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We need to separate the country from its people.
Taking classes in North Korea gave me a whole new perspective on the North Korean people.
I was assigned a teacher named Mr Ri. Through him I also learned a lot about North Korean culture, everyday lives and perceptions of the outside world -- including Australia.
Mention North Korea to the average Australian and they will likely think of nuclear weapons, or human rights. What we tend to ignore are the 25 million people who inhabit the country, roughly the same number as in Australia.
I've had the privilege of meeting many of them, from all levels of society, and many of them -- Mr Ri included -- have been among the loveliest people I have ever met.
I found myself beginning to question the logic that our distaste for North Korea's social system should mean that we refuse all engagement with its people who have played no part in shaping the country as it is.
We are left with a set of stereotypes of North Korean people -- brainwashed, robotic, miserable. In our inability to put people before politics we have been unable to grasp that North Koreans too are ultimately ordinary people.
Just like us and people all over the world, they spend most of their time concerned with the facts of human life: work, love, friends, leisure, and family.
By Alek Sigley