COLUMBIA — Before she found out she would have to wear a life jacket, 10-year-old Nicole Schroeder was worried about snorkeling in Australia. Now, though, she's all set.
Nicole, who just finished the fifth grade at Mill Creek Elementary School, is in Australia as part of the People to People Ambassador Program. She is one of 40 students in the United States, nine in Missouri and the only one from Columbia to participate.
"I am most excited about going to the Australia Zoo and interacting with the animals," said Nicole, who gave a presentation on koalas and kangaroos as part of her preparation for the 15-day trip. Tina Schroeder, Nicole's mother, hopes she gains a better understanding of Australia's culture.
The group will travel to Sydney, Queensland, Yeppoon, Whitsundays and Biloela and visit places including Olympic Park grounds, Sydney Opera House and Daydream Island. They will spend time snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, meeting Aborigine people and visiting an Australian school.
Students who apply to the program are interviewed and must submit three letters of recommendation, according to the program's Web site. If accepted, the student is expected to create a positive impression of the United States abroad. Nicole was nominated anonymously by a teacher. The program costs just shy of $7,000.
Nicole's preparations included getting a passport, a travel backpack and arranging a wardrobe suitable for the wide range of weather in the country. As a precaution, Tina got a passport as well. She said she is worried about her daughter but thinks Nicole will be fine.
"I am completely confident in my daughter and the program," Tina said.
As a requirement, students began keeping a journal toward the end of the school year that they will continue through their trip. "I really like writing," said Nicole, who starts at Gentry Middle School in the fall. "I was really excited about the journal entries."
Along with the preparations suggested by the program, Tina and Nicole decided on a few extras, including self-defense classes and swimming lessons. They also practiced skills such as unpacking, repacking and carrying luggage at maximum capacity.
"It's a great opportunity — scary, but great," Tina said.
Tina also taught her daughter how to do her own laundry, make long-distance calls and take medications by herself. "Normally when I go on vacation, it's a family thing," Nicole said.
The People to People Ambassador Program was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 because he believed that direct interaction between ordinary citizens around the would promote cultural understanding and world peace, according to the program's Web page.