By Sara Swann
In 1956, when the world was ravaged by war, Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed that everyday citizens of different countries should meet and get to know each other, resulting in understanding, friendship, and lasting peace with one another.
This became the vision of the People to People Student Ambassador Program, which sent the first traveling delegation abroad in the early 1960s.
Today, more than 20,000 Ambassadors in grades 5-12 and college from all over the country form delegations to travel internationally every year.
West Virginia’s sole high school delegation, based in Charleston, is led primarily by Greg Minter.
Minter learned about the People to People Student Ambassador Program in 2005 through a fellow teacher who had previously led the Charleston delegation. His co-worker convinced him to join the delegation as a secondary leader.
“I wish I had joined sooner,” Minter said. “The program is so well-organized and well-planned. And the experience is a great chance for the Student Ambassadors to grow and change positively.”
Since his start, Minter has traveled to 15 countries through the People to People Student Ambassador Program.
“I can’t really pick a favorite country. There’s always something in each country that I love,” Minter said. “If I had to choose though, it would probably be Australia because the people there are so friendly and welcoming.”
This year Minter’s delegation had 27 total Student Ambassadors and two Delegation Leaders, including Minter. Minter’s delegation paired up with a delegation from Chattanooga, Tenn., that had 10 Student Ambassadors and one leader.
All 40 of them, plus a delegation manager, took a 19-day trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, France, England, Wales and Ireland.
“I always love going back to Paris and Amsterdam, but this year I really enjoyed going to Bastogne, Belgium,” Minter said. “Our guide was an elderly man who survived World War II. His personal story connected everything and made it all real.”
Andrew Mays, a junior at Greater Beckley High School, traveled with Minter’s delegation. Mays has also traveled with the People to People Student Ambassador Program twice before. His first trip was to England and France when he was a rising sixth-grader; his second trip was to Australia when he was a rising ninth-grader.
“England was my favorite country, but Ireland was a close second,” Mays said. “I love London even though everyone else thought it was crowded. I enjoyed returning to London and comparing how I remembered it to how it is now.”
“Plus, I really like British accents,” Mays added.
Woodrow Wilson High School sophomore Alison Pack said France was her favorite country because “it had everything” and she “really liked the architecture.”
Most of the People to People Student Ambassador Program’s international trips include a home stay in a specific country. Each home stay experience is unique. In some cases, each Student Ambassador will stay with a native family for a few days. In other cases, groups of Student Ambassadors will stay in multiple guesthouses, almost like a bed and breakfast.
Minter said, “Before each trip, I try to make everyone aware of what to expect, especially while at the airport and in the home stay.”
This summer Minter’s delegation and the delegation from Chattanooga were split up into groups of eight and put into Irish guesthouses.
Each morning at the Irish guesthouses, they were treated to a traditional Irish breakfast. The host families then packed each of them a lunch and sent them to the peat bogs.
At the peat bogs, the ambassadors cut logs of peat to be used as firewood later. This particular activity was the students’ community service project, which is required for each trip.
Sean Saunders, another junior at Greater Beckley High School, thought the activity was “neat, but weird at first because of the peat’s Jell-o-like texture.” Saunders later got to use the peat he cut in a fireplace at his Irish guesthouse.
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International trips with the People to People Student Ambassador Program can cost anywhere from $3,999 to $7,999.
For fundraising tips and ideas and scholarship opportunities, visit www.p2ppayyourway.com.
The cost for each program is all-inclusive and includes pre-program education and preparation, program activities, accommodations, transportation, supervision, program apparel, academic credit, three meals per day and group insurance. However, the cost may vary due to the program’s location, length, or itinerary.
Academic credit is automatically given to any Student Ambassador in grades 9-12. Offered through the Washington School of World Studies, the credit is in “Ambassadorial Studies” and is the equivalent of one high school semester elective credit.
Student Ambassadors in grades 7 and 8 can enroll for one credit and students in grades 9-12 can earn up to 12 credits through Eastern Washington University.
“I wish more people knew about this program so more students in West Virginia could participate,” Minter said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Mays’ mother, Kelli, said that after Andrew’s return home from each of his trips she noticed him “becoming more independent and appreciative of other cultures.”
Pack said the trip taught her responsibility because she had to “keep up with all of her stuff during the trip” and it also helped her mature because “you had to learn to get along with everyone, especially your roommates.”
To become a Student Ambassador you must be nominated by a teacher and receive a letter in the mail or apply either online at www.peopletopeople.com or by calling 800-669-7882 (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time).
If you are applying, you must first find the specific program that suits you and then pay a $400 deposit that helps reserve your space during the interview process and is credited to your account upon acceptance. All of the deposit is returned if you withdraw as long as you do so before the predetermined date.
The next step is to fill out the necessary forms, submit three letters of recommendation (two if nominated), and pass a required interview with the program leader.
If you are selected to be a Student Ambassador, you will then attend orientation meetings throughout the year, leading up to your summer trip. At the orientation meetings, you will learn vital information about your trip and the countries you are visiting, get to know the people you are traveling with, play fun games and eat snacks.
In summer 2013, Minter’s delegation will travel for 19 days around Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France.
Pack said she would recommend this program to anyone who “likes adventures and wants to always be doing something.”
Saunders said, “You have to be willing to go. If you get homesick easily, this kind of trip is probably not for you.”
Mays said, “If you get the chance to go on one of these trips, take it. I know it’s expensive, but it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”