The education of North Korean via the organization of the Choson Exchange [SECOND PART]

  1. The selection of students

Andray Abrahamian reminded me about the fact those European scholars who are welcoming North-Koreans students are sometimes more interested in speaking about the Juche Ideology than in getting a top-level education. However, and based upon his affirmation, North-Koreans students who are studying in Beijing are always at the top of their classes: therefore where is the problem? In order to identify and to avoid the issue I presented earlier, a right selection has to be performed. Choson Exchange is conducting and is generally pleased with the quality of our candidates. The candidates are generally under the age of 30. They’re able to talk in English and come mainly from Pyongyang. Given the high costs of full-length academic programs and the limited number of people “Choson Exchange” is able to invest its funds in only the “best and brightest persons.”

  1. Outlining its realizations

Choson Exchange realized various programs for North Koreans students. Some North-Koreans were sent to Singapore (Singapore is a place which was always favored by the North-Koreans leadership- Kim Il Sung wanted to create a second Singapore within North Korea).

, China and other parts of the world where they had an access to tutors and fellow who educate the young North Koreans in the following fields:

– Fiscal Optimization (Adjustments and optimizations in Fiscal Operations in the FDI field);

– Banking Institutions (cooperation with foreign entities, development of joint ventures, laws debriefing, development of a legal context for FDI in North Korea);

– Corporate Finance (Income Statements, calculation of some ratios…)

– Accounting (Balance Sheet, Assets, Ratios calculations…)

According to some documents provided by the Choson Exchange, we can notice that the faculty of finances of the Kim Il Sung University which is existing in North Korea since only 2010, is providing some bright students.

  1. Problems of the Choson Exchange:

The Choson Exchange is facing a large number of issues concerning the realization of its problems. However a big asset lying on their hands is the fact, that the management team of this organization is still the same since a few years and believes in the future of the project. Therefore these proactive people (I think especially to Andray Abrahamian and Geoffrey See – other cannot be omitted) will be able to cope with this challenge especially taking in account the harsh reality of North Korea.

Considering education institutions, Choson Exchange members noticed that foreign books, research journals are not used by academics and scholars[1].  Some foreign journals are available, however there are or old, either not actual. Due to a lack of funds, North-Koreans libraries are accepting foreign donations (in terms of books).

There is also a lack of transparence concerning the information. Concerning the Curriculum of some professors, Choson Exchange had no access to this kind of information. Professors and scholars are publishing, however mainly on internal economical education publications[2].  Some interesting related to the new North-Koreans economy can be found in these kinds of North-Koreans journals.

  1. Possible grounds for the development of the project

Choson exchange is also lacking some funds which may guarantee the viability of the project. This organization is functioning thanks to funds which are coming from various sources. Being not affiliated to the Choson Exchange, I strongly however encourage investing in the activities of the Choson Exchange.


While it is important to help the future North Korean elites, however, I believe it’s ever more important to pursue the formation of a new North Korean elite group. Those can be educated by organizations such as Choson Exchange. I also guess that Choson Exchange should develop its wonderful initiatives inside North Korea because potential elites such as intellectuals who were educated in North Korea know well about the reality of the country, but they face a lot of obstacles in learning modern knowledge. It is an important issue because North-Koreans higher-education reforms will affect not only the future of North-Koreans elites but also the future of the rest of the country and of the society who will get a profit of the situation.

Keywords: North Korea, Education, Reunification, Nation-Building, Trust, Cooperation, China, South Korea, Choson Exchange, Banking Institutions, Geoffrey See, Andray Abrahamian, Daesong Bank, JVIC, Choe Thae Bok, Elites, Kim family

Nicolas Levi

Nicolas Levi is a researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences and an analyst on Korean Issues at the Poland Asia Research Center ( Holding a PhD regarding the North-Koreans leadership, his personal website ( focuses on North Korea issues. Member of the Réseau Asie et Pacifique (a French association focused on Asian issues). He has overseen the publications of a wide range of analyses. Prestented to the public through media outlets including the British Association of Korean Studies,, Foreign Policy, New Focus International, Newsweek Polska,…

[1] In 2007, I had the pleasure and the occasion to be in North Korea at the National Library. When I was presented some foreign journals and books, this literature was published in the 70’s and was originally coming from the Soviet Union. The North Korean libraries are receiving books from Foreign Institutions on a regular basis; however these books are being kept away and are only used by selected students and scholars. These “selected students” are generally, but not always, directly connected to the top North-Koreans leadership.

