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Student travel programs vary by thousands of dollars

February 20, 2001

Student travel programs vary by thousands of dollars



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer


SMITHSBURG - Elena Adlon is psyched.

The sophomore at Smithsburg High School has excelled in her studies so her parents are footing a $4,500 bill for a three-week trip to Europe this summer.

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Roger and Virginia Adlon took out a bank loan to do it.

"How can we preach about her grades and not give her this opportunity," Virginia Adlon said.

Her daughter, 15, is one of 74 Tri-State area junior high and high school students who will travel together to France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy in June as delegates for Ambassador Programs Inc.'s People to People Student Ambassador Program.

"It's a nice experience - if you can afford the money to go do it," Smithsburg High School guidance counselor Jack Gest said.

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Dozens of organizations and travel agencies sell overseas trips to students over the Internet. The cost of the People to People trip and many other group excursions includes airfare, food, lodging, transportation and entrance fees to cultural attractions. Some programs, including People to People, also offer academic credits for participants who complete trip-related assignments.

Yet these programs' price tags vary by thousands of dollars.

And many aren't offered to students solely because of their academic achievements.

"Most of those ambassador programs get names from a list- like from SAT or PSAT scores," Gest said.

Ambassador Programs, a youth travel company based in Spokane, Wash., sent program orientation invitation letters to almost 250 students in the Tri-State area, Program Coordinator Pam Estes said. The students were recommended by teachers and peers who had taken previous People to People trips, she said.

Students who express interest in the excursion are interviewed by area trip leaders - whose trip costs are covered by a portion of each participants' fee - and asked to provide three letters of recommendation, Estes said.

"It's an amazing opportunity," said Northern Middle School teacher Nicole Palm, who is the primary trip leader for the Tri-State delegation.

Paramount Elementary School teacher Rebecca Bushey and Washington County substitute teacher Brad Yeakle will also chaperone the trip. There is a delegation manager abroad and one chaperone for every 10 students, Estes said.

Palm took 15 student delegates on the People to People Student Ambassador trip to Australia and New Zealand last June.

The trip "surpassed my expectations times 100," she said.

Palm acknowledged that the People to People excursion is more expensive than some similar programs, but said the cost is reasonable for an all-inclusive trip that packs about 15 hours of educational and cultural experiences into each day.

"The kids never have to pay for meals. They never have to pay admission fees," she said. "You don't need money for anything."

The trip includes international airfare, three meals a day, bus transportation while overseas, hotel stays, all entrance fees and a four-day homestay with Austrian families.

Those families, who undergo background checks, are People to People volunteers who provide lodging and meals at no charge, Estes said.

Despite all its offerings, local travel agents Naomi Butler and Art Richards suggested the People to People trip's $4,500 price tag was a bit steep.

"Is it a good deal? In reality, I would say no," said Richards, owner of Richards World Travel in Hagerstown. "Somebody's making some money off of this."

People to People International made a profit of nearly $500,000 in 1997, according to financial information posted on the Better Business Bureau Web site. A tax-exempt organization, People to People put the profits back into its programs and administrative and fund-raising costs, the Web site stated.

Ambassador Programs offers interest-free loans and two scholarships based on financial need, Estes said.

The Tri-State student delegation will hold at least eight fund-raisers and solicit individual and business contributions in the hope of raising about $50,000 to cover trip costs, Palm said.

"Some kids will raise all their money through fund-raising," she said.

"Three weeks is a long time, but you can do it for a lot less," said Butler, a part-time travel agent and founder of Educators Literacy Corps in Boonsboro. She coordinates an annual trip to New Zealand for educators.

World Strides, formerly known as Educational Field Studies, customizes student trips abroad according to teacher specifications, said Wendy Lamoreaux, senior account representative for international trips.

The Florida-based company could offer a 17-day student tour of Germany, Italy, France, England and Switzerland for between $2,500 and $3,000, Marketing Manager Joanne Myszkowski said.

That summer trip would include a 24-hour trip leader, airfare, two meals a day, hotel lodging, all admission fees and bus transportation, Lamoreaux said.

Though World Strides offers several accredited courses, no academic credits are as yet available for the European trip, she said.

AESU Travel of Baltimore could coordinate a three-week student group trip to seven European countries for $2,560 per person, according to a trip proposal prepared by AESU Director of Operations Bernhard Steiner.

The excursion would include airfare, bus transportation, hotel stays, all breakfasts and dinners, all entrance fees and other service charges and AESU tour escort service and local guides, Steiner said.

Elena Adlon will likely share some insights about Italy with her tour group because she lived in Sicily with her family when Roger Adlon was stationed there with the U.S. Navy.

"When we left Sicily, Elena was 10 years old. All she's talked about since is going back to Italy," Virginia Adlon said.

Elena can't wait. She hopes the rich cultural experience will further her education and put her in touch with some new friends, she said.

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