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Students seize opportunities to explore other cultures overseas

Students seize opportunities to explore other cultures overseas

March 30, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Teachers and textbooks can talk about foreign cultures - but travel abroad is the best way for U.S. students to learn about other countries and the people who live there.

Just ask Clear Spring Middle School student George Burger Jr., who will get a taste of the Kiwi and "Land Down Under" cultures this summer when he embarks upon a 22-day adventure to New Zealand and Australia.

"I want to learn more about other cultures and become more responsible," said George, 13, a fan of the New Zealand-set "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy. "It's going to be amazing."

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He and 32 other Tri-State area students will learn about the customs, language, economy, politics, food and nature of the two countries during the People to People Student Ambassador Program trip departing Friday, June 25. George and four other Washington County middle school students - including Jordan Winters, Allison Grove, Brendan Creegan and Brittany McDonnell - nine middle-schoolers from Franklin County, Pa., and 19 students from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia will meet local dignitaries and stay with host families during their trip.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the People to People program in the late 1950s as "a worldwide effort to bring citizens together to work toward world peace," according to the organization's Web site at www.studentambassadors.org. Teachers and peers who have participated in previous trips recommend student delegates for the program. They go through an interview process and provide letters of recommendation before they are accepted, and attend an orientation before departing for their destination.

George - whose biggest trip concern is avoiding boredom during the 18-hour flight - has been reading travel guides and checking out Aussie currency in anticipation of his first big overseas adventure without his folks. He hopes one day to tour Europe - perhaps as a foreign exchange student in high school, he said.

Eric Goff, one of four adult delegation leaders for the People to People trip, said the experience is "one of the best out there for students thinking about participating in an exchange program" in high school.

Williamsport High School junior Bridgette Rice, 17, acted upon her desire to "see the world from a different perspective." She's been in France since August, living with host families, attending a French high school and traveling to other European countries with her classmates. Bridgette will return to the States on Tuesday, July 1.

"I decided to study abroad to learn the French language as well as the French culture," Bridgette wrote in an e-mail from her host family's home in Epinal, France. "If you're really interested in learning a language, then living in that country is the only way to really achieve it. No matter how much you study out of a book, if you don't visit the country, you will never become completely fluent with the language. Aside from learning French, I think I have learned to get along with people better and how to deal with change. It's hard at first to live with a family you've never met before, but after a while everything just fits."

Rotary International, the organization sponsoring Bridgette's overseas study, is one of many organizations that make such opportunities possible. The service club each year sponsors about 9,000 youth exchange students in 45 countries; Rotary District 7350 - which covers the Tri-State area - will send 22 local students to more than one dozen foreign countries in late August for the 2004-05 academic year program, said Carl Hill, the district's inbound coordinator for Youth Exchange.

Katherine Shepard, 15, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., will spend her junior year of high school in Germany as a Rotary exchange student.

"I've always been interested in a lot of different cultures and learning about the rest of the world," said Katherine, who attends Jefferson High School. "If you go anywhere in Europe, you get to experience a lot of different cultures."

Katherine will live with three host families for three months each during her stay in Germany, she said. She surfed the Web for information about the Rotary Youth Exchange program, contacted a local Rotary Club member, filled out an application, completed several interviews and attended multiple orientation sessions to prepare for her journey.

The price tag for Rotary-sponsored school year trips generally ranges from $3,000 to $4,000, which includes room and board expenses with host families, schooling costs and a small monthly allowance for exchange students, Hill said. The student's family is responsible for airfare, medical insurance and passport and visa-related fees, he said.

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