[2]According to Dr Curtis Melvin ( “Thompson Reuters, a rating agency of scientific findings, announced NK has published 187 papers in reputable science journals between 2000 and 2012. Reviewing the publication history, from 2000 to 2006 NK scientists annually published articles abroad totaling in the single digits–except in 2004. However, Reuters reports that since 2007 that the annual average has increased to 28 publications per year. Of the publications in these foreign journals, 77.5% (or 145) of the publications were joint-research with foreign researchers. Of these joint-research projects, 61.4% (or 89) publications were with the Chinese. This is followed by Germans (27 publications), Australians (9 publications), South Korean (8 publications), American (7 publications) and Japan (5 publications). The reporting agency claims that the reason why so few NK research was published in international academic journals is that NK lack the appropriate English (communication or writing; it’s not specific) skills.” This text was published in on the 25th May 2012. North-Koreans scholars should be also encouraged to publish abroad via foreign scholars. I’m actually trying to run this kind of projects.

The education of North Korean via the organization of the Choson Exchange [FIRST PART]


Whilst most of the literature focusing on the Korean peninsula has concentrated on how to achieve unification through negotiation rounds, very little attention has been paid to how educate the North Korean population.  When considering the future of North Korea, we can see that the time has come to raise an alternative elite, the kind that meets the expectations of the modern world and has no (or limited relationship) with the Kim Jong Eun regime. But since it is impossible to participate in any political activity or gain a deep knowledge while inside North Korea (except for exceptional cases at the Pyongyang University of Sciences and Technologies[1] or similar universities or projects[2]), this kind of elite can only be formed in foreign countries. I would like also to underline that my paper is strictly separating the issue of nuclear nukes, labor camps and human rights from the notion of education. I fiercely believe that Choson Exchange is educating a future generation of leaders of North Korea who will only use the nuclear weapon for peace purposes.

It has to be said, that the North Korean regime is changing not only since the death of Kim Jong Il but since the beginning of the very beginning of the 2000’s. Changing the nature of the regime means also changing the mentality of North Koreans so they can cope with the challenges of the globalization. One of the fields that I want to analyze through my paper is the Education for selected people (ie. North Korean elites but not only) which is undergoing gradual changes. Concerning the field of the education, North Koreans have now more possibilities to get knowledge from foreign institutions. One of the institutions which are cooperating with North Korea is the Choson Exchange group.

The paper proceeds in three steps: (1) Defining Choson Exchange, (2) Outlining its realizations (3) Suggest possible grounds for the development of this project.

  1. Educating the future elites of North Korea: a challenge which need to be fulfilled

In the beginning of the 80’s, an American economist Theodore Schultz, was impressed by changes that affected the Republic of China. He was especially surprised by the quality of education which was proposed at the Beijing University in the Department of Finance. These improvements were especially due to generous funds, donations which were provided by third-parties. Now China is a rich country (in terms of Asia standards) and we’re facing with a new challenge: the case of North Korea.

This country which is still isolated has like in each country a large number of persons who are interested in various fields such as business, economics, international trade and similar activities. Geoffrey See, the founder of Choson Exchange explained on his website ( that during his trip to Pyongyang, in 2007, a student from Kim Il Sung University, North Korea’s leading university, told him that she wanted to join a trading company to prove that women can be great business leaders. She asked if she could get any foreign business textbooks.

Choson Exchange is an academic-exchange organization which is existing since a few years. The aim is to educate the future leadership of North Korea. In order to achieve some results, Choson Exchange is bringing specialists related to consulting company, financial institutions, law companies and similar economical entities. North Korean candidates need scholarships and Choson Exchange is therefore trying to finance the education of selected people.

