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“At that time, I once again felt proud, and confident in myself, as a student of ‘army-first’ (North) Korea,” he said, repeating a phrase used to describe late leader Kim Jong Il’s military-focused rule.

The trip to Norway, “far from our fatherland,” was the students’ first abroad, Kim said.

Kumsong School, not far from the cottage where Kim Il Sung was born, is one of North Korea’s most famous institutes for the arts and sciences.

Students are selected from cities and villages across the nation to study, said accordion instructor Im Yu Sun. Four of the students who traveled to Norway hail from small provincial towns outside Pyongyang, she said.

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Associated Press writer Pak Won Il contributed to this story from Pyongyang.