Could I have been the professor being held in North Korea?

Steven King
Feb 26, 2018 · 3 min read

UPDATE 3/12/18 You can help bring these men home. Please sign the petition to bring the #usa3 home and take 5 minutes to email your representatives right from

Watching the videos and reading the articles and tweets about three Americans currently held captive in North Korea, I can’t help but wonder how close I was to being in the same situation as Professor Tony Kim.

About 10 years ago, I flew into Pyongyang International Airport, maybe on the same 1950’s jet Tony did. Even though it was just three short days, the life-changing experience provided me an opportunity to know the North Korean people in a way few Westerners ever do.

We visited their prized landmarks and heard amazing stories about their history but we also heard how they lived. We got to see what life was like the average Korean and we even shared an Oreo a North Korean, his first.

After three days, we waited to depart in the airport with soldiers guarding their posts all around us and I think about how those soldiers could have so easily detained us and kept us from our families like they did for Professor Tony.

Years later, I am a professor at UNC Chapel Hill and because of this impactful trip and the caring people we met, I felt this pull to return. I wanted to be helpful. I wanted to share what I know and I wanted to reach out to the younger generation to show them that not all Americans are like what they are told on TV or see on the propaganda posters. I looked into the opportunity to be a visiting professor in North Korea. I researched it and seriously considered a very similar position to the one Professor Tony Kim held.

Professor Tony Kim held captive in North Korea

Today, I sit in my nice heated office before I go into my classroom to teach while he sits in a cold prison cell. I go home to my family each night while he tries to sleep night after night in the dark on a concrete floor.

Professor Tony was not arrested because he committed a crime. He has not even been charged, which is not typical of arrests of Americans in North Korea. Professor Tony was captured by the regime for a bargaining chip. One that has not been cashed in and he continues to sit, most likely hungry, in horrible conditions.

I choose not to pursue the teaching position in North Korea. Maybe because I was afraid of this exact situation but Professor Tony, knowing the risk, accepted the North Korean government’s invitation to invest in their best and brightest young people but now is held captive by that same government.

I ask that you pray for Professor Tony and the two other Americans being held and I ask that our government work to bring them back home to their families.

Share stories about Kim and the others with the hashtag #USA3

Steven King

Written by

Christian, Husband, Father and professor of multimedia journalism @UNCVisCom Chapel Hill. Former Editor @WashingtonPost. Creator @filmSyncApp