When considering the future of North and South Korea, we can see that the time has come to raise alternative elite, the kind that meets the expectations of the modern world and has limited relations with the Kim Jong Eun Regime. But since it is impossible to participate in any political activity or gain a great deal of knowledge while inside North Korea, this kind of elite can be formed abroad. For North Korean, each country can be a base from which they can go into action and even receive an education. There are various ways to support North-Koreans students. We can support them via financing projects such as the Choson Exchange, we can accept in our University students from North Korea, so they can get knowledge about international trade and similar matters. While it is important to help North Korean elites and especially it’s important to form a new group of North Korean elite which will be able to face with the challenges of the North-Koreans economy.

  1. Defining the Choson Exchange

Coming back to the Choson Exchange, this institution is an organization which is providing professional training for North Korean students in the fields of finances and law. The goal of this company is to provide skills to future leaders of North Korea. Through interactions with North Korean policymakers, Choson Exchange is trying to develop a deeper understanding of economic issues that go beyond common stereotypes. Choson Exchange is a global connector of knowledge, learning and innovation for poverty reduction. This entity is connecting practitioners and institutions to create solutions to development challenges of North Korea. According to Choson Exchange, the society is focusing on the “how” of reform; the society is linking knowledge from around the world and scale up innovations.

The aim of my paper will be to analyze the activity and the business model of the Choson Exchange. Being in contact with some people who are working within this institution, I will try to present concrete example of the activities and realized projects of this entity.

This association is existing since 2007. It has been found by Geoffrey K. See[3] and is co-managed by Andray Abrahamian[4], who I met in Warsaw in 2012. Choson Exchange is organizing workshops in Pyongyang and Rason focusing on economics and business. This entity also conducts training programs overseas for selected North Korean students. The organization also supports young North Koreans with internships and scholarships. Some of the North Koreans traveled abroad. They come from good universities. They’ve got an economic or business background. However some other students are coming from small and middle cities (Wonsan, Hamgyung, and Huichon) and are not strictly connected to North Korean elites.

Being in North Korea, Choson Exchange is dealing with various institutions; see below a limited list of partners:

–          Financial Institutions: the Daesong Bank, the Development Bank of Korea

–          Education Institutions: Kim Il Sung University, Kim Chaek University.

Choson Exchange has to be in interaction with people who are connected to these organizations. The communication realized either in English, or in Korean.

To be continued…

[1] The new Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. This school is to boost the North Korean economic development. It is to be the place where business capacities and foreign languages are to be taught.

[2] I would like here to emphasize the initiative of the “Pyongyang Project”. This initiative was founded in 2009. According to its website, this is a Canadian social venture committed to responsible engagement in the DPRK through education, tourism and knowledge exchange.

[3] According to the website of Choson Exchange, Geoffrey previously worked for Bain & Co. on private equity, technology and retail cases. He also analyzed economic and political events for the ex-Asia Chief Economist of Société Générale and served in the Singapore Armed Forces. As a Research Affiliate at MIT (’12-’13) and a University Fellow at Yale University (’09-’10), Geoffrey pursued research in entrepreneurship, development and ethics. He presented papers as an award winner at the World Bank ABCDE, $20,000 Cosgrove Prize and APEC CEO Summit. Geoffrey graduated in 2 years with a B.Sc. in Economics (Summa Cum Laude) from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and completed an M.A. at Yale University. Geoffrey has lived in Singapore, China, Korea and the US and is fluent in Chinese and proficient in Korean.

[4] According to the website of Choson Exchange, Andray became interested in Korea issues following a trip to the DMZ in 2003. This inspired an MA in International Relations from the University of Sussex. Upon completion, he started pursuing a PhD focusing on Western media and images of North Korea. Andray also taught international relations at the University of Ulsan. He has published various academic and op-ed articles and been solicited to offer commentary by international news broadcasting organizations. His academic interests include intercultural relations, post-colonialism, Orientalism, hegemony and US-East Asian relations. Andray speaks Korean.