Dictionaries define experience as “direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge”. Yet the cold dictionary definition leaves out the most important part of “experience” - the lasting impact on ones’ life. Some are small, daily changes, others are monumental and open entire new worlds and opportunities. For me, this experience has been travel abroad. As a little girl I always wanted to travel and see the world. I finally got that opportunity through the People To People Student Ambassador Program, a cultural exchange program started by President Eisenhower after WWII to encourage cultural exchange between young people.
People to People is a great program for bright students seeking to strive towards their goals and be successful in life. I was able to participate in two trips with People to People and I enjoyed both very much. I got the chance to visit Europe on my first trip, and for the second: Australia! During People To People trips we explore and learn and have a great time, but also participate in service to the community. Europe was quite different than what I expected. In England I saw the Magna Carta Memorial and learned how it affected the people and the King. The changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace was incredible, and very interesting to see how the whole process worked. In France the D-Day Memorial had an immense impact on me as I realized the overwhelming number of soldiers who gave their lives to bring peace to our world. But the highlight of the European trip was Italy! The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Roman Colosseum, the long, long history, the surrounding beauty and, of course, the food put Italy at the top of my list. And then on my birthday, I finally scaled one of my biggest fears - heights - and repelled down a sheer castle wall. I was so afraid, but went anyway, and I’m so proud I did!
The following year I went to Australia and once again explored new places, but found a totally different experience. I snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef - probably one of my most cherished memories - and tried scrumptious new foods like crocodile and kangaroo! We headed to the outback for a farm stay and learned how to milk a cow, ride a horse, and about life on a farm (I’m a city girl!). But this was a special farm, I also learned: the farmers give the profits to charity. Part of my community service in Australia was caring for a sick koala by watching him and feeding him all day.
Traveling the world and exploring different countries were some of my life’s best and most rewarding experiences. The world is a big, diverse place. Yet underneath all the outward differences - language, color, religion, and geography - the world’s various people are all really very alike. We all laugh, explore, work, grieve, fear - and learn. Perhaps this was Eisenhower’s great insight, and something that his program has allowed me to experience for myself...around the world!