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Five students from Seoul American High School and Middle School are taking part this week in youth peace walks throughout South Korea. From left: Seok Min-jin, National Youth Commission; Chelsea Ricketson, 16; Lindsey Parks, 13; Landon Parks, 14; Son Minyoung, National Youth Commission. Seated: Candice Johnson, 12; and Dominic Pacheco, 12.

Five students from Seoul American High School and Middle School are taking part this week in youth peace walks throughout South Korea. From left: Seok Min-jin, National Youth Commission; Chelsea Ricketson, 16; Lindsey Parks, 13; Landon Parks, 14; Son Minyoung, National Youth Commission. Seated: Candice Johnson, 12; and Dominic Pacheco, 12. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Five American youths are about to embark on a journey that will traverse major cities throughout South Korea, introduce them to dorm life in youth centers and challenge their taste buds with local foods.

“I’m going to be hungry the whole week,” 14-year-old Landon Parks half-joked and half-lamented Tuesday afternoon.

Landon and four other middle- and high-school students are taking part in peace and unification walks organized by South Korea’s National Youth Commission. The rallies, which move from Cheju Island to Seoul from Friday to Thursday, will involve almost 1,000 Korean teens.

“I’m hoping they will bond with the kids,” said Samia Mounts, an assistant principal at Seoul American Middle School who helped introduce the American children and parents to the Korean organizers. “That’s the point of the whole thing.”

The American youths will fly to the island Friday and begin their part in rallies throughout South Korea meant to get teens thinking about stemming violence in schools and promoting unification with North Korea. The commission invited the Americans to foster friendships between U.S. and South Korean youth.

“I hope it will be a chance to meet real Korea friends,” said Son Minyoung, who works for the National Youth Commission and is one of the event’s planners.

Son said this is the second year the commission has arranged the countrywide trip and the first time Americans have been invited.

Tuesday’s meeting was an opportunity for the commission staff to explain the travel and activities throughout the seven days. It also was an opportunity for the parents to ask about charging cell phones, sleeping arrangements and medical treatment during the long field trip.

Chelsea Ricketson, a Seoul American High School senior, finally had an opportunity to pose the question nagging at her mind.

“Do the Korean kids speak English?” she asked.

Son smiled, shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.

“They are shy,” she said. “But they can speak English.”

Mounts offered some encouragement. Most South Korean children begin studying English in elementary school, she said, and by high school many have enough language skills to carry on a conversation.

“It’ll be interesting,” said 12-year-old Dominic Pacheco, a seventh-grader at Seoul American.

Dominic and Landon said they both planned to bring snacks while the girls talked about the Korean dishes they’ve already tried.

“I like kimbap and bulgogi,” said Candice Johnson, 12, while best friend Lindsey Parks agreed.

“I don’t like kimchi,” added Lindsey, who is 13 and Landon’s sister.

“Kimchi’s good,” said Dominic, who looked at Landon and shook his head. “I’ll eat your food.”

The trip is to end Thursday at Seoul Plaza in front of city hall with a party for about 3,000 people and a meal of bimbimbap, Son said. The festival starts at 4 p.m. and is open to the public, she said.


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