Korea is a country that held special significance to Brendan McNeely’s grandfather.
He fought for the United Nations forces during the Korean conflict in the 1950s, which resulted in the country being partitioned into what remains today as South Korea and North Korea.
McNeely said his grandfather didn’t speak much about his wartime experiences, but he was happy to see his grandson have the opportunity to travel to the Korean peninsula as part of a Youth For Peace Camp student exchange.
“My older brother made a same trip prior to me, so I wanted to go as well,” McNeely said.
“For my grandfather, his experience was something that he held close to himself and didn’t speak too much about it. I can only remember one occasion where he actually spoke about it.”
His grandfather was a long-time member of the Korean Veterans’ Association chapter in Kelowna.
He passed away this past May and McNeely left for Seoul in South Korea a few weeks later.
He was among 200 people from 21 countries who attended the seven-day peace camp, which honoured the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict, which went on from 1950 to 1953.
A graduate of Kelowna Senior Secondary, McNeely is currently completing his final year in sciences at McGill University in Quebec this fall.
During his visit, McNeely and the other participants were involved in many activities that included a day of army training, a visit to the memorial cemetery and a stopover at the infamous DMZ zone that separates the two Koreas.
“We spent most of our time in Seoul but our visit to the DMZ border was kind of eery. You can a sense of the tension that exists there all the time,” McNeely said.
He said the Korean people and the culture he was exposed left him with many positive impressions.
“The people there are so generous and polite. Seoul is a vibrant city but everyone you meet was very polite,” McNeely said.
“One thing that has stuck with me is just how everyone seemed to be in such good spirits all the time.
“Even among the students who were gathering there from different countries and backgrounds, we all got along and there was never any tension.
“We formed friendships from our experiences together and vowed to keep in touch.”
He said the one cultural adjustment that was hard for some was dealing with Korean food, which McNeely said is more spicy than many of the exchange visitors were probably used to.
“I didn’t mind it too much, but some people just found it a little to spicy,” he said.
He said among the Canadian continent participating in the peace camp from Canada were two students from the Lower Mainland, one from Victoria, two from Alberta and one each from Ontario and Quebec.