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Monday, May 16, 2022

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UVa student detained in North Korea

<p>A shot of the skyline of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea | Courtesy of&nbsp;Kok Leng Yeo/Wikicommons</p>

A shot of the skyline of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea | Courtesy of Kok Leng Yeo/Wikicommons

A third-year student from University of Virginia was arrested and detained Jan. 2 in the Pyongyang Airport in North Korea, a country that the University of Richmond study abroad office does not recommend Richmond students who study abroad visit.

According to policy on international travel found on the Richmond website, “the University of Richmond does not permit students, staff, or faculty to use University funds to travel to countries under U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings unless the student, staff member, or faculty member has received specific approval from the Office of International Education.”

“Richmond would not authorize travel to North Korea for students and, if asked, would advise a student against going on his or her own as a private citizen outside of a university sponsored program,” said Michele Cox, the director of study abroad at the University of Richmond.

About 60 percent of the class of 2010 at the University of Richmond studied abroad. 

Otto Frederick Warmbier, the U.Va. student detained, is a commerce student from Cincinnati, Ohio, a member of Theta Chi fraternity, and an Echols Scholar, according to the Cavalier Daily, the U.Va. student newspaper. 

Warmbier was traveling in North Korea with Young Pioneer Tour company, which released the following statement: Warmbier "was detained as the last person to go through customs. Our guide was informed by an airport official that he had been taken to hospital (sic). Our guide attempted to go back to see him, but was unable to as she had been ushered through immigration by airport staff.”

Cox said Richmond would discourage students from going to a country sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

An official report from the Korean Central News Agency accused Warmbier of “a hostile act” and the intention of “bringing down the foundation of its sing-minded unity,” according to The New York Times.

The Young Pioneer Tour company’s website says, “Specializing in travel to North Korea, we are an adventure tour operator that provides ‘budget tours to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.’” Other countries that the company tours include Iran, Cuba, China, Antarctica, Turkmenistan, Iraq, South East Asia and other former Soviet countries.

Lindsay Hamm, a current junior at the University of Richmond, studied abroad this past fall in South Korea. She took a tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA) that separates North Korea and South Korea.

“I went to the DMZ, and at the JSA, there's a blue building on the border. So when you're inside the building you can actually walk across the border,” Hamm said. “I did the whole DMZ tour with the JSA, Third Tunnel, and Panmunjom.”

Isabelle Harrison, a current senior at the University of Richmond, studied abroad in Japan in the fall of 2014.

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“It never would have crossed my mind to try to go to North Korea,” Harrison said.

Harrison recalled the subway cars in South Korea having security warnings regarding the threat of a nuclear attack, and it made her realize just how close she was to North Korea.

Contact reporter Megan Healy at megan.healy@richmond.edu

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