Student ambassadors go international for People to People
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Feb. 23, 2006 - Two local students are getting ready for a global experience as they prepare to travel halfway around the world to the island continent of Australia this summer as student ambassadors with People to People International.

Ten-year-old Samantha ‘Sami’ Stoltenberg, a fifth-grader at Douglas Intermediate School, and Tori Dicus, a12-year-old seventh-grader at Sulphur Springs Middle School, were both anonymously nominated for the student ambassador program that has taken thousands of young Americans across international borders. The program promotes world peace through increased understanding by immersing students into the classrooms and homes of various cultures throughout the world. 

In June, both girls will travel for 15 days with a group of 30 to 40 other students (and chaperones) representing “the best of our country” to learn about the land down under, its history, government, people, language, food, music and much more.

“This is the chance of a lifetime for her,” said Sami’s mother, Rita, who is thrilled her daughter has been given this opportunity. “Sami is like a sponge. She’s always so eager to learn about everything. She has a great time wherever she goes or whatever she’s doing. She has already started doing some research on her own.”

“How many others her age get the chance to go and experience another culture?” said Mike, Sami’s father. “We think it will be good for her to see what’s out there in the world, and maybe prevent any preconceived notions she may have about other cultures.”

Tori, the 12-year-old daughter of Teresa Tadlock and Michael Dicus, both of Sulphur Springs, is an excellent student and an animal lover, who hopes to one day be a marine biologist, according to her mother.

“This is not just another summer trip. It will be something she will never forget and benefit her later in life,” said Teresa, who explained that students gain high school and even college credits through the program.

People to People International was founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who believed that personal exchanges and firsthand experiences with other cultures would make a difference in the world where governments could not.

“His dream, or thought, was that normal, ordinary people could have a greater impact on bringing world peace than any government ever could,” said Mike. 

For the past five decades, People to People has enabled student ambassadors to journey to 34 countries on all seven continents, giving students “a greater sense of what it means to be a good neighbor and a global citizen.”

“We were pleased and very excited for her to be invited to the program,” said Mike, who explained that once they are selected to People to People they may continue to travel each year as student ambassadors with the organization. “We knew right away she would want to go.”

According to Mike, the People to People student ambassadors will experience everything from the metropolitan city of Sydney, to the original Outback’s Aborigines cultures and traditions, as well as the tranquil beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. 

“She’ll be eating their food, learning their dances and what the various body paintings of the Aborigines represent,” said Rita. 

While in Sydney, the group will visit the famous Opera House, enjoy a harbor cruise, climb the 440-foot Sydney Harbour Bridge and learn about the game of cricket, among other things. In Brisbane and along the Sunshine Coast, they will hand-feed dolphins and work with marine biologists, toboggan down a sand dune, explore old shipwrecks while snorkeling in the beautiful turquoise waters and live temporarily with host families to gain experience into everyday life.

At Airlie Beach and Charters Towers, the group will visit a wildlife park, where they will get up close to exotic animals such as koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and other native species. And they will get a chance to study brightly colored tropical fish, giant clams, and different types of coral, as well as experience the world of crocodiles and the high riding adventure of soaring above the rain forest in the world’s longest gondola.

According to Sami’s parents, they feel that the People to People program does a world of good by opening young students’ eyes to faraway worlds of fascinating people, places and adventure, as well as broadening their minds and perspectives by enlightening them to various cultures around the globe that will likely help them more truly appreciate the privileges of living in the United States.

“We’re hoping she will gain a greater appreciation and awareness of the diversity of the world,” said Mike. “And we’re hoping she will realize all the many other opportunities in life that are out there other than those of her own little world in Sulphur Springs.”

The People to People program is open to students in fifth grade and above. Nominated students are required to fill out an application, submit two written recommendations from teachers and one other adult and take part in a 20-minute interview. Upon acceptance into the program, students, and their parents are required to participate in six two-hour orientation meetings that provide comprehensive overviews of the culture, history and government of the overseas destination. The cost of the program is $4,900 per student, and families may do fund-raising projects and enlist the help of their community through sponsorships. 

“Oh, she’s going, one way or another,” said Mike. “But we welcome any support we can get.”

According to the Stoltenbergs, in appreciation for any support given by the community, they plan to host a get-together of sponsors after the girls return home.

“When they get back we’ll put together a little presentation of their trip with pictures and posters,” said Mike “And we’ll let the girls talk a little bit about their trip so that the sponsors can see the opportunity their money provided.” 

Anyone interested in helping to sponsor Tori Dicus and Sami Stoltenberg may call Rita Stoltenberg at 903-438-1195 or 903-439-8723.

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