Celebrating 50 years of educational travel, People to People Ambassador Programs recently sent a restored 1962 VW bus to Roswell to visit resident Jone Cross, a long time traveler with the organization.
The organization, founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, was established with the belief that direct interaction between world citizens could promote cultural understanding and, in turn, peace.
As part of a 20 state journey to celebrate the organization's years of travel, Taylor Zajicek and Dan Seibert are taking the bus more than 5,000 miles to capture stories from some of the 500,000 People to People alumni, telling the story of how international travel has impacted the lives of program alumni and their communities.
Cross, the assistant principal at Chattahooche Elementary School, has been traveling with People to People for more than 20 years as a teacher group leader and has been to all seven continents with the organization.
Roswell Patch caught up with Cross to ask her some questions about her travel experiences and what makes them so important to her life.
Q: So, how did you hear about People to People Ambassador Programs; and what made you decide to go on your first trip with them?
A: In 1992 I was one of three teachers chosen by Gwinnett Public Schools and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Hadano City, Japan, to travel to Japan for three weeks. The purpose of this trip was to enhance the relationship between Georgia teachers and Japanese students, who were entering our school systems as companies like Mizuno and Hitachi were sending families to our area. One of the other three teachers had traveled with the People to People Student Ambassador Program. After hearing about her experiences, I couldn’t wait and sent in an application to be a teacher leader.
Q: What makes travel with the People to People organization different from anything else?
A: This organization is very unique in many ways. First of all, there is a selective process in choosing not only the students, but also for the teachers who travel with the program. Teachers must be certified and submit letters of recommendations from parents, colleagues and at least one administrator. Students must also submit three letters of recommendation, one of which must come from a current teacher or administrator at their school. Students also go through a personal interview process with the teacher leaders before final selection is made.
Pre-travel orientations are conducted by teacher leaders for the students and their families. The topics, activities and materials for these orientation meetings are prepared by the program office in Spokane, WA and based on 50 years of travel experience with students. Teachers are trained in how to use these materials before students are selected for travel. These orientations not only help prepare the student with luggage and packing tips, but also give the students the opportunity of getting to know their teacher leaders and fellow student ambassadors before they leave the country. The most important purpose of the orientation meetings is to build background knowledge of the places to which the students will travel. Building this background knowledge makes every aspect of the journey more meaningful.
People to People tries to incorporate a community service event on every trip. For example, groups that are traveling to Costa Rica this summer will be actively involved with building a library near San Jose. My community service experiences have included planting trees around a school in China and delivering school supplies to a school in South Africa.
Most of the trips have homestay experiences where students and teachers are not simply tourists staying in hotels. They actually spend time with a homestay family, experiencing their culture on a personal level in their homes and at their schools.
Each group not only travels with teacher leaders, but with a professional travel manager. This allows the teacher leaders to focus time and attention on the students and their needs. The travel manager handles the logistics of traveling.
Q: Which of your trips over the last 20 years stand out the most?
A: In Russia our international community service project was to help a small village just outside of St. Petersburg clean out rubble from a church that was bombed during WWII. The village wanted to re-open the church for worship, which had not been allowed during Soviet rule. A priest took our group down two flights of stairs into a hidden basement (dirt floor) to show us an altar that had been used from the time the church was bombed in 1941 until 1992, when the Soviet Union collapsed. For 51 years these villagers risked harsh imprisonment on a weekly basis by coming to this altar to worship. I have never taken freedom of religion for granted since that day.
It was very emotional being with a delegation of 40 middle school students when we visited Strasbourg Concentration Camp in France. The experience of seeing the artifacts there and walking the grounds where so many atrocities took place changed us all that day. We left with an overwhelming grief for what had happened there. And, we left with great appreciation and admiration for the role Americans played in destroying the Nazi regime.
Besides experiencing the beauty of Antarctica and its wildlife, it was remarkable to visit a continent that represents one of the few, if not the only, successful treaties signed by 49 nations of the world. The Antarctic Treaty, which was signed into force in 1961 sets aside the entire continent of Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity. It’s gratifying to know that it is possible for different governments of the world to agree upon and uphold a treaty that protects higher interests than power and control.
Q: How have these trips changed you, in other words, what lessons have taken home?
A: One of President Eisenhower’s goals when he developed the People to People movement was for young Americans to see that we have far more in common with other people in the world than we have differences. After experiencing many different cultures, I certainly see the truth in this statement.
Q: Why should others go on a People to People trip?
A: The greatest hope of President Dwight D. Eisenhower was that there would never be a World War III. He had a firm belief that direct interaction between ordinary citizens around the world would promote cultural understanding and world peace. This belief is the core of People to People. The emphasis on a cultural exchange, rather than simply “visiting another country” makes the experience so significant. Traveling with People to People changes one’s world-view and helps students and teachers better understand their roles as world citizens.
Q: Why were you excited for the Epic Bus Tour to come to your home?
A: The enrichment that People to People has brought to my life is third only to my faith and my family. People to People has given me the opportunity to travel, with students, to all seven continents. As an educator, People to People has allowed me to feel great satisfaction in having the opportunity of witnessing young minds awaken to the truths of the world. I am excited to participate in anything People to People has to offer. The Epic Bus Tour is a celebration of 50 years of travel for student ambassadors. For me personally, it was a celebration of my personal experiences with the program.
For more information on People to People Student Ambassador programs visit them online or check out the Epic Bus Tour.