- Title: South Korean children cross into heavily-armed DMZ to attend school
- Date: 25th November 2016
- Summary: PANMUNJOM, DEMILITARIZED ZONE, SOUTH KOREA (FILE - 2013) (REUTERS) TRUCE VILLAGE OF PANMUNJOM, AS SEEN FROM SOUTH KOREAN SIDE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIER LOOKING THROUGH BINOCULARS SOUTH KOREAN SOLDIER STANDING SOUTH KOREAN SOLDIER LOOKING ON
- Embargoed: 10th December 2016 02:07
- Keywords: education South Korea boarding school DMZ North Korea school children English language American soldiers demilitarized zone
- Location: PAJU AND DEMILITARIZED ZONE, SOUTH KOREA
- City: PAJU AND DEMILITARIZED ZONE, SOUTH KOREA
- Country: South Korea
- Topics: Education,Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA00259XYQMD
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:For 11-year-old Lee Su-jin, crossing into one of the world's most heavily-armed zones, past barbed wire fences, military checkpoints and anti-tank barricades, has become a routine.
Lee goes to school in the Korean peninsula's Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the 4-km wide buffer separating South and North Korea that former U.S. President Bill Clinton once called "the scariest place on earth."
"People are worried about us, but soldiers are with us and we do (evacuation) drills, so I don't think there is anything to be scared or worried about," Lee, who is in fourth grade, told Reuters.
Lee and 23 other children make the daily commute from nearby towns to attend the Daesungdong Elementary School, located in Freedom Village, a settlement on the southern side of the DMZ.
The school, a few steps away from North Korea, has become coveted by South Koreans living near the heavily armed border area for the rare opportunity it presents their children to learn English from native speakers, specifically American military personnel under the U.N. Command overseeing the Korean War truce.
"It's just a very unique experience," said U.S. sailor Bryan Waite, 22, who has volunteered to teach English at the school for a year.
"It's very important that the children, from a young age, are exposed to English and to knowing what the DMZ is and how it comes into play in their lives and the history behind it."
The school originally opened for children of farmers who were allowed to stay in the DMZ by the United Nations after the 1953 armistice agreement.
It was in danger of closing due to the declining population of the village until it opened its doors to children from outside in 2008, and the U.S.-led U.N. command started sending soldiers as volunteers to teach English there twice a week.
Students now pay no tuition for classes, meals and even extracurricular English lessons, giving them a huge advantage over their peers back in South Korea, where parents dish out large sums of money for their children's English education.
"Kids from other schools are not capable of speaking English in front of actual native speakers; I think that is a huge advantage we have," 13-year-old Jung Woo-jin, a sixth grader.
Each year, the school holds a lottery to fill any vacancies - it has just a 30-student quota, and usually only one of out three or four applicants get accepted, teachers say.
But contrary to the upbeat mood in class, an air of uneasy tension fills the streets of the village, where farmers work under the supervision of U.N. Command's Joint Security Area soldiers, and students are forbidden from venturing outside on their own.
Teachers and children are not allowed to remain overnight in the village where a nightly curfew is on from midnight to 5 a.m.
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