MAHONING VALLEY 53 pupils plan for trip to Australia
The pupils will visit the Great Barrier reef, a tropical rain forest and a farm in the outback during their trip.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
It's a tough time to be an American overseas.
U.S. residents traveling to other countries can face protests about the possibility of war in Iraq, anger about America's treatment of other nations, and even the threat of violence.
That's why Hubbard High School freshman Brendan Keiper wants to make sure he puts his best foot forward when he spends three weeks in Australia this summer.
"It's showing what the best of America really is," he said.
Keiper, 15, is one of 53 local pupils set to travel to Australia as part of the People to People Student Ambassador program. He said he hopes to show Australians that some of the misconceptions they may have about Americans are false.
"A lot of countries tend to see America as a cocky country," Keiper said.
Nick Markijohn, 16, a junior at Berlin Western Reserve High School, added that he thinks some countries blame all Americans for the actions of the U.S. government.
"Just because that's what our government does, doesn't mean we're bad people," Keiper said.
People to People was created by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 in an effort to promote understanding and good will among people from different nations. Pupils traveling to Australia this summer are scheduled to stay with an Australian family and on a farm in the outback, explore the Great Barrier Reef, and tour a tropical rain forest.
Cindy Baer of Howland said her 16-year-old daughter "came back a changed person" after traveling to Europe with the program.
"She's been nonstop focused, driven. She's a 4.0 student," Baer said. "I credit People to People with that."
Baer's 12-year-old daughter, Carolyn, a seventh-grader at Howland Middle School, will be traveling to Australia with the program this summer. She said she's hoping to see some koalas during the trip.
"I want to see the wildlife because I'm a nature person," she said.
Springfield High School junior Amanda Boles, 17, said she thinks the trip will give her a better understanding of another culture. Emery Boyle-Scott, 16, a home-schooled pupil from Berlin Center, added that she's "been fascinated by the country and its people."
"I've always wanted to see Australia," she said. "It just seems like a really nice country."
Taylor Orth, 14, a freshman at Maplewood High School in Mecca, said she hoped to come back from Australia with "a lot of good memories and new friends.
"And just the feeling that I went there and had a great time," she said.
For many, it's a first
Gary Reel, who is one of the adult delegation leaders for the trip, said the program provides many of the pupils with their first opportunity to travel overseas.
"It's the first chance for them to realize there's other countries out there," he said.
Reel is a retired teacher with the Austintown school district. As an adult delegation leader with People to People during the last several years, he's traveled to Europe and Russia, as well as Australia.
Pupils must apply to take part in the program. They also must complete an interview with the adult delegation leaders and collect three letters of recommendation, including two from school officials. Reel said the pupils selected for the trip aren't necessarily leaders at their schools.
The cost of the trip, which is paid by the pupils, is $4,800. That includes lodging and meals, and the 20-hour flight to Australia. The pupils will change planes in Los Angeles.
"It's my first trip on an airplane, and I get to stay on for  hours. I'm not looking forward to it," Markijohn said.
Carolyn Baer noted that she was going to "bring a lot of batteries" for her CD player on the plane, and Keiper said he plans to have a thick book handy for the flight.
"We're talking Charles Dickens," he joked.
Question of security
Keiper added that he wouldn't be upset if he was delayed by security while getting on the plane. Markijohn noted that the increase in airport security during the last year "makes me feel safe."
Some of the pupils' parents discussed security last summer during a meeting about the Australia trip. Sandi Breidenstahl said that part of that discussion was about the precautions taken during last year's trip to Europe. It was the first People to People trip for local pupils after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Breidenstahl's son, Tim, 12, is a seventh-grader at Youngstown Christian School who is making the trip to Australia this summer.
"There was constant security around," Breidenstahl said of last year's trip. "[That] made me feel at ease."
Reel noted that People to People "wouldn't send us if there's any concern.
"I'm more concerned about crossing state Route 46 and Mahoning Avenue," he joked.