When Erin Christensen left for a three-week trip abroad, she was shy and reserved. But the Greenbrier High School student returned with an openness that surprises even herself.
"Before I left, I kept to myself a lot and wasn't very outgoing," said Erin, who participated in the People to People Student Ambassador exchange program this summer. "Now, I'm more organized and positive-thinking and not afraid to try new things."
The June 5-29 trip took Erin to Australia and New Zealand, where the Evans resident went snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef and studied at a school in Sydney.
"I found out at the beginning of last school year that I had been nominated for the program," said Erin, the daughter of Bob and Patty Christensen and a freshman at Greenbrier. The program is designed so that participants don't know who nominated them. Erin said she is still unsure who named her for the program.
According to the People to People Web site, "President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that ordinary citizens of different nations, if able to communicate directly, would solve their differences and find a way to live in peace. In 1956, he put those beliefs into action and created People to People Ambassador Programs."
Today, the program is offered as a way of expanding perspectives of students living in the United States. Erin said the experience was enlightening.
"I stayed with a family in New Zealand," she said. "It was definitely a big culture shock. But when you really think about it, they are just like us."
In addition to staying with her host family, Erin took a guided tour of the Sydney Opera House and cruised the Sydney Harbour. She also spent time on a farm in Brisbane and went to Parliament in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.
In order to pay for her trip abroad, Erin saved money earned from baby-sitting jobs and held an Easter basket raffle, which netted nearly $100 in profits. Her parents paid for the remainder of the trip.
"I really enjoyed it," said Erin, who was a member of her middle school's student council, academic bowl team, yearbook staff and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America club.
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