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In the fall of 2006, I was blessed to participate in the People to People student ambassador program. This program was established by former president Dwight D. Eisenhower who believed in international peace. To participate, one must first be nominated by either an alumni of the program or a teacher. Next, one must go through an intense interview and elimination process which narrowed down the candidates to forty students. So, what an honor it was to travel with these select students and the experience I will always reminisce.
I arrived at the airport around noon with my fellow ambassadors. We had to stand around for what felt like forever and a day due to the usual long lines at an airport. But the wait wasn’t all bad; we got a chance to see the other People to People groups that were traveling as well. Finally, it was time for our plane to board and it was the official start of our trip. We flew to Atlanta first, then from there to Los Angeles which took about six hours. I arrived in Los Angeles at about nine that evening. So for the following hour and a half, one saw many sleeping, eating or drinking coffee. I, myself, had a frapuccino while trying to get in a quick power nap.
When ten thirty came around, it was almost an effort for many of us to even get up and stand, let alone walk down the boarding ramp. But as soon as I spotted the plane we were boarding, my eyes went wide from amazement. What I saw was a double-decker jet, complete with bar and kitchen, with a kangaroo on the top fin of the plane. It was the biggest airplane I have ever seen to this day. But my excitement soon went to exhaustion because this flight was over-night fourteen hours. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was either watching TV, listening to music, watching movies or eating the supplied meals the airline served to me.
If I could explain and illustrate every experience and every heart-warming moment that I felt in Australia, it would take me days to express my thoughts. But since I don’t, I will have to stick to summarizing the highpoint of my adventure. On the first day that we arrived, the first thing we did was take a visit to the world famous Sydney Opera House. There, we learned about its culture and the history of its architecture. Immediately afterwards, we drove to the Sydney Harbor Bridge and found out that in a few minutes, we would be scaling the entire bridge. The walk along the bridge was one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen.
Then, one memory that I will never suppress is the night that I fed wild dolphins. The temperature was in the fifties and, even better, it was raining and in order to feed the dolphins, we had to walk into the freezing water that came up to our waists. The next day at that same resort, we rode a bus to the huge sand dunes in the middle of the island and went sand tobogganing. This is basically where you lay on a piece of wood and slide on your belly down a sand dune about 100 feet tall. But the worst part about it all was climbing the dune due to the fact that we were walking on sand. So by the time we got to the top, our legs felt like jelly and pudding.
In our last two days of the trip, we all stayed on a family-owned farm in the country. And instead of staying in a fancy hotel room with beds, restrooms and refrigerators, we slept in a shed with bunk-beds. But at the farm, I had some of the best home-made food I had eaten on the entire trip, especially the tea. At the farm, I learned how to crack a bull whip, which basically sounds like a sonic boom. And on the very last day of the trip, we made a huge bonfire and sang Aussie songs and tunes. The skies were so clear at night that all you saw in the sky were stars. One Aussie said that on that particular night, one could actually see the outline of the solar system, and I could.
I arrived back in the states the next day after a long day of flights and delays. And one thing I kept in my mind was that even though I’m glad to be back, I’m sad to be leaving. I learned more about Australian life in that short three weeks than in the months spent preparing for the trip. On that trip, I gained a sense of appreciation and knowledge for the culture and history of a great country. But I also gained a sense of confidence and maturity that I only realized when I got back to my everyday life. This trip was the best thing to happen to me in a long time. I probably wouldn’t have some of the great friends that I have today without the experience and the confidence that I acquired after this adventure.