Trekking along the DMZ to give peace a chance
Trekking programs, or “a long walk across the country” as they call it in Korea, are popular among college students on summer breaks, who walk hundreds of miles and sleep in tents to break out of their comfort zones and toughen themselves up for adulthood.
But Kim and his group will be walking along the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which, despite its name, is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world. The person leading Kim’s group will be Korea’s most renowned mountaineer, Um Hong-gil, who in 2007, became the first person to climb the 16 highest peaks in the Himalayas.
Ninety university students selected from nearly 200 applicants will join Um in the so-called DMZ Peace March. They will walk a total of 350 kilometers (217 miles) from Goseong County, Gangwon, to Imjingak in Paju, Gyeonggi. After the launch ceremony in Gwanghwamun Square on Sunday, the group took a bus to Goseong to start their march. It is scheduled to arrive in Imjingak on July 20.
Um, who founded the Um Hong Gil Human Foundation in 2008 and kicked off the annual DMZ Peace March in 2013, hopes the program will help Korea’s youth take on new challenges and gain a better understanding of the divided peninsula. This year’s event is co-hosted by the foundation and the Korea JoongAng Daily.
“The DMZ march is about young people winning their inner battles,” he said, “and yearning for a peaceful reunification process.”
Kim Geu-rim, 26, a public administration senior at Kyonggi University in Suwon, Gyeonggi, said she was inspired to sign up for the program after watching a documentary on such trekking programs for college students.
“I thought it’d be impossible to walk 300 kilometers [186 miles],” said Kim. “But in the documentary, students were shown helping each other out, and I realized I could possibly make it with such teamwork.”
Kim said she hopes to gain confidence from the experience as she prepares to find a job in Korea’s tough job market.
“I’ve started to look for a job but the whole process has gotten me down lately,” she said. “I hope after marching 350 kilometers, I can believe in my dream of working in a football club and fulfill it.”
As for Kim Su-chan, the nursing major, he said he hopes the march helps him conquer whatever fear he confronts in the future.
“When that moment comes,” he said, “I want to look back at the DMZ march and think to myself, ‘Hey, I completed that. There’s no way I can’t accomplish this.’”
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]