Students get ready for trip Down Under
December 21, 2005
SUMMIT COUNTY – When Silverthorne resident Kellie Akers got a letter last August saying that her daughter had been nominated for a trip to Australia, she didn’t believe it.”We didn’t know what to make of it,” says Akers. “I wondered if it was for real.””At first, we thought it was a joke,” 11-year-old Abby Akers said. “But right away, I wanted to go.”It turned out the nomination was genuine. Abby Akers is one of three Summit County students chosen to be a student ambassador to Australia under the auspices of People to People International. Established in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, People to People International’s mission is to enhance international friendship and understanding through cross-cultural exchange programs involving educational, cultural and humanitarian projects. Students as well as adults are invited to participate. The organization’s student exchange programs are designed for students from middle through high school.Nominees must receive three letters of recommendation, two of which must be from their teachers.
After receiving her letter, Abby and her fellow Summit County nominees went to Denver for an hour-long interview as part of the selection process, which involved student nominees from all over Colorado.Once they were selected, Abby and the 37 other middle school students chosen for the trip were invited, along with their parents, to an orientation meeting in Denver.During the meeting, parents who had safety concerns about their children traveling alone for such a long distance were reassured.”We were a little leery because of her age, but they spent a lot of time talking to parents about these concerns,” Akers said. “The program has been around for 50 years, so we’re not too worried.”According to Akers, the organization encourages children to begin a cross-cultural education as early as possible.”President Eisenhower felt that if children get involved in this at a younger age, it would help prevent world conflict and wars,” she said. “This involvement teaches children that just because other people are different, it doesn’t mean that they’re not okay.”
Eleven-year-old Madeline Voutour from Frisco was also chosen for the trip.”When I went to my interview, they asked me questions like, ‘How do your friends describe you?’ and ‘How much have you traveled?’ ” she said.”I thought I stunk at the interview,” she added. “I was nervous. But when I found out I got accepted, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.”Madeline’s mother Chris Voutour thought so, too.”I thought, don’t let this slide by – take advantage of it,” she said. “When I was in junior high I knew some kids who did the People to People program and went to Japan.”The trip will cost parents nearly $5,000. Many of the students are participating in fundraising activities such as bake sales and baby-sitting in order to raise the money.
Once there, the students will divide their time between staying with Australian families and staying in youth hostels.People to People International is also sponsoring a separate trip to Australia for a group of high school students. Seventeen-year-old Nadi DeJulio from Silverthorne was one of those chosen for the trip.”I had a friend who went so I already knew about it, and I wanted to do it too,” said Nadi. “I didn’t know much about Australia, but it has always interested me and I’m looking forward to just being there.”According to Nadi’s mother Cheryl DeJulio, the trip is a “dream come true” for her daughter.”She’s always wanted to go to Australia,” said DeJulio. “And this will greatly benefit Nadi’s senior year and be a wonderful experience for her to take to college.”The 40 students in Nadi’s group will spend 18 days in Australia, touring Sydney as well as exploring areas in the interior and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. In addition, they will get to experience firsthand a school based in the interior that is run entirely over the radio and the internet.
The middle school group will have a similar itinerary. The departure dates have not yet been determined, but both groups will be leaving next June or July.During monthly orientation meetings in Denver, the parents discuss travel arrangements and safety issues in one room, while the students meet in another room to learn about Australia. The students have all been given homework assignments to present at upcoming meetings.As part of her assignment, Nadi will be giving a presentation on Aboriginal History. In the middle school group, Madeline and Abby will be completing essays on current affairs in the U.S. and Australia.In the meantime, Madeline and Abby have both already sampled one aspect of Australian life – they got to sample that famed Australian delicacy, Vegemite.”Vegemite is so gross,” said Madeline. “But the cracker they put it on was good.”As for Abby, she has her own opinion of Vegemite sandwiches.”I think I might bring a jar of peanut butter along with me and have the Australians try a peanut butter sandwich instead,” she said.