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Foreign students gain valuable memories of Korea at military camp

Foreign students gain valuable memories of Korea at military camp

Posted December. 17, 2013 00:39,   


“Fire,” “Run forward,” “Lie down.”

Shouts by colleagues in Korean, English and Chinese were heard aloud here and there. Said Muhammad, 25, (Hanyang University graduate school of international studies) aimed his rifle at the mock enemy forces, hiding himself behind a drum. With more than 20 bullets left in his ammunition, the number of enemy soldiers fell to some 10 from more than 30, but he faced strong resistance and counterattacks. With influx of gunshots from all different directions, he could not move forward to the enemy fortress, which was only about 30 plus meters ahead of him.

The event took place at former U.S. military Camp Grieves within restricted areas for civilians in the township of Gunnae-myeon, Paju City, Gyeonggi Province on Saturday. More than 60 foreign students clad in blue and red military uniforms were engaged in mock combat. Divided into two groups, they were required to take control of the other’s fortress before the rival to win the game. Paint balls were used in lieu of real bullets, and individuals were granted about 50 shots to fire each. Tension ran very high at the mock combat as if it was a real combat.

The Gyeonggi provincial government, Paju City, and Gyeonggi Tourism Organization opened to the public Camp Grieves that transformed into a stay-over type facility for experiencing national security and defense for the first time after six-month renovation work. An area measuring 117,000 square meters, or about half of the camp, has been changed into an experience facility. More than 120 undergraduate and graduate students from foreign countries who are studying at 24 universities in Korea took part in a two-day security experience program. They are the first batch of participants since the construction of the camp.

Most of the students, who took two- to three-hour bus rides from Seoul and Suwon, have stayed in Korea for one to three years each, and thus are proficient in Korean, and have good understanding of Korean culture. However, they showed no signs of mischievous behaviors that they had displayed soon after arriving at the camp, which is off-limit for civilians. They would smile as if they felt awkward after changing their clothes to the newly introduced digital military uniform, which was provided by the camp. After completing registration for their admission to the camp at the auditorium, they made a queue to have lunch served on their plates one by one. After unpacking their belongings at the barracks that were created by remodeling barracks of American troops, they looked around different sites at the barracks.

They took part in mock combat, chocolate making in the shape of the demilitarized zone, patriotic concert recreation, skills competition by group, bed-check roll call, and morning roll call, and took tours to Third Underground Tunnel for aggression built by North Korea, Mount Dora Observatory, and Tongil (Unification) Village through Sunday, experiencing in person the situation of a divided Korean Peninsula.

“We all got solemn upon hearing that fierce battle took place here 60 years ago,” said Christina from Lithuania, 23, (Exchange student at Ajou University). “The two-day military experience program within areas off limit for civilians will remain an unforgettable memory throughout my life.”

The camp is housing living quarters, a gymnasium, ammunition storage, officers’ dormitory, and pool, which were used by the U.S. military, are more than 50 years old but remain intact. Greenhouse shaped, semicircular roofed “Quonset barracks” covered with galvanized steel are also well kept in their original form. Camp Grieves was the only U.S. military base that was located above the restricted areas for civilians north of the Imjin River. Just 2 kilometers from the Southern Limit Line, the base was stationed by U.S. troops from July 1953, soon after the Korean War, and since the withdrawal of the U.S. forces in 2004, it remained vacant for nearly 10 years.

After conducting pilot operation for about 10 sessions through end-February next year, the camp will run experience programs for elementary, middle and high school students, adults and group participants. Detailed programs and itinerary will be announced later on. The participant’s fee is set at 85,000 won (81 dollars) for an adult and 75,000 won (71 dollars) for a student (based on two-day course, and including bus fare and meals).