Jarrod's emotional journey to Korea

Jarrod at the grave of the fallen soldier.

Jarrod at the grave of the fallen soldier.

MONARO High School's Jarrod Sopniewski has returned from an emotional and eye opening pilgrimage to South Korea as part of the Premier's Anzac Memorial Scholarship.

Mr Sopniewski was one of 10 students across the state to win the prestigious Scholarship late last year, which included an all expenses paid trip to South Korea in April visiting significant battle sites associated with the Anzac tradition.

The tour was emotional and insightful for the 16-year-old student, who is almost the same age as the youngest person to lose their life in the Korean war.

Among many of the memorials Jarrod came across during the trip, there was one that was particularly significant, that of an Australian soldier who was just 17-years-old and lost his life in the war.

"I guess it was then, that I started to see casualties of war not just as a statistic but a real person, with a real family, who lost their life serving their country. And in this case not for their country but for another country," Jarrod said.

Jarrod's journey to South Korea started on April 22, where the group of students, joined by RSL representatives, and the minister for veteran affairs undertook official activities at the War Memorial in Sydney before departing.

After arriving in South Korea, the contingent travelled to a town called Mokdongri where they took part in a Kapyong Day ceremony, which is similar to Remembrance Day in Australia.

The ceremony was a highlight for Jarrod.

"It was probably one of the most emotional parts for me," he said.

"I got to lay a wreath at the memorial as part of the service. One of the highlights of that was they played the national anthems of Korea, New Zealand and Australia. There weren't many people singing for the Korean and New Zealand one but for the Australian one it was really loud, and that was just a really patriotic moment."

As well as visiting battle sites, the group took a tour to the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).

Jarrod described the experience in the politically sensitive area as scary, particularly because they were made to sign a waiver that the company wouldn't be responsible for death before entering the DMZ.

"It made it real to me that the Korean war is still happening. It's not over. There are military personnel everywhere. we had our passports checked multiple times. We had to wear specific clothes because we did see north Koreans," he said.

"It just makes it so real what's happening over there. There were guns pointed at us. It was scary while we were there but it was just such an amazing experience."

For Jarrod, who did not know much about Korea before he won the scholarship, the trip gave him a unique insight in the the people of Korea too.

"They are a really different culture to us as well. They are more like a really big family, really welcoming people. Especially towards Australians who helped them in the war.

"At one of the ceremonies, there was a Korean veteran who asked us where we were from and we said Australia and he started crying. He said thank you so much. The gratitude is phenomenal."

All scholars, including Jarrod are now ambassadors for the Anzac Centenary period from November 2014 to 2018 and will be talking at schools about the Anzac legacy.

Jarrod was so inspired by the trip to Korea he has decided that when he finishes school he would like to join the RSL.

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