HUFFINGTON POST

The Unbelievable Story Of A Woman Who Taught North Korea's Elite Undercover

With a dictatorial regime, a powerful security apparatus and ruthless crackdown on dissent, what goes on in North Korea has long remained a secret for much of the rest of the world. But one journalist was given a rare opportunity to explore one of the world's most repressive countries while her own identity was kept secret.

Suki Kim, an American journalist born in South Korea, told HuffPost Live's Josh Zepps on Tuesday how she got involved teaching 50 students whose families were part of Pyongyang's elite.

Though Kim had traveled to North Korea before, she spent six months in Pyongyang in 2011 undercover, finding a job as a teacher at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. She explained the bizarre agreement behind PUST; it was founded by a Korean American Christian evangelical under the agreement that teachers inside the school would not proselytize, a crime punishable by imprisonment.

She told HuffPost Live the school was under intense surveillance by the military. "I was watched 24/7. The school was bugged, so there wasn't really any way to show anything out in the open," Kim said.

Her students, whom Kim described as "lovely," were unaware of the school's religious affiliation. But they knew she was a foreigner and that they weren't allowed to show much curiosity about the outside world. When they did subtly ask her questions about life beyond North Korea, she was afraid to answer because she didn't "know what danger it posed for [them]."

"They had never heard of [the] Taj Mahal or Eiffle Tower, or things that we take for granted, they just did not know," Kim said. "So it was really overwhelming, I think, and frightening to think about how little they can do or know."

Kim Jong Il died on her second-to-last day in the country, and she explained the chilling experience of interacting with her students amid the news.

"It really was [like] a parent had died and the sky had fallen,"she said.

