A soon-to-be Blaine High School freshman had the chance of a lifetime this summer to travel to Australia as part of People to People’s student ambassador program.
“Australia was my dream country to go to,” said Bri Wesloh, who lives in Ham Lake.
Australia was high on her list as a place she wanted to visit because her goal is to have a career working with animals either as a veterinarian or in animal behavioral scientist and Australia has very unique wildlife.
According to the People to People website, the purpose of the student ambassador program is to “provide students with unparalleled access to people and places, beyond compare, preparing them for success in a globalized world by making friends locally and globally.”
From July 8 through 25, Wesloh got to see everything from the Great Barrier Reef, to Aborigine culture, to government buildings. Seeing how Australia is many thousands of miles from Minnesota, a couple of these days were spent inside an airplane.
Wesloh lost track of how many hours she was in flight, but she knows the trip from Los Angeles, Calif., to Brisbane, Australia, was 15 hours. Before Los Angeles, there was a layover in Chicago, Ill. The plane landed in Brisbane because there was heavy fog and rain in Sydney, Wesloh said.
They first went to Sydney where they saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. They also visited Sydney Olympic Park, which is still well used 12 years after hosting the Summer Olympics in 2000.
The group of 40 that she was with next went to Canberra, which is the capital city of Australia. They went on tours of various government buildings. They heard about how the Australian government is a constitutional monarchy. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, but there are three branches of government including the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The prime minister is Julia Gillard.
Wesloh had to demonstrate an understanding of how Australia’s government functions in an interview with People to People officials before she could go on this trip.
Although the teen ambassadors did not go to the Outback, they were able to meet Aborigines in the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory and learn about their lifestyle. She learned that they weave their own baskets, use red rocks to make cave paintings and use boomerangs and spears to hunt animals for food and clothes. She threw a spear and bought a boomerang to bring home.
The ambassadors also visited an aquarium, a crocodile park and a reforestation center where they held koala bears.
Her favorite part of the trip because of her interest in animals was the visit to The Great Barrier Reef where the group snorkeled, did underwater diving and went in a submarine with about 10 people to get views of the brilliantly colored reef from many angles.
“It was very cool. There were so many fish, and I’ve never seen that much color before,” Wesloh said.
Most of her overnight stays were in hotels, but for three days she stayed with a host family in Cairns. The staple food was meat and potatoes, but no vegetables. The meat they served included kangaroo, crocodile and regular beef and steaks. Kangaroo meat was “very chewy” and looked like steak while crocodile tasted like seafood, she said.
The house was small with not much of a yard. The people she stayed with have four kids, but they were staying with their aunt. This family adopts baby kangaroos that were rescued because their mothers were killed. She was able to feed these kangaroos on her stay.
A trip to Australia would be a great summer experience by itself. Wesloh also went to the Florida Keys and Washington, D.C., with two different Anoka-Hennepin School District groups, both which required students to pay their own way.
When Wesloh received a letter from People to People in the mail in April, she was only a few weeks away from the Washington, D.C., trip during the first week of May. The Florida trip was the last week of June.
About People to People
The People to People Ambassador programs have a rich history. Dwight D. Eisenhower envisioned this program when he was president in 1956. Six years later when John F. Kennedy was president, People to People sent its first international delegation.
During the Cold War, students visited West and East Berlin in 1966, visited China in 1970, met with then-President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1980, traveled to the Soviet Union in 1987 to meet with its leader Mikhail Gorbachev, brought Soviet ambassador students to the United States in 1988, and witnessed the Berlin Wall fall in 1989.
Some notable moments since then have been student ambassadors meeting Queen Elizabeth II in 1999 and traveling to the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]