a teacher but know teachers who might be interested, share tat link! Help us spread the word and reach more people and students.)
Finally, like all nonprofits, we work off of donations. During this giving season, let’s help kids experience the world and turn them into life long travelers and global citizens! The more funding we have, the more students we can send around the world.
You can do one time or reoccurring donations! You can click here to donate.
Moreover, if you sign up on a recurring basis, you’re helping to make a much more profound long-term impact by enabling us to fund trips to even more schools. Plus, you’ll also get the following benefits:
- Exclusive announcement of our selected partner school and destination before anyone else
- Quarterly newsletters with updates from our schools and partners
- Lifetime 25% discount on my guidebooks
- Members only access to follow along on the trip via photos and videos
To sign up, simply click here, select monthly and your desired donation amount. (Again, you can click here to donate.)
This summer, we sent a group of students to Ecuador. It had a profound impact on them – all because of FLYTE and how’ve you made that possible. Here’s a video of the students talking about their experience:
***In a time when everyone is closing their borders – physically and metaphorically, I think it helps teach kids there is a bigger world out there, there’s a real world application to what they are learning, and the world is full of opportunity. For kids who come from socially and economically depressed communities, this idea we take for granted is often a life-changing revelation.
So let’s change someone’s life – and the world – together.
P.S. – I’m hosting a meet-up in Bangkok on Christmas Day! Let’s grab drinks and talk travel. Details are TBD, but it will be held somewhere on Khao San Road. Follow the Facebook event for updates.
The post Let’s Send Another Set of Students Abroad (Exciting Updates from FLYTE) appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.