Lauren Roewe, a junior at Washington High School, is afraid of heights, but she’s also a “daredevil.”
The latter won out on a trip to Australia with the People to People Ambassador Program back in June when Roewe was presented with the opportunity to rappel 200 feet down a mountain.
“I did it,” she said, smiling.
So did Brendin Rogers, a sophomore at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, who also made the trip.
The two Washington students were among a group of some 48 high school-age student ambassadors and four adult leaders from all over the country who went to Australia to learn about the culture, engage in fun activities and interact with the local people.
It was a three-week trip that took the group from Brisbane to Sydney to Cairns. They visited schools, stayed on a family farm, learned about local history, experienced the culture through hands-on activities, like the mountain rappelling, and more.
The program is about building responsibility and leadership in the students and raising their global awareness.
Both Lauren’s and Brendin’s parents agree — they came home with more maturity.
Lauren said she learned about the People to People program through letters the organization has been sending her for the last few years, citing her “achievements.”
Brendin was nominated for the program from someone else, probably one of his two cousins who made a previous trip.
According to the People to People website, students don’t have to be nominated for the program, but there is an application process that includes providing two or three letters of recommendation, plus an interview with the program leader.
Students who are accepted then begin attending regular meetings to prepare for the trip. This includes doing research and writing reports on various topics for the country they will be visiting.
Lauren and Brendin said for their trip their group had done reports on the wildlife, culture, people and a history of the country.
“It’s a very well-organized program, very professional,” said Lauren’s mom, Lona Roewe, who initially was not pleased that her daughter was going to Australia.
“I was nervous, and I was mad at her dad for letting her go,” she said. “But eventually I went to one of the monthly meetings, and I fell in love with the program. I wanted to be one of the adult leaders who go.”
Brendin’s mom, Angela Rogers, Washington, also was impressed by the initial informational meeting, where alumni stood up and told about their experience.
“They talked about how the trip really changed their lives, made them more responsible for themselves,” said Rogers. “Since their parents aren’t on the trip with them, and they don’t even call us every day, the kids have to grow up.”
Fun Plus Learning
Although the entire trip is intended as a learning experience for the students, Lauren and Brendin said it was always fun.
One of Lauren’s favorite parts was the “Full On” program that included the mountain rappelling activity. Presented by a group from neighboring New Zealand, “Full On” also taught the students how to break a 1 1/2-inch thick board using their hand.
“It’s all about, ‘If you set your mind to do something, you can do it,’ ” said Lauren.
The experience of breaking a board with just her hand was empowering, more so than she could have imagined.
“I felt like I had super powers,” she remarked. “I felt like I could do anything after that.”
Brendin said his favorite part of the trip was the farm stay, where the students lived on a working farm and helped with the daily chores.
“It was one of the first times we weren’t in a hotel in a city,” said Brendin, who liked the seclusion of the farm. “You couldn’t see any other buildings around . . . his driveway was like eight miles long.”
All 48 of the students stayed in a bunkhouse on the property.
Lauren, who lives on a farm here in Washington, said she appreciated seeing the differences in how Australian farmers do things.
Other activities included surfing, snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, sand tobogganing and visited the Skywalk observation deck at the top of Sydney Tower. The students also visited Billabong Animal Sanctuary, where they were able to pet and feed kangaroos and hold koala bears and wombats.
“It was like a zoo, but the animals weren’t caged at all,” said Lauren.
Licking Ant Butts and Other Food Experiences
Yes, you read that right.
Licking the butts of green ants in Australia is apparently a treat.
“It tastes like sour candy,” said Brendin, who tried it after the adult leaders suggested it.
“The workers were popping them in their mouths, so I tried it.”
The ants are bigger than what most people in America think of when they think of an ant, said Brendin. And they aren’t eating the ants, only licking them.
The hamburgers in Australia were different than the American students are used to. They were served with pineapple slices and beet root on them.
The students said asking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in Australia will result in strange looks.
“Jelly there means Jell-O,” Lauren explained, noting “jam” is the word you want to use.
But it may be hard to come by a PB&J, even if you ask for jam, said Brendin.
“They don’t have peanut butter in the regular store. You have to get it from the international store.”
Another oddity for the Americans was having baked beans served for breakfast.
The group visited a crocodile farm where they were able to taste samples of crocodile, emu and kangaroo.
One Australian food that all of the students loved was TimTam cookies. Brendin described them as two chocolate wafers with nougat in between with a chocolate coating.
Both Lauren and Brendin said they appreciated being pushed outside of their culinary comfort zone on the trip. It’s made them more adventurous eaters at home, even if it may have altered their taste buds a little.
“Now I think American food is kind of bland,” Brendin remarked.
The student ambassadors visited a primary school where they played with the younger children and talked about what they like to do at home in America.
They also visited a secondary school, where the teachers spoke to them about how their educational system works, since the Australian students were on winter break.
As a service project, the American students brought school supplies to donate to the Australian schools.
They met with several government officials and learned about how the government there works, and they also toured an opal mine, where all of the Americans were given opal necklaces for their mothers.
Looking back on their experience in Australia, Lauren and Brendin agree that it did change them.
“I’m more open-minded now,” said Lauren. “I’ll try more things than I did before. Trying new things there helped me.”
Brendin said he feels “more aware” of what is going on in other parts of the world now.
“I’ve had a general knowledge of other countries, but until you go there, you really don’t know,” he said.
Lauren is the daughter of Lona and Tim Roewe, Washington. Brendin is the son of Angela and Rob Rogers, Washington.
To read more about People to People’s student ambassador program and how you to apply for an upcoming trip, visit www.peopletopeople.com.