2 Howard students experience Europe


July 15, 1999|By Diane Mikulis | Diane Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TWO OF our high school students have returned from a three-week tour of northern Europe, where they traveled as student ambassadors.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Darcy Munshower, 15, of Glenelg, shortly after her return.

"It was a great trip," said Travis Goldman, 15, of Woodbine, adding that he would recommend it to anyone.

Darcy, a junior at River Hill High School, and Travis, a sophomore at Glenelg High, were chosen to travel in a group of 32 students from the greater Baltimore area by the People to People Student Ambassador Program.

The delegates -- as they are known -- toured England, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.


The trip included a four-day "homestay" with Danish families.

The program aims to give students an understanding of people throughout the world. Educational activities are planned to acquaint students with the political, economic and cultural life of each country.

For Darcy, people were the highlight of her trip.

"I made new friendships abroad with the people there and the travel managers in each country," she said. "And I also became good friends with the other delegates."

The sights -- especially of London -- particularly impressed Travis.

"It's a great city, beautiful, with lots of people," he said.

The young ambassadors arrived in London on the day of Prince Edward's wedding and found themselves in the midst of commotion. Traffic was bad, and the streets were crowded.

They saw many of the popular sights, including Hampton Court Palace -- the home of King Henry VIII -- the British Museum and the Tower of London.

The delegates met with Sir Andrew Bowden, a member of Parliament. He talked to them about the British Constitution and the role played by the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the queen. Bowden was knighted by the Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

He also made some remarks about the student ambassadors. Darcy recorded them in her journal, along with a record of her feelings.

"We are, according to Bowden, the future and not only our country's tomorrow, but the tomorrow of the world," she wrote. "We are the ones who will lead the generations of today. Cultural exchange will help this world to prosper."

Darcy added, "The weight upon one's shoulder that is felt after being told this is extremely immense, but rewarding at the same time. It feels good to know that we can make a real difference. And People to People will hopefully bring me closer to this goal."

For the next 10 days, the group toured Scandinavia by ferry and bus.

In Sweden, they toured Stockholm and visited a 17th-century ship that was salvaged from the sea and the Nobel Foundation, where they heard a briefing about the coveted prizes.

Highlights of Norway included the Olympic Center at Lillehammer, a boat ride through the fjords, a scenic train ride up a mountain with views of snow-topped mountains and thundering waterfalls, and the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo -- Darcy's favorite. The 192 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland were donated by the artist in exchange for financial support.

In Denmark, the students spent a day in Copenhagen, where they visited the Danish Parliament and the statue of the Little Mermaid, from the well-known Hans Christian Andersen story, that sits on a rock in the harbor of Copenhagen.

They also sailed on several small replicas of Viking ships, with everyone taking part in handling the ships, the sails and the oars.

"We sailed out a ways, and then we raced two other ships with people from our group," Travis said. "Our ship won, and it was pretty cool."

The homestay in Denmark, when students lived with families for a few days, made a lasting impression.

Darcy was surprised by the Danish attitude about drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.

"Lots of people smoke, and drinking at a young age is common," she remarked. "But the teen-agers are very responsible -- if they drink, they don't drive."

Views on marriage were different, the students said. The parents of most of the teen-agers they met were not legally married, Darcy said.

"They consider living together to be the same as marriage, and a divorce happens when one of them moves out," she said.

The education system also has major differences from that in the United States. The students stay with the same teacher and classmates throughout their years of schooling. As a result, Darcy said, they become a close-knit family.

Travis' host family lives on a farm. He was impressed by the amount of work the children do, although, he noted, they spend their leisure time in many of the same ways he does.

"I went to several fairs with them, and they were very similar to those here," he said. "They have tractor pulls, too."

Tractor pulls are competitions in which tractors pull trailers bearing as much weight as possible. The winner is the one who pulls the most weight.

Travis said he saw evidence of Americanization, such as a McDonald's in Copenhagen.

Most of the meals he ate with his host family were simple -- much bread and grains.

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