Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 2:21 PM on Wednesday, August 1, 2012

People to People broadens Homer youth's horizons



Photo provided

Zoe Story poses in front of Notre Dame in Paris during her travels with the People to People program earlier this summer.

Homer High School junior Zoe Story, 16, returned home last month from three weeks traveling in Europe as a student ambassador with People to People Ambassador Programs. Story was the only student from Homer out of 50 other Alaskans that toured France, Italy and Greece, participating in unique cultural activities with insider access to significant and historical places.

People to People Ambassador Programs work to promote world peace and understanding between countries by providing the opportunity for students to absorb world culture through firsthand exploration.

By representing the United States in other countries, People to People encourages student ambassadors to recognize the power they have to effect positive change.

Story said a major highlight of the trip was a three-day stay with a small town Italian host family. While her host parents spoke only Italian, they were able to communicate with pictures, hand gestures and through her host sister who also spoke English.

Story said she was initially concerned about the language barrier.

"I thought it was going to be a problem but we were actually able to communicate really well," she said.

Story's host sister, who also is 16, plans to visit Homer next summer.

Story said she gained a lot from her trip with People to People, a main benefit being the "lifelong friendships" she brought back home with her.

"It was the best experience of my life," she said. "I feel like I am — it sounds cheesy — but I feel like I am more mature. I have so many different viewpoints now."

After receiving annual promotional letters from People to People for the past couple years, Story was finally able to materialize her trip this year with the dedicated assistance of her parents, Chris and Tiffanie Story.

"My parents were really encouraging and were helping me out a lot," she said.

Her dad said that he was both excited for and jealous of Zoe's trip, and was able to experience it vicariously through her colorful stories and photos.

"She did things on her trip that I would like to do, but one day when the time is right. It was sort of like the ultimate bucket list," he said. "We were thrilled she was able to have that experience and have the photos and memories and especially the new friendships. She keeps in touch with her friends from Italy, and I think those kind of friendships changes a person."

While he would recommend the program without hesitation, he suggests that parents send kids no younger than 16, due to the personal maturity and responsibility each student is expected to exhibit.

"It's worth every penny," he said. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Along with meeting many educated guides, history experts, and government officials, Story was also able to tour the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, rappel down a castle wall in Italy, and learn a Greek folk dance in Athens.

While her trip was full of discoveries, Story said two of the biggest surprises included the ease with which she communicated with strangers without a common language and the challenge of using different money currencies in each country.

"Going over there I thought the language barrier was going to be hard, but it actually wasn't." She added laughing, "And I thought everyone was going to take American money."

Participants of People to People who pass the parallel academic course receive one semester of Ambassadorial Studies as elective credit.

Story enthusiastically recommends the program to any student considering it.

"It was a really amazing program and the leaders were awesome," she said, "I was really grateful for the experience and I think anyone who can go should go."

Her trip to Europe has apparently given her an appetite for travel. Story plans to travel to New Zealand next summer on a two week adventure with Full On, a partner program to People to People. After high school Zoe wants to take a year off to experience more of Europe before pursuing a career as a forensic nurse.

More information on available trips with People to People Ambassador Programs can be found at peopletopeople.com.