Student #039;ambassadors#039; return from Australia trip

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

Forrest Dewitz and Nick Diamond had never met each other, but through a student ambassador program, they continued a family tradition.

"We met when we found out about the trip, but the amazing thing is that our grandparents and parents used to walk to school together, but we had never met before," Diamond said.

"Now it was our turn to meet," Dewitz said.

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The reason for their meeting was a 20-day trip to Australia as student ambassadors through the People to People International organization. Dewitz and Diamond were among about 20 students in the Tri-State area who went to Australia, including Adam McCarty from South Point High School and Westley Graff from Green Local High School.

Dwight D. Eisenhower founded the People to People organization in 1956. Then he created the invitation-only Student Ambassador Program to provide international educational opportunities to students.

"When (Eisenhower) became president he got together with the government and told them, 'Why should we just read and learn through a science book or a history book, why should we just read about it when we can experience it,'" said Dewitz, who will enter seventh grade at Rock Hill Middle School later this month.

To be considered for the experience, the student must be nominated; in Dewitz and Diamond's cases it was by a teacher. The student is notified by mail of the recommendation and that he or she must attend an orientation meeting and testing/interview process. Then it is time to wait for the phone call.

"It was nerve racking because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity," Dewitz said about the wait.

He got the phone call then headed to Australia.

Once there, the 12-year-old took full advantage of the opportunity taking 16 rolls of film and four disposable video cameras with him.

"I can look back and say, 'I did that, I did something that most don't get to,'" Dewitz said.

Dewitz and Diamond returned July 30 after their plane was delayed and they were sent back to Cincinnati to wait out fog. The total plane time home was more than 30 hours with one straight 18-hour flight.

"I don't like being on a plane that long," said Diamond, who will enter eighth grade at Ironton Junior High School.

A week later, Aug. 5, McCarty and Graff returned home.

All four, on their separate trips, visited the same places and saw some of the same sights.

They went to Sydney and toured the Sydney Opera House, walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, spent time in the Outback, went to a crocodile farm and a rainforest, cuddled a Koala bear, stayed on a farm, saw poisonous animals only found in Australia, including Blue Jellyfish and the 10-Second Spider, and many other experiences.

"We got to do more than most Australians get to do," McCarty said. "I spoke with people who said they'd never been to SydneyŠ Sydney is awesome. I think everyone should go there."

Thirteen-year-old Diamond struggled to choose one favorite part about the trip.

"I've got a lot of stuff," he said. "My favorite thing? The experience itself would be my favorite thing."

All the guys mentioned the Great Barrier Reef as their favorite sights during the trip.

"It was beautiful, just colors all around you," Diamond said.

"Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef was really cool," McCarty said. "I'll probably never get to do it again."

McCarty said seeing the different fish he would not usually get to see and all the colors of the coral was just amazing.

Dewitz will give a science lesson if asked about the reef. He said bright lights will change the color of the coral, there are still more than 200 species to identify, and the bigger the coral, the older it is.

If a science lesson is not enough, Dewitz has plenty of pictures to share, even one of a more than one billion year old section of coral, he said.

During their three weeks, all four students had time to create memories to last, from an experience of a lifetime.

Graff said the trip was the greatest of her life. She said it being a hands-on experience did it for her.

"Being able to actually go out and do things because it was hands-on, not just reading about it and looking from afar and taking pictures," the 17-year-old said.

The same goes for Dewitz.

"A lot of the things that we did were pretty amazing, because some of the stuff you only see in history books, but they made this (program) so, instead of having to read it and learn it, you could experience it," Dewitz said. "I got to see a lot of the things I've just heard of on the Discovery Channel. I just got to see it up-close and personal."