When Kim returned from North Korea, she penned her experience in a new book, Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • In this June 20, 2014 photo, a North Korean man stands in front of a row of homes in the town of Kimchaek, in North Korea's N
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 20, 2014 photo, a North Korean man stands in front of a row of homes in the town of Kimchaek, in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 20, 2014 photo, an exclamation point punctuates a long propaganda slogan in a field in North Korea's North Hamgy
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 20, 2014 photo, an exclamation point punctuates a long propaganda slogan in a field in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 19, 2014 photo, residents of a small roadside town walk towards the main road in North Korea's North Hamgyong. (
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 19, 2014 photo, residents of a small roadside town walk towards the main road in North Korea's North Hamgyong. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 19, 2014 photo, a North Korean man pushes his bicycle to a village in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 19, 2014 photo, a North Korean man pushes his bicycle to a village in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this Monday, June 16, 2014 photo, North Korean men ride in a farmer's wagon in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Monday, June 16, 2014 photo, North Korean men ride in a farmer's wagon in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 20, 2014 photo, North Korean people rest next to the railroad tracks in a town in North Korea's North Hamgyong p
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 20, 2014 photo, North Korean people rest next to the railroad tracks in a town in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this Saturday, June 21, 2014 photo North Koreans walk in front of an apartment building in North Korea's South Hamgyong pr
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Saturday, June 21, 2014 photo North Koreans walk in front of an apartment building in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 21, 2014 photo a monument of a fist holding a bayonetted Kalashnikov rifle stands on a roadside in North Korea's
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 21, 2014 photo a monument of a fist holding a bayonetted Kalashnikov rifle stands on a roadside in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 20, 2014 photo, exhaust fumes, like fog, spills out of the long Hamgwan Tunnel near Hamhung in North Korea's Sou
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 20, 2014 photo, exhaust fumes, like fog, spills out of the long Hamgwan Tunnel near Hamhung in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 15, 2014 photo, an apartment block stands behind hotel room curtains on the main street in Hamhung, North Korea.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 15, 2014 photo, an apartment block stands behind hotel room curtains on the main street in Hamhung, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 15, 2014 photo, the remains of lunch sits on a restaurant table in the city of Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/Da
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 15, 2014 photo, the remains of lunch sits on a restaurant table in the city of Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 14, 2014 photo, portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are illuminated on a buil
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 14, 2014 photo, portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are illuminated on a building side as the sun rises over Pyongyang. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 16, 2014 photo, statues of animals playing musical instruments stand along the roadside south of Samsu, North Ko
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, statues of animals playing musical instruments stand along the roadside south of Samsu, North Korea in Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this Monday, June 16, 2014 photo, walks with a pink umbrella along the roadside south of Samsu, North Korea in Ryanggang p
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Monday, June 16, 2014 photo, walks with a pink umbrella along the roadside south of Samsu, North Korea in Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 16, 2014 photo, farmers walk in a rainstorm with their cattle near the town of Hyesan, North Korea in Ryanggang
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, farmers walk in a rainstorm with their cattle near the town of Hyesan, North Korea in Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 16, 2014 photo, boys play soccer in the town of Hyesan in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Gutt
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, boys play soccer in the town of Hyesan in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 16, 2014 photo, North Korean men share a picnic lunch and North Korean-brewed and bottled Taedonggang beer along
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, North Korean men share a picnic lunch and North Korean-brewed and bottled Taedonggang beer along the road in North Korea's North Hwanghae province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 16, 2014 photo, a fishing boat crosses the Samsu reservoir near the town of Samsu in North Korea's Ryanggang pro
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, a fishing boat crosses the Samsu reservoir near the town of Samsu in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 17, 2014 photo, a deer's hoof used as a door handle, hangs from the front door of the home where North Koreans s
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 17, 2014 photo, a deer's hoof used as a door handle, hangs from the front door of the home where North Koreans say the late leader Kim Jong Il was born around Mount Paektu in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man holds a hand drawn map of the areas around Mt. Paektu as he and colleagues dr
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man holds a hand drawn map of the areas around Mt. Paektu as he and colleagues drive in Samjiyon in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man sits by a cooking fire he built to roast potatoes and chicken in the town of
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man sits by a cooking fire he built to roast potatoes and chicken in the town of Samjiyon, in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man takes shelter in the rain next to long propaganda billboards in the town of S
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man takes shelter in the rain next to long propaganda billboards in the town of Samjiyon in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 18, 2014 photo, the Associated Press vehicle climbs the slopes of Mount Paektu in North Korea's in North Korea's
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 18, 2014 photo, the Associated Press vehicle climbs the slopes of Mount Paektu in North Korea's in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In June 18, 2014 photo, a boulder lies on a path near the peak of Mount Paektu in North Korea's Ryanggang province. North Kor
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In June 18, 2014 photo, a boulder lies on a path near the peak of Mount Paektu in North Korea's Ryanggang province. North Koreans venerate Mount Paektu for its natural beauty, but more importantly because it is considered the home of the North Korean revolution. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 19, 2014 photo, smoke stacks of a factories stand behind a compound wall along a street in the city of Chongjin,
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 19, 2014 photo, smoke stacks of a factories stand behind a compound wall along a street in the city of Chongjin, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this Thursday, June 19, 2014 photo, North Korean women sit in their small food stalls in front of apartment blocks on the
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Thursday, June 19, 2014 photo, North Korean women sit in their small food stalls in front of apartment blocks on the outskirts of Chongjin, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 19, 2014 photo, a hotel employee walks in the lobby of a hotel that accommodates foreign visitors in Chongjin, N
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 19, 2014 photo, a hotel employee walks in the lobby of a hotel that accommodates foreign visitors in Chongjin, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 21, 2014 photo, a row of bicycles are parked next to the sea Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 21, 2014 photo, a row of bicycles are parked next to the sea Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 21, 2014 photo, a group of young North Koreans enjoys a picnic on the beach in Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/Da
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 21, 2014 photo, a group of young North Koreans enjoys a picnic on the beach in Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • In this June 21, 2014 photo, a man works on his car as others sit next to the sea Wonsan, North Korea.  (AP Photo/David Gutte
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 21, 2014 photo, a man works on his car as others sit next to the sea Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)