Manitoba-affiliated South Korea school students hike Kapyong Trail with Trudeau
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A group of students at a Manitoba-affiliated school in South Korea joined Canada’s leader last week for an impromptu hike and history lesson along the Kapyong Trail — a historic site where Canadian soldiers defended their allies during the Korean War.
“Teachers in today’s world try to connect learning to experience, and this was everything from politics to history to hiking, which is physical education,” said Josh Berkal, principal of CMIS Canada, an international affiliate of Manitoba Education.
“It was interdisciplinary (instruction) at its best.”
The junior kindergarten-to-Grade 12 academy is one of a handful of overseas institutions that partner with Manitoba. Roughly 500 pupils are currently studying the local curriculum in Incheon, a city that borders South Korea’s capital of Seoul.
Given the private school’s ties to Canada, Berkal — who is originally from Winnipeg — keeps in touch with Ottawa’s official representative in South Korea. It was the local embassy who initially contacted the school leader about meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his first official visit to the East Asian nation.
Trudeau spent several days in South Korea this month to discuss energy security, trade and concerns about China’s human rights issues with President Yoon Suk Yeol, prior to attending a G7 leaders summit in Japan.
The prime minister’s itinerary included a May 18 stop at the base of the Kapyong Trail, where he was scheduled to meet with students and staff from CMIS Canada to visit a memorial for Canadian soldiers who died while defending their East Asian allies during the Korean War.
The Battle of Kapyong is regarded as a turning point in the bloody 1950-53 war period during which Canadian forces resisted communist advances in Gapyeong County.
For two days in late April 1951, a Canadian battalion successfully defended Hill 677 — the peak of a modern-day hiking path and memorial site overlooking the Kapyong Valley — against a force of Chinese soldiers.
Ten Canadians were killed and 23 were wounded in the mission Winnipeg’s former military Kapyong Barracks (now home to urban reserve Naawi-Oodena) was named after.
During a recent video call from Incheon, Berkal said it can be a challenge to teach students about war in a way that makes them feel connected.
“These students, who are very tech-savvy, who live in a very different world than the last veteran living this battle, actually walked the same footsteps and saw a bunker where soldiers had to hide versus artillery shrapnel… to win and allow these students to have peace and prosperity,” he said.
Trudeau, a former teacher, offered to hike the entire trail with students on a whim, the principal said, noting his pupils had a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to have an intimate morning hike with a world leader.
Over a two-hour period, the group talked about everything from the Korean War to Tim Hortons restaurants’ imminent launch in South Korea, Berkal said.
Only a handful of the dozen students on the field trip completed the full trek to a new shelter atop Hill 677 dubbed “Canada House,” which officially opened this year — the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and South Korea.
“It’s extremely elevated, it’s highly inclined and it’s not easy,” Berkal said.
The school leader, who has worked in Incheon since 2010, indicated the latest learning experience is but one example of how students, who are registered with Manitoba Education, connect to the country where their curriculum comes from.
In the past, the international school’s teachers have sought out Canadian veterans to call-in and share their stories about the Korean War in honour of Remembrance Day.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Thursday, May 25, 2023 4:57 PM CDT: Adds art