Severna Park Students To Visit Former Soviet Union

Neighbors/Severna Park

People To People Offers Cultural Exchange

February 13, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

They asked Sara Westrick if she would avoid drugs, obey curfews and refrain from dabbling in the black market.

Then officials informedthe Severna Park ninth-grader she could be in the former Soviet Union by July.

Westrick and three other Severna Park residents have qualified asambassadors with People to People Friendship Caravan, an international organization that takes students to foreign countries in a cultural exchange program.

Westrick, president of her class, has visions of a diplomatic career. The three-week trip to such cities as Moscow and St. Petersburg will be a start, she says.

"With all that's going on right now, with the Commonwealth being formed, I thought I could be part of history," says the 14-year-old.

"My best friend said,'You'll get hurt!' But we aren't going anywhere near the turmoil places, like Georgia."

People to People, based in Spokane, Wash., offers high school students the tour for $3,650. About a dozen Anne Arundel County teen-agers have been selected as ambassadors for this summer's trip, says Philip Webb, a history teacher from Laurel and a state delegation leader for the program.

In Severna Park, Morina Martin of Calvary Baptist Academy and two other Severna Park High students, William Metzger and Ashley Schwarz, also are going as student ambassadors.

The students, along with about 3,000 nationwide, were suggested by educators, then interviewed by People to People representatives. The Severna Park youngsters, four of about 30 students selected in Maryland, received letters in October telling them they'd been chosen as possible student ambassadors. They attended an information assembly and were interviewed by Webb.

"We look for students we thinkwould get something out of it, those interested in foreign languagesor politics or Russian history," says Webb. "Their grade-point average has nothing to do with it."

The reason scholastic achievement isn't critical, says Webb, is that the purpose of the program is to show Soviets "what Americans are like. We are the common man."

Westrick, who likes languages and is considering a political career, served as president of her junior high school's Student Government Association last year, before becoming class president this year. She also works with the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, which meets once a month to work with the county.

"I'm on the environmental action committee; we've adopted a highway, part of Route 3 going north, and we try to keep it clean," says Westrick. "We walk up and down the highway with county police and pick up as much (trash) aspossible."

The goal of People to People -- breaking down barriersbetween cultures -- was prompted by former President Dwight Eisenhower, says Webb.

"People to People has existed since 1963, but students have gone in this friendship caravan for four years, and we feel they have been instrumental in aiding change in the Soviet Union," Webb says. "Young Americans have been going and leaving a good impression on people who have been afraid of us."

For the first time in the caravan program's history, People to People is also taking a deaf child on the trip, says Webb. The Carroll County student will be accompanied by a sign language interpreter.

Between now and the July trip, People to People will teach the students "diplomatic" skills, such as how to respect another culture.

"It is an alien culture, something you couldn't imagine," says Webb. "It's a difficult three weeks. The kids are moving about, making home visits."

Between July 1 and July 22, the students will start in Moscow, then take a train to Minsk. On the way back to Moscow, they'll visit a string of small cities, stopping at Vitebsk and Smolensk, the city that sits above the site where Napoleon's army was defeated in the French invasion in 1805.A visit to St. Petersburg will include side trips to the Summer Palace of Peter the Great and a town named after the poet Pushkin.

Onebenefit of this extensive trip is that students can earn high schooland college credits through Eastern Washington University near Spokane. The college credits can be transferred.

The hardest part for the ambassadors is coming up with the money. For example, Westrick is applying for a $500 loan from People to People, and her parents are paying about $1,000 for the trip. That leaves about $2,000 she has to come up with on her own.

"I'm writing letters to local businesses,seeing if someone wants to sponsor me," says Westrick.

Webb, who has accompanied students since the program's inception, says they change dramatically as a result.

"If we knew what the formula was on why the kids change, we could bottle it and get rich. I don't know why, but I can tell you they do," says Webb, who teaches world culturesand western civilization at St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel.

"Some go over reticent and return speaking more openly, appreciating their country. One young man from Arundel last year literally couldn't speak in front of people. He came back and has been giving speeches at most of my People to People meetings, explaining the program. You wouldn't know it was the same student."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.