By Cpl. Jin Choi (Red Cloud Garrison)December 8, 2010
POCHEON, South Korea - Sixty students and four teachers from Dongducheon Foreign Language High School joined 20 garrison Soldiers from Warrior Country for a virtual excursion Nov. 19 across the African continent - albeit at the Africa Cultural Center.
The excursion was an extension of the community relations outreach program that U.S. Army Garrison Casey formed with Dongducheon Foreign Language High School. Twice each year the school some of its Korean students who are studying English to the installation for a tour and to practice their English with Soldiers.
"We have maintained friendly relations with U.S. Casey Garrison for the last two years," said Kim Young-kwan, chief of school's English Education Department. "Those who are participating today are getting the opportunity to practice what they learn in class. The students are enthusiastic and they're trying to talk to Soldiers in English, so I know it will be worthwhile for them."
Before departing, the participants were quickly divided into two groups of 30 for the trip to the center located between Uijeongbu and Dongducheon. The students and Soldiers eagerly talked to each other during the one-hour commute.
"There are some Soldiers in my group who I met when I participated in the Casey Garrison tour last summer," said Ham Ji-hui, a 10th grade female student from Ilsan. "It is nice to meet them again. They are really kind to me and I had such a nice time with them. I feel like we have known each other for a long time."
After arriving at the center, the participants toured the four exhibition halls in their assigned groups. The center, which also has an Africa Art Museum, contains thousands of sculptures, household items and stuffed and mounted African animals, and is one of the most extensive collections in East Asia. Construction of the $21 million center began in 1998 and was completed in 2006.
In addition to its static displays, African natives at the center played native instruments and sang songs from their homeland, as well as the Korean folk song, "Arirang."
"The performance was fantastic," said Spc. Dwayne Duncan, unit mail clerk for HHC, USAG Red Cloud. "I would never have thought about visiting an African museum in South Korea. It was a very pleasant surprise to see the way it was depicted."
After the show, everyone had lunch and spent time talking and laughing.
"Students who are participating today are more enthusiastic than they are in the class and they keep trying to speak English, so I know it is working for us," said Park Sung-woo, a 10th grade male student from Seoul.
The next stop took the group to the Pocheon Art Valley - an abandoned quarry -transformed by the City of Pocheon into a culture and art zone. The valley opened to the public in 2009 and today it contains a three-story art exhibition hall and an open-air granite stone park with a monorail that takes tourists to the beautiful emerald Cheongju Lake.
"This was a very unique experience and I really enjoyed it," said 1st Sgt. Trinette March, HHC Red Cloud first sergeant. "The tour was a chance for the students, as well as my Soldiers, to enhance their knowledge of different cultures. The students are all very polite, well-mannered and inquisitive, which made for good conversations. My Soldiers enjoyed it very much so I would send them again if there's another chance."