Baldwin youth enjoy stay in Australia, New Zealand
Alex Beecher and Nicki Smith were able to practice the art of cracking whips and throwing boomerangs this summer.
Even though Smith learned how to throw a boomerang with few problems, she couldn't quite grasp the whip.
"On the whip cracking, I sort of had some problems," Smith said. "I had whip marks all up my arms, on my stomach and I cracked my ear even before we learned how to do it."
Beecher and Smith, both 13, learned these skills, native to Australia, when the pair spent three weeks traveling the region as part of the People to People student ambassador program.
The two Baldwin youth, along with a group of students from the Kansas City area, spent June 15-July 6 traveling through Australia and New Zealand visiting wildlife refuges, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and visiting the site of the 2000 Olympics.
"It was just really fun," Beecher said. "Especially when you're seeing a lot of things you can't see in the United States and especially things you can't see in Kansas."
The 38-member group started the trip in Auckland, New Zealand. Instead of staying in hotels, the group was able to stay in residents' homes.
"That was nice," Smith said. "We got to see how their families were and get a deeper look into the culture."
People to People was originally started by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower to enable American youth an opportunity to experience new cultures.
Participants are nominated, and then must have several letters of recommendations and complete an interview process before they are selected for a trip.
Beecher and Smith said their trip cost close to $5,000, but everything was included in the cost. The only money spent were for souvenirs.
The two had plenty of opportunities and places to purchase souvenirs.
The group visited Sydney and the 2000 Olympic site at Homebush Bay, where they got to swim at the Aquatic Centre.
"I swam in lane four," Smith said, "Ian Thorpe's gold medal-winning lane."
Beecher said he was impressed by the size of the Olympic pool.
"When we were about three-fourths of the way down, we were already swimming pretty slow," he said.
One of Beecher and Smith's favorite activities was sand tobogganing down large dunes.
"That was a lot of fun," Beecher said.
The Baldwin pair also spent some time on an Australian farm, which is where they learned how to crack a whip and throw a boomerang.
"I was probably better at the whip cracking than the boomerang," Beecher said.
Cracking whips and throwing boomerangs were important on Australian farms, they said. The purpose of the whip is to scare off snakes and the boomerang is used to kill snakes and small birds.
Both Smith and Beecher said even though there are some similarities between the culture they visited and the one they are from, there were some things that took getting used to.
"It was helpful they were speaking English," Smith said, "but some of the words they use are funny. There accents were also hard to understand sometimes."
"One time I ordered a lemonade, thinking it was lemonade, but it was Sprite," Beecher said. "They call their Sprite lemonade. I don't even really like Sprite."
Despite problems with ordering drinks, he said he would like to be a student ambassador again, maybe as soon as next summer.
Beecher, who is a fan of Greek mythology, wants to visit next year's destination more than any other place.
"They're going to Greece," he said.