Cultural distinctons

There has been no dull moment in the last couple of weeks: We were busy organizing various trips more or less simultaneously. There was our own and the trip of our North Korean guests. My husband arranged an itinerary for an agrarian delegation within days that unfortunately took place when he himself was absent – giving me the opportunity to join the delegation at times, which was a good thing, as it was an exclusively male group. Sometimes I am still shocked, sometimes just a bit amused: North Korean cultural is still very Confucian and when accompanying my husband I am barely seen as a “decoration.” But when I am in a group on my own I am perceived very differently.

All I can say is that these men with high positions of responsibility were interested, attentive, and cordial. Everyone that met them on their trip enjoyed being with them. I am pleased to say that there were many wonderful moments!

Freedom in planting Decisions

In the meantime things have changed in North Korean agriculture: In the last two years the co-operative farms in Korea were given more responsibility and freedom in their planting decisions. This is a challenge, as so far it was the state that decided what would be cultivated where. In return, the produce was bought at the official state price.

Now the question is how to decide what to grow so that the produce can actually be sold with a profit.

The visit of the delegation of the Ministry of Agriculture dealt mainly with the topics concerning rural development but also operational planning.

Flying Visit

Already in the spring the North Korean embassy asked us if a small delegation of experts from the Ministry of Agricultural and Environment could visit Switzerland. This pleased us enormously, as we had worked closely with them between 1996 and 2006 and had invested a great deal in the education of over 100 agronomists through courses and practical training in the country, as well as through internships in Switzerland.

Although the North is still regarded as being «closed» a number of small doors are open, enabling encounters, trips to North Korea, or giving Koreans the opportunity to go abroad. This request from the embassy is another open door that we wanted to use.

We therefore extended an invitation. One day we were informed that the visas were issued and the delegation was coming – in two weeks! As I had already made arrangements to be in Asia at that time, I was somewhat overwhelmed at first. But after a day of phoning friends and former colleagues that had taught in Korea in the past, I managed to organize five days with an extensive training program: From agricultural planning over energy efficient building to sewage and hydropower utilization or direct marketing and factory visits. I am so glad that we were able to establish such a good network of experts and friends in the last 20 years which enabled me to confidently leave this week in other hands.

«You are doing a great job. I am thrilled. We were welcomed everywhere we went, which we do not take for granted. Thank you!»

The delegation’s and the vice ambassador’s feedback and enthusiasm leads to the conclusion that this week touched their hearts.