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'People' program sends kids abroad

By walking through the Louvre Museum in Paris and beholding London's magnificent castles, North Medford High School freshman Katie Geidans expects to learn more of the stories behind two countries that have fascinated her for years.

"I'm hoping to come out of it with a greater awareness of the world, other than Medford, Oregon," Katie said. "I love art and want to see over there how they paint. I've always wanted to be an artist."

She is one of 30 students in seventh through 12th grades from across Southern Oregon who will travel to England and France for 19 days this summer through the People to People Student Ambassador Program. The trip includes a three-day stay with a host family.

Wearing People to People T-shirts, they are meant to serve as U.S. ambassadors who promote communication and understanding between nations.

"Some people in France don't like the United States, but I think they're mostly mad at the government," Katie said. "If they see us, they won't be as mad."

Students in the Southern Oregon delegation include five from North Medford High School, five from South Medford High School, three from Crater High School, one from Rogue River High School, two from Eagle Point High School and one from Prospect.

The program, a brainchild of President Dwight Eisenhower, began in 1956, and since 1963 has sent thousands of pupils to travel abroad.

Academically, the program can fuel pupils' curiosity and understanding about other cultures, sometimes influences students in their educational and career paths, and counts as an elective course in high school, teachers said.

Each year pupils travel to a different country. Last year, Southern Oregon pupils went to Australia.

Through a partnership with Eastern Washington University's Eisenhower Center, student ambassadors in ninth through 12th grades may enroll in university courses and earn up to 12 credits before they graduate.

Student ambassadors in seventh and eighth grades are eligible to earn one credit per course.

Pupils are selected to make the journey through a nomination by a teacher and interview process by the local chapter of the People to People organization.

It costs on average about $6,000 for each pupil to go on the trip. Southern Oregon students are holding multiple fundraisers for their journey, including a spaghetti feed and auction by North Medford pupils at 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at North Medford High School.