A passion for traveling and exploring the globe will soon take a State University College at Oneonta junior to a country often in the news, but not a popular tourist spot.
Shawn Dacey talked about his upcoming trip to North Korea on Friday. It is part of a journey he has been planning for about a year, which will include stops in China and South Korea.
Dacey, 21, a geography and social studies education major who graduated from Delhi Central School in 2009, said his love of cartography and geography dates back to when he was 4. That is when his parents bought the Encarta 95 digital encyclopedia for the family computer. He enjoyed looking at the pictures of all the different countries and using the maps, he said.
Dacey started traveling in 2007 on a tour for high school students to China. Working in his parents' seafood business, and with their financial assistance when that wasn't enough, he was able to make yearly trips after that. In 2008, this included another high school tour, this time to Europe. In 2009, he went to Germany with the school's German Club.
In 2010, he traveled on his own to Dubai, where he stayed with a cousin, and Istanbul, Turkey. In 2011, he went back to Europe.
His Asian trip starts April 10, when he flies out of JFK Airport in Queens to Beijing. He will spend four days in China, 14 days in North Korea and a week in South Korea before returning May 5, according to an itinerary.
"This is the one I have wanted to do since I started traveling," he said.
INterest in past and present
He has always liked Cold War history, he said. North Korea is one of the last outposts of the conflict following the 1950s war on the peninsula, involving the United States and China, which led to the peninsula being divided.
"It's very isolated," and not much is known, besides what is in the news, Dacey said about North Korea.
He said he is hoping to see what goes on beyond the headlines in the communist country, which despite sanctions, developed nuclear weapons in 2006.
Watching the news, people normally see marches and parades of weapons in North Korea, he said.
This trip will give him greater opportunities.
He said he knows that what he will be allowed to see will be limited by government control, but it will help his understanding of the country.
The tour of North Korea is through the British-owned, Bejing-based Koryo Tours because of the closed nature of the country.
The approximately $6,000 the trip cost will come from money he earned working at his college.
His mother, Sandy Dacey, said the North Korea part of the trip has her "a little concerned." But, "Shawn has been planning it for a year," she said. "It's something he really wants to do. This is his love. It's a good opportunity for him."
To prepare, he has taken special classes at SUNY Oneonta. This included a geography of China, Japan and Korea class with geography assistant professor James Mills.
Dacey is doing an independent study course with him that includes the trip, Mills said.
Dacey will do some presentations when he gets back. He is working as a teaching assistant for an introduction to geography class with another professor. As part of those responsibilities, he will occasionally give a lecture that includes his travels.
"He (Dacey) is one of our better students," enthusiastic and engaged in the subject, Mills said. "I'm sure he has a good chance to get into an academic career."
Dacey said he is considering several graduate schools, only one outside the United States, and hopes to become a geography professor.
Another class he took to get ready for the trip was about the politics of China, Japan and Korea with associate professor Robert Compton in the fall. His department is Africana and Latino studies and political science.
"He did a very interesting paper comparing the economic fortunes of North and South Korea," Compton said. It was used as the basis for Dacey's presentation at the recent college undergraduate political science conference.
"He's a very good student," Compton said. Although he knew the trip to North Korea will be highly scripted, Compton told him, "if you look beyond what they show you, you will find some interesting things."
Not only will Dacey benefit, but SUNY Oneonta students also will gain something when he shares his travels, Compton said. "He presents well and is very thorough."
Dacey said he has had so much support from parents, including father, Mike, and professors who helped him plan his time so he could make the trip during the semester. He has also had the help of students, including members of the school's Korea Club. Dacey is a spokesmen for the group, a role that he said helped him prepare for the trip.
In particular, he has had the help of club member and South Korean student Jaewon Bang. She helped him find youth hostels in China and South Korea, he said. The North Korea trip includes staying in more-formal arrangements.
She also helped plan sites in South Korea, he said. "I wouldn't be able to do it without her," he said
He has no plans for any further trips after he returns. "It is up in the air."