Student's trip to North Korea offers peek at shared humanity

Wilfrid Laurier student Andrew Fawcett's impromptu decision to go on a state-run tour of North Korea turned him into an advocate for a more open world of information.
Fawcett says touring North Korea he regularly encountered statues and monuments to the country's government. The trip was an eye-opening experience, he says, spurring him to get involved with human rights activism for people living in the country. (Submitted by Andrew Fawcett)

Wilfrid Laurier University student Andrew Fawcett had an eye-opening visit during a student visit to Asia, and the experience has turned the student in Waterloo, Ont., into an open-information advocate.

While in China for a brief academic exchange, he signed up for a short chaperoned visit to North Korea. 

Starting out as an optimistic attempt to make contact with "real" people in North Korea, he quickly learned how insular, xenophobic and dangerous the country can be.

Wilfrid Laurier University student and Calgary native Andrew Fawcett says his trip to North Korea motivated him to become an activist in the North Korea information revolution because he saw the limitations of communication into and out of the country. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)
Fawcett told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition how state monitors watched and listened to his conversations with tour staff and people he met during the visit.

One evening, the Canadian student chatted with a tour guide about his personal dreams, learning of the guide's aspirations for his daughter's university education. The next morning, the guide disappeared from the tour team.

Fawcett's classroom project to bring awareness about North Korea quickly grew into a formal panel discussion that included international relations experts and two people who had successfully defected from North Korea. 

He's also joined a drive to collect USB keys for making information available to North Koreans.

They'll be loaded with Wikipedia, because even information that basic is prohibited in the country.

Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced American student Warmbier, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour for crimes against the state, China's Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday. (Kyodo/Reuters)