This week's guest post comes from Rachael Sena, an intern at Travelated. Dedicated to her education, Rachael is in her third year at the University of South Florida to earn a Bachelor’s of Art degree in magazine journalism. In her future, she envisions herself editing a fashion/photography/travel magazine (if such a thing exists) while wearing awesome clothes and ordering interns to fetch her caffé italiano. She is most at peace when writing, spending time with the boyfriend and watching movies about chicks that kick ass.
In this post, Rachael writes about her experience in the People to People Student Ambassador program, which sent her to Australia at the age of 16. This program sounds like such a great way for teens to see the world!
People to People in Australia
At the age of 16, my perspective of the world was limited. I understood and respected that there were different cultures all around the world, but never had I witnessed most of those customs first hand. Then, from a friend, I got the idea to travel to Australia through the People to People Student Ambassador program.
The People to People organization had been running since former President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded the program in 1956. Clearly displayed on their website homepage is the phrase “Safety is our first priority.” They have been giving students the opportunity to see the world safely, conveniently and affordably for half of a century.
After months of group meetings and presentations, the date of departure finally arrived. A group of 32 students in matching maroon shirts gathered at the ticket check-in desk.
We flew from Tampa to Los Angeles, then we boarded a Qantas airplane to jet off to Sydney, Australia. It was the biggest plane I had ever been on. It had two floors, wide walkways and three columns of seats. Did I mention it had personal TVs with unlimited movie viewings?
But not even technology and Oscar-winning movies could distract me from the butterflies in my stomach. For 14 hours, I paced the walkways, struggled to sleep and stared out the window across the aisle.
As the bus rolled out of the hotel parking lot the next day, Lou blared the song “Land Down Under” by Men at Work through the speakers. She did this everyday. I can still recite the words. Despite the educational nature of the trip, we still managed to have fun in the quirkiest of ways.
On our second day, we toured historic sights of Sydney, like the Hyde Park Barracks Museum and the Sydney Opera House. At the barracks, we toured the grounds and learned about the prisoners that were housed there. We toured the Sydney Opera House and explored the architecture of the venue. I feel these tours, and the many others I took in Australia, highlighted People to People's emphasis on education and world awareness.
As student ambassadors representing the youth of America, we made it a point to visit the capital city of Canberra. There, we toured the Parliament House and received behind-the-scenes knowledge of parliamentary session. It was interesting to learn about another nation’s governmental system.
Our next destination in Canberra was the Australian War Memorial. This monument building was breathtaking. Not only was there a memorial built in honor of the soldiers lost during the wars around the world, but also a museum to educate people today about life during the war. I am a bit of a history geek, so I loved the overflow of information that I received from touring the museum. I learned to appreciate the sacrifice of Australia’s soldiers and the U.S.’s soldiers.
Just a few hundred miles outside of Darwin, we traveled to Manyallaluk to visit the Aboriginal tribe of the Jawoyn people. Soon, we arrived at the settlement of the Jawoyn tribe. They made a tourism business out of the history of their ancestors and their way of life.
It was one of the most enriching experiences of the trip. Our Aboriginal guide led us on a short bush walk through the hills and grass that surrounded the community to symbolize the “walkabouts” that the young males take. The walkabout is a spiritual journey that the Aborigines take for up to six months in the wilderness. We, of course, only took one to two hours to experience nature, but it truly was enlightening.
Our Aboriginal guide shared the common pastimes of his people, such as painting and basket weaving. Our guide instructed us on how to throw spears, which I did poorly — I have no upper body strength, I guess. We even learned how to play the didgeridoo, which was created by the Aborigines thousands of years ago.
My perspective of the world and its inhabitants changed after this trip. I grew in understanding about culture and religion by spending time with one of Australia’s native civilizations. The People to People organization's mission, which is displayed on their website, states, “We bridge cultural and political borders through education and exchange, making the world a better place for future generations.” This experience captured the essence of the organization’s mission.
Home, Sweet Home
Eighteen days seemed to fly by. My anxiety and fear disappeared as the trip continued on. I no longer dreaded traveling without my parents. I actually enjoyed exploring the world on my own without their guidance. I felt as though I matured immensely in those two and a half weeks, and I learned to respect the differences that make each culture significant.