Imagine bringing two countries together not by music, movies or shows, but by magic.
Citrus College professor and magician Dale Salwak was invited by North Korea for the fourth time to not only bring magic, but to show that the world is filled with opportunity.
“Magic is a universal language like music,” Salwak said. “Magic builds bridges between different people and appeals to everyone’s sense of wonder.”
Salwak was born and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts. He then moved to Indiana and attended Purdue University for his undergraduate degree. He came to California in 1969 for his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Southern California.
Salwak has been working at Citrus for 40 years. He teaches five courses: Introduction to Shakespeare, English literature, literature for the Bible and two research and critical writing courses.
“I love the classes I get to teach,” Salwak said. “I feel very much at home.”
Even though Salwak enjoys being a professor, he has another job he loves: being a magician.
Salwak was five years old when he saw his first magician. He began performing when he was ten. His first performance was for his own tenth birthday party, where he got paid $2 by his parents.
With the $2 he earned, he placed an ad in the local newspaper and was subsequently invited to local parties and church events.
“It helped [me] work my way through school doing magic shows,” Salwak said. “I practiced all the time and I still do.”
Salwak’s practice paid off and led him to be the first American magician to perform in North Korea in 2009, invited by former leader Kim Jong-il.
“I wanted to be a good representative of my country,” Salwak said. “You have nothing to lose from trying.”
Salwak also went to North Korea in 2011 and 2012. He said he enjoys keeping in touch with old friends in North Korea and also meeting new friends there.
“I look forward to what I can learn and what I can share,” Salwak said. “Each trip is different in a sense because they know me and each time I see more and learn more.”
Salwak said when he travels to North Korea he has a heavy schedule with meeting-filled days. Each trip is a new opportunity to see new places and to meet new people.
“It feels positive that they trust me,” Salwak said. “It is my job to do what I can to return that feeling and to be open and respectful.”
Salwak does not go to North Korea just to perform magic; he also goes because he is trying to ease tensions between both countries.
In 2011, Salwak asked some officials if he could bring American magicians to North Korea and bring some North Korean magicians to America in a proposed People-to-People Exchange Program.
When he visited North Korea for the third time in 2012, he was able to bring along two other magicians as well as his son, Ryan Salwak, and the director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S.-Korea Institute, Dr. Jae Ku.
As time passed, however, the program had to be put on hold.
Salwak was not disappointed and said the door is not closed. Even though the program has not been started, Salwak believes they made some progress since North Korea had approved the bringing of American magicians to North Korea.
“You have to climb a mountain one step at a time,” Salwak said. “Eventually we can pull this together and one day it will happen because they want to come here.”
In North Korea, family is very important and Salwak said it was beneficial for the North Koreans to see him with his son.
“It was a good experience for him and the North Koreans because they never met Americans,” Salwak said. “To meet a few Americans is nothing but positive.”
As a professor and a magician, Salwak hopes to teach not just his students but the people of North Korea.
Salwak said the world is filled with opportunity and there is a lot more to life than what people experience. To Salwak, traveling is very important because it brings history to life.
“You never fully understand a person until we step into that person’s shoes and see through their eyes,” Salwak said. “When I sit down with an official from the North Korean government and he sees a magic trick, magic breaks through the reserve and we are connected, we’re friends.”
Salwak said he will discuss with North Korean delegates how they can once again pursue the People-to-People Exchange Program.
“It is about showing respect for people,” Salwak said. “You have to be open-minded.”