Into the war zone

Students at Long Tan on Anzac Day.

A group of NSW students has undertaken a trip of a lifetime connecting with the wartime experience of Australian soldiers in Vietnam through the Premier's ANZAC Memorial Scholarship program.

The eight year 10 and 11 students, who kept a blog titled The Trip of a Lifetime, spent two weeks visiting key locations in the Vietnam conflict, including Long Tan where they participated in a moving ceremony on Anzac Day.

Vietnam veterans John Haines AM - RSL state vice-president - and Gary McKay - author, Military Cross recipient and tour historian - were among those who accompanied the students on the trip.

Passion for history

The students were selected for their passion for studying history and their commitment to maintaining Anzac traditions.

Brody Higgerson, a Year 11 student from Whitebridge High School, said the trip gave him a "better understanding of both sides of the conflict" and visiting the war museums gave him a "tangible representation" of how very differently the Vietnamese looked upon the "American war".

He described as "incredible" having Vietnam veterans on the trip who brought their experiences to life for the group and "to see [Gary McKay] stand there [at the Long Tan ceremony] when the Last Post was played and cry was the most moving thing I experienced on the whole trip".

Cultural understanding

Visiting another country really gave him a better understanding of a different way of life and "a greater appreciation of - dare I say it - humanity".

Knowing what people went through and how many people had died in the conflict had made him less content "to sit around and do nothing" as it would almost be disrespectful.

The students would be submitting individual projects about their experiences in Vietnam and Brody had decided to let his project take a musical form.

Toni Pearce, a modern history teacher at Hunter School for the Performing Arts, said it was "just phenomenal to be on the spot" from both a personal and teaching perspective.

It was "a most amazing experience and one I can take to the classroom".

"I have much more insight, I have much more of an understanding of the impact of the war ... I just feel much more able to converse with the students and given them a much better picture."

She had returned with resources, including photographs and documents that would add to her own students' classroom experience - especially her HSC and Year 10 students studying Indochina.

Thirst for knowledge

Ms Pearce said she was impressed by the students' reverence and thirst for knowledge during the trip.

"And you could tell by the end of it that they had just grown so much," she said.

The Premier's ANZAC Memorial Scholarship program - started in 2009 - provides an opportunity for secondary students from government and non-government schools to travel to one or more of the sites associated with the Anzac tradition.

The Vietnam trip - the first of two trips scheduled for this year - was the first to Vietnam under the scholarship program. Another group of students will tour Turkey, Greece and Crete later this year.

Applications for the 2012 scholarship program are now open.

Photo by Toni Pearce.

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