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By Megan Blackwood
"You never know where you'll end up" is the cliché - and it applies to me. I sure never thought that one day I'd be travelling to South Korea to see the sights and experience the culture. Want to find out how I got there? First, as a gold star cadet, I completed the National Star Certification Exam (NSCE) and earned the Major General Howard award - presented annually to the cadet in each province and territory who receives the highest overall assessment on the NSCE. I didn't do all this on my own, though; I had the help of Capt. Paul Batstone and my friends. Next, I was surprised when I was told I was selected to travel to South Korea!
The trip was from the beginning of July to the beginning of August 2010, and consisted of one week in Ottawa followed by two in Korea. Once in Ottawa, 29 other cadets and I started pre-course, which consisted of making friends, kit issue (awesome track suits), fitness, shopping and touring Ottawa. I got to tour Rideau Hall, the Parliament buildings and watch the changing of the guards. The 30 of us cadets then departed for our separate destinations - some travelled to Australia, the United States and Germany, while I was bound for South Korea.
Capt. Lee was our travelling officer on the 15-hour flight to South Korea. We arrived in Incheon airport and met up with Korean Youth associates (our hosts), the Australian Cadets and the U.S. Young Marines. We all quickly made friends.
We stayed in the capital city of Seoul. Meals there were interesting. Sometimes, we ate familiar things like pizza and sandwiches; other times we got to try typical Korean cuisine such as kimchi (fermented seasoned cabbage), bulgogi (thin slices of marinated beef), bibimbap (rice topped with vegetables, egg and beef) and many more dishes I'm not accustomed to here in Newfoundland.
Megan and her friends learn to cook a traditional Korean meal, Bibimbap.
In Seoul we visited many exciting landmarks including Gyeongbok Palace (an ancient royal palace), the War Memorial, N Seoul Tower (which stands 1,574 feet above sea level), the Samsung Exhibit Hall and the Digital Pavilion (technology galore!) and had tonnes of fun at the Everland Theme Park. We went to Paju and saw the Demilitarized Zone - the border between North and South Korea. We also visited the Independence Hall in Cheonan.
Statue at the demilitarized zone
In Tae-an we weren't just eating and sightseeing. There we survived Marine Camp, which is training with the South Korean Marines. It included LOTS of physical training - repelling face forward, running, inflatable boat training and swimming. We participated in drill in Korean, which of course we English-speakers couldn't understand! The whole process certainly made us stronger and dirtier, and taught us how to better work as a team. It was a big highlight of our trip.
Teamwork with the South Korean marines
Each cadet participated in a home stay with the family of our Korean friends. They were very wonderful people, and made our stay enjoyable and fun. We tried on traditional Korean dresses (called "Hanbok") and learned about their lives.
Megan and another cadet, Axelle Roussety, wear traditional Korean dress ("Hanbok") while posing with their host family, the Shins.
Our group also visited a historically charming village in the city of Jeonju where people live and work in traditional Korean houses. There we learned Korean instruments, cooked our own lunch and made Korean bracelets.
Overlooking the traditional Jeonju Hanok Village
Other opportunities that came my way while in South Korea included learning the Korean martial art of Tae Kwon Do. Plus, us cadets attended the Korean Youth Association (KOYA) campfest, and there was some free time for shopping in Namdaemun Market.
The closing ceremony topped off the whole trip. Our hosts prepared a slideshow, speeches, certificates and a farewell dinner.
Megan (left) and another cadet, Yhashika Myles receive certificates and gifts during the closing ceremonies.
ACE was an amazing opportunity. I learned some of the Korean language, history and culture, and made awesome friends from around the globe. Language wasn't a problem and we all still keep in touch.
I wonder where I'll end up next...