Could you be the Choson one?

Pyongyang skyline

Keen on seeing a part of the world that is a little different from the usual? How about North Korea? Yes, everyone’s favourite foe. Most people get no further than the DMZ, excitedly sharing the “experience” with their Instagram followers.

If you apply today, Choson Exchange can get you in on an official visa this August, meaning a line on your CV like no other. Registered as a non-profit in Singapore (where of course the North Korean leader and Trump recently signed something vague, shook hands and grinned boyishly before the world media), Choson Exchange offers business training to ambitious people in the DPRK – and is looking for experienced professionals to provide it.

The organisation’s next trip is over 18 – 24 August 2018, and  includes site visits in Pyongyang to understand entrepreneurship in the DPRK and a three-day workshop to help local business people succeed. Applications close on 15 June (today), which includes a “donation” of 2,200 USD (about 1,600 pounds), though flights and accommodation are paid for.

As for what Pyongyang is actually like as a place to visit, Choson Exchange have helpfully shared tourist attractions that include a local brewery (wow), the Pyongyang Circus (why not) and Gold Cup Food Processing Plant (I’m in). There’s also the famous Ryungong Hotel that looks a little like the Shard, and I hear the cold noodles are rather nice.

But tourism aside, the key question on most people’s lips is: is North Korea safe? It’s fair to say that country doesn’t enjoy the best of reputations. Choson Exchange have answered this more and on their FAQs page (apparently you can wear blue jeans, so don’t worry about that). On a side note, many countries that have a dreadful reputation aren’t actually that unsafe – you’re probably more likely to be a struck by a falling window pane on the streets of London.

But while it all sounds like a bit of an adventure, it’s wise not to do anything silly – something that many Brits have a habit of doing, whether shagging on a Dubai beach or going on a drunken rampage. Which is why it’s sensible to heed FCO advice on North Korea:

While daily life in the capital city Pyongyang may appear calm, the security situation in North Korea can change with little notice and with no advance warning of possible actions by the North Korean authorities. This poses significant risks to British visitors and residents.

You should follow the political and security situation very closely and stay in touch with your host organisation or tour operator.

That’s a green light to me (go, but don’t do anything stupid). You can apply today on the Choson Exchange website.

Feeling restless? Expand your horizons at Freedom X Fest

A village in Lleida in the Pyrenees

Summer is coming (I can barely believe it, either) in the northern hemisphere, and you might be thinking about getting away from it all. Sun, sand, sangria and all that. Summer is also a time to be rethinking priorities before the dreaded back-to-school feeling returns.

Perhaps, as you sit on that fluffy beach and stare at the deep blue sea, a sea that appears to go on forever, you think big thoughts on doing big things in a big world unconstrained by, erm, big borders.

But where to begin?

Coworkation, who organises work retreats for digital nomads, will be holding a festival on freedom this August in Spain. Over six days, Freedom X Fest will bring together leaders of the location independent movement, entrepreneurs and creatives in a remote village in the Pyrenees.

It’s far from a bad choice of location for a festival seeking to inspire. The Pyrenees are somewhat underrated – amazing food and drink, ancient villages forgotten by time, and fabulous Barcelona on your doorstep. Seriously, what more can anyone want? To kind of prove my point, the following image shows the Pyrenees snapped from a flight I took in January 2016:

More than 50 speakers are now reportedly confirmed, and there will be additional activities such as rock-climbing, swimming, hiking, yoga and meditation, and live music with DJs.

Aspiring digital nomads can sign up on the website for a ticket (with one day, weekend and week passes available).

British Council launches digital toolkit to lure British students to China

It’s been a cracking week for “Brand Britain” on television screens worldwide. First Hazza and Meghan, then Gareth Bale.


The flying Welshman turned heads around the globe for his wondergoal in the Champions League Final, playing for his non-English club of Real Madrid. It’s rare that British players like him play overseas – but look at his record. He now has three or four European Cups to his name, I’ve lost count. He wouldn’t have been so successful staying in England (sorry, Spurs fans).

Of course, we can’t all play for Madrid, but we can choose to work abroad, and if you’re young and up for it, there are few better destinations than China at the moment. (Of course, if you’re a top-draw footballer, you can consider China too – the money is good.)

The British Council recognises this, starting a programme to encourage young Brits to engage with China: Generation UK. Since the campaign was launched in 2013 (the year I left China, ironically), more than 40,000 young people have come to China, to either study or undertake internship placements.

In 2017 alone, there were 10,000 students in China – up 70 percent on the number before the start of the campaign. Impressive. But the campaign is targeting a cumulative total of 80,000 by 2020, and to continue the momentum the British Council has lately been promoting the campaign in Westminster:

As part of this advocacy drive, a digital toolkit was launched to help UK MPs raise awareness about the benefits of engaging with China and encourage local unis, businesses and youth organisations to get involved in the campaign.

The toolkit includes an overarching campaign report with key facts, Twitter and Facebook copy, video case studies, Generation UK flyers and posters, and letter templates – i.e. goodies to help influencers from schools to parents sit up and take notice in the golden opportunities presented to Britain and young people.

Hopefully these messages will reach more people from outside the Home Counties. The British Council report shows that – predictably – most programme participants are from London and the Southeast.

In the unlikely event you’re an MP, or someone connected to an MP, you can download the digital kit from the British Council China landing page.

In the even more unlikely event you’re Gareth Bale and reading this, and considering your next move, you are still too young for China, so I would stay put at Madrid, or perhaps look at PSG (thank me later)…