Learning not to say "ew, yuck!" in a restaurant takes practice, especially for a 10-year-old planning to visit two foreign countries this summer where the food can be, well, different.
So the adults in charge of sending three dozen fifth- and sixth-graders to London and Paris for two weeks as People to People Student Ambassadors gave them a lesson in restaurant etiquette recently at North Carroll Middle School.
The parents prepared a variety of foods their children would probably encounter in Europe: steak and kidney pie, shepherd's pie, scones, crumpets, Devon cream, curd, bubble and squeak (mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and bacon), toad in the hole (similar to a pig in a blanket), quiche, pan haggerty (a potatoes, onions and cheese dish), pastries, cheeses and breads.
North Carroll Middle School teacher Doug Blackiston, one of four trip leaders, urged the pupils to try as many dishes as possible, but not to waste food.
"If you see something you might not like, take a small portion, but try everything," he suggested. He also warned them that "sometimes the food looks like ours, but is prepared differently and may taste different - you may or may not like it."
As the pupils went through a buffet-style table laden with food, parents explained what was in the various dishes and encouraged them to sample things they weren't used to.
The youngsters learned quickly that not all food is equal.
"I've learned I don't like all cheeses," said Hayley Tevelow after sampling some French varieties. The Winfield Elementary School fifth-grader pronounced the potato soup "OK."
Allison Dearie, 10, a fifth-grader at Piney Ridge Elementary, liked the shepherd's pie, while Stephanie Daniels, also a Winfield fifth-grader, approved the toad in the hole.
The food orientation was the fifth meeting to prepare the children for the two-week trip next month where they will visit London, including Buckingham Palace; Stonehenge; Bath and Oxford in England; and Paris, including the Eiffel Tower; Caen and Normandy in France.
The 36 pupils - 21 from 12 Carroll County elementary and middle schools; the rest from Frederick, Salisbury and Northern Virginia - were nominated primarily by teachers, Blackiston said.
People to People
People to People was founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had the idea that if people of different nations could come together and learn about each other and their cultures, they could solve their differences and live in peace, the organization's Web site says.
Its Student Ambassador program was started in 1963 to offer children in fifth grade and up a chance to learn about other cultures and the world, build their self-confidence and develop maturity, as well as serve as ambassadors of the United States to other countries, according to the Web site.
"The program is designed specifically for their age group; it's customized to what they're ready for," said Joel Hoadley, a program director at the organization's national office in Spokane, Wash.
As ambassadors on a learning mission, the American pupils will meet pupils their age to see what happens in those schools, while the American teachers will meet with the teachers in the European countries, Hoadley said. "They'll meet with government officials, like members of Parliament, to learn their ways of governing, and they'll go into small communities to understand how life would be different from here and what makes it different and unique there," he said.
The nominated children must have three references and be interviewed by local trip leaders, and then go through a six-month preparation program, Blackiston said.
"It's fairly selective," he said. "In general, they're pretty high-quality kids."
Not all nominated children accept the invitation to be part of the program. Some parents believe their children aren't ready for the experience, or they can't afford the cost, which is about $4,000.
Children who go have to help raise the money for the trip, and People to People gives tips on how to accomplish that goal.
Allison Dearie is selling handmade earrings and what she calls "Teddy Beds" for Beanie Babies and Barbie dolls, said her mother, Ridia Anderson Dearie. Eddie Poe, a fifth-grader at Manchester Elementary, held a Pizza Hut fund-raiser and is soliciting donations from his church.
The young ambassadors have different reasons for taking the trip, besides being proud to represent their country.
Hudson Miller, a fifth-grader at Lisbon Elementary, said he was told the group would get to see Stonehenge up close, rather than from a roped-off area.
Like many, Melissa Stoner, a sixth-grader at Shiloh Middle, is looking forward to seeing the Eiffel Tower and, she hopes, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. "That'd be very cool to meet the queen," said Melissa, who also wants to see the Louvre in Paris.
Felicia McCormick, a sixth-grader at North Carroll Middle, wants to see Normandy, where the famed 29th Division, which included Maryland units, fought on D-Day in 1944.
"I want to see Normandy ... because my dad is in the Army in the 29th Division," she said.