SUNY Oneonta student Shawn Dacey got a rare look at one of the world’s most isolated cultures during a two-week trip to North Korea planned as part of an independent study in Geography.
The Geography and Social Studies Education major from Delhi, N.Y., returned in May from a 25-day tour of North Korea, China and South Korea. One of only three Americans in a tour group of 22, Dacey said the most surprising thing about the trip was the access he had. In addition to touring national monuments and attending a patriotic celebration in the capitol city of Pyongyang, he visited the countryside, talked with people one-on-one, and took hundreds of uncensored photos. His group also saw the wall along the DMZ and received a rare invitation to watch a large military parade.
Though he felt angry at times, seeing the poverty North Koreans face with no knowledge of the outside world, he came away with a sense of respect for the people and culture. “They were very welcoming to me,” he said. “For how poor they are, they were happy with the way they live. They really do take pride in their country.”
After two weeks in North Korea, Dacey spent four days in Beijing and a week in South Korea, where he met some of the students who will be coming to SUNY Oneonta in the fall through the college’s 1+3 program with Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
Though Dacey planned the trip on his own, he tied it to his academic coursework with support from professors in several disciplines. Prior to the trip, he presented a paper on North Korea at SUNY Oneonta’s annual Undergraduate Political Science Conference. As part of his independent study, he is collaborating with Associate Professor of Geography Dr. James Mills on a paper about environmental sustainability in North Korea.
Next fall, Dacey plans to give presentations about his trip for the campus and local community. He said traveling is his passion, and he is thrilled to have achieved his goal of “22 by 21.” (At age 21, he has visited 22 countries!) But Dacey is far from finished seeing the world. A week after he returned from Asia, he was already fantasizing about his next adventure. “I’d like to go to South America: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay… or maybe Africa. My goal is to visit 100 countries before I die.”