While in Australia recently as a student ambassador, 14-year-old Brittany Pawlak learned something interesting about the country. She says depictions of Australia in America are a little misleading.
Brittany Pawlak, 14, a freshman at Evans High School, was chosen to be a student ambassador to Australia. She spent 21 days there over the summer, touring the Outback and visiting Aborigines. She said Americans have misconceptions about Australia.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"I thought there would be more kangaroos like you see on television, with maybe a little bit more dry areas," said Brittany, who spent three weeks in Australia as part of the People to People Student Ambassador Program. "I didn't think it was going to be as close to the U.S. as it was, how the people act and stuff like that."
Brittany, who is a freshman at Aquinas High School, was nominated for the program and had to conduct research and make presentations on the island country before heading out June 29 on a 21-day tour of Australia's eastern coastal territories of Queensland, encompassing the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Townsville and New South Wales.
"It was one of the greatest things I think I've done so far," Brittany said. "I wanted to go mainly because I like a lot of animals and everything. Being so close to kangaroos and koalas, it was awesome."
The educational trip brought Brittany closer to much of Australia's wildlife. She brought home a picture of herself holding a sleeping koala. She said they are actually not the nice, sweet teddy bears that some Americans believe them to be.
The trip included a tour of the Sydney Opera House, a trip through the outback in the back of a pickup, a ride through the rainforest in a military amphibious all-terrain vehicle and snorkeling in the picturesque Great Barrier Reef on Australia's northeastern tip during the country's 80-degree weather.
"The water is crystal-clear blue," Brittany said. "It was so pretty. The fish literally would swim right next to you. It's very, very pretty. It looked exactly like Finding Nemo with all the colors."
Brittany has more travel experience than most adults, so her first trip abroad alone didn't worry her parents, Lynn and James.
"We were just worried about how much she was going to spend there," Brittany's mother said, looking at a Quilpie black opal her daughter brought back as a gift for her.
Brittany said she also was a little shocked by the Australians' reaction to the man some Americans consider the country's most famous native son - Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter.
"They can't stand him," Brittany said with a laugh. "They don't talk like that. They don't use words like 'crikey' and stuff. They don't use words like that, but they had a few words for him."
The People to People program was founded during the Eisenhower admistration as a way to enrich the lives and education of students through travel abroad to study cultures of other countries.
Brittany came home with new knowledge about Australia and its culture, including the Aborigines, whom she saw do native dances and teach the proper way to throw a boomerang.
"It was definitely a learning experience," Brittany's mother said. "She's done more (traveling) than her parents.''
Brittany said she hopes to see the land down under again.
"The overall experience was fun and definitely worthwhile," she said.
Reach Valerie Rowell at (706) 868-1222, ext. 110, or email@example.com.
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