Tired of trips to France? North Korea, anyone?

7th October 2011 at 01:00
A school visit makes history

While sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Pennsylvania, taking a breather during a school trip to the US, British teachers Albert Hay and Joss Buchanan started discussing just how depressingly familiar American culture was. "We travelled halfway across the world and it is just like the pupils see on TV every day," Mr Hay complained. Wouldn't it be great to take their students somewhere really interesting? Somewhere like North Korea.

The pair fell about laughing at the idea. But the seed had been planted. On Thursday (13 October), just a year on from the now-infamous conversation, an intrepid party of 10 sixth-formers and three teachers from King William's College on the Isle of Man will be setting off on what - according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - is the first ever school trip from the West to the world's most secretive state.

"We have been told we will have a minimum of three minders with us at any time," said 18-year-old student James Kelly. "It's a bit daunting. It will certainly be different from other school trips."

On arriving in North Korea - one of the few remaining nominally communist states left in the world - the group will be taken to a 20m-high bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung, where they will be expected to lay a wreath of flowers and bow to pay their respects to the country's notorious former president.

Other highlights of the trip include visits to a school, a university and the colossal West Sea Barrage, not to mention the feared demilitarised zone - the most heavily fortified border in the world, which separates the single-party state from its neighbour and sworn enemy, South Korea. "We'll be able to wave at the Americans on the other side," Mr Hay said.

Despite King William's College's geographical isolation, the 400-pupil independent school prides itself on giving students memorable experiences, and in recent years has organised visits to Russia, Vietnam and Cambodia. But what the lucky 13 will experience this month will be in a different league altogether.

"The pupils are incredibly excited," Mr Hay said. "When I told them in assembly, they thought I was joking. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They are nervous, though. They know they are going to a society that's very different from their own." And it's not just the students in the International Baccalaureate (IB) history class who are giddy with anticipation, he admits. The three accompanying teachers - Mr Hay, Mr Buchanan and Jessica Kaye - have also spent the past few weeks "giggling like schoolchildren".

The 10-day, pound;2,475-per-head trip was tailor-made for the group by North Korean travel specialist Regent Holidays. It includes two days in China en route to North Korean capital Pyongyang.

"The pupils are all learning about 20th-century history; this is their chance to see history in action. The IB is about getting pupils to be risk-takers, be independent; to go out of their comfort zones. This is the next step," said Mr Hay.


Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice to visitors to North Korea:

Whether you are visiting North Korea on business or as a tourist, you will almost always be accompanied by a guide and will only be allowed to go where your guide is content for you to go.

Perceived insults to, or jokes about, the North Korean political system and its leadership are severely frowned upon. Very occasionally, foreigners have found themselves caught up in criminal cases for not paying what was deemed to be a sufficient level of respect.

Foreign mobile phones and GPS have to be deposited with North Korean customs on entry into the country and collected on departure.

Ask permission before taking photographs. Photographs of Korean officials and of guarded or protected buildings should be avoided.


Day 1

Fly to Beijing, China.

Day 2

Visit Tiananmen Square, Mao Zedong mausoleum and the Forbidden City.

Day 3

Fly to Pyongyang, North Korea. Visit the Mansudae monument.

Day 4

Kim Il-Sung mausoleum and the Revolutionary Martyr's Cemetery.

Day 5

The Tomb of King Kongmin.

Day 6

A co-operative farm and the Grand People's Study House.

Day 7

The West Sea Barrage, the Korean Art Museum and Kim Il-Sung University.

Day 8

The birthplace of Kim Il-Sung.

Day 9

USS Pueblo and the Fatherland Liberation War museum.

Day 10

To Beijing to see the Great Wall.

Day 11

Return to the Isle of Man.



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