Global M.A. Alum’s ‘Biking the Balkans’ Trip to Fund North Korean Bakeries

Andrew Godlewski, right, and George Rhee

Andrew Godlewski, Global M.A. in International Relations 2009, will be biking the Balkans this summer.

Biking the Balkans for bakeries, to be precise.

An English teacher at an elementary school outside of Seoul, South Korea, for the past two years, Godlewski couldn’t help but ponder the grim existence of neighboring North Koreans. Of particular concern to him was that North Korean children were malnourished and sometimes starving.

“After taking time to study the situation, I decided to take action and began planning a charity event to do whatever could be done,” Godlewski said. He and his girlfriend, Suzanne Heibel, also an English teacher in South Korea, settled on a charity cycling tour. “We always knew we wanted to pick a charity and to cycle for a cause we both felt strongly about,” Godlewkski said.

Raising funds for self-sustaining bakeries in North Korea

The couple researched charitable organizations, homing in on United Kingdom-based Manna Mission. One of Manna Mission’s projects is building self-sustaining bakeries throughout the North Korean countryside as a means of providing bread for hungry children.

“Though they are a small charity, I truly believe that this has helped keep them a bit more under the radar from the (North Korean) dictatorship, and therefore more effective than other organizations might be,” Godlewski said.

Andrew and Suzanne biking in South Korea

And why the Balkans? Godlewski explained that he and Heibel had originally planned a bike trip through Turkey in summer 2012. When the idea for a fund-raising cycling tour started to take shape, they expanded their route, reasoning that the longer the trip, the more money they could raise along the way.

“From Turkey, we felt it was best to go into the Balkan States, since it’s very challenging in areas, it’s a place not often visited by tourists, and neither of us have ever been there,” Godlewski said.

And then there were four…

As Godlewski and Heigel began planning and organizing the trip, others started to take interest. Their friends Stephen Sessions and Katie Tibbetts, also teachers in South Korea, were so intrigued by the Biking the Balkans trip that they decided to join the cycling team.

Godlewski said he hopes to garner support for the 12-week bicycle tour during a four-week visit to the U.S. this spring. Then, it’s off to Europe for 5,000 kilometers of bike pedaling. The tour begins May 14 and continues through August. Details (including information about donating to the cyclists’ cause) can be found at the  “Biking the Balkans” website. The site, still in its early stages, will also host videos and journal entries during the bike trip.

The Global M.A. in I.R. experience: “…one of the best years of my life.”

Godlewski readily admits that his year as a Global M.A. in I.R. student whetted his appetite for traveling and studying world politics. “The experience was one of the best years of my life,” he said. “The classes were challenging and always kept me thinking and working hard, yet there was enough down time to really get out and explore the various cultures we were in.”

The professional seminars at each study location piqued his interest in global affairs, he added, and an Israel/Palestine simulation exercise in which he participated while in The Netherlands was “one of the most challenging and fun weekends” of his life. (See the Pax Ludens foundation website.)

“I could not have been happier with choosing the Global M.A. program,” Godlewski said. “Since leaving, I have recommended it to…well, pretty much anyone who shows interest in going back to graduate school.”