Aw: U.S. college students fight "one-sided" North Korea coverage

Esther Han, a medical student from Texas, said the most impressive part of her Pyongyang Project trip was the Airing Festival, a roughly 100,000-person strong dance and gymnastics performance dedicated to the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung.

“It was definitely one of those events that could kind of take your breath away,” she says.

But the 26-year-old said she noticed what she described as a number of “red flags” throughout her visit.

At one point during a tour through a computer lab at Kim Il-sung University, students stared blank-faced into machines that were turned off, she said, adding that some rooms in the university even felt unused and smelled of fresh wood and paint.