A family experience in the People to People (P2P) Program, which encourages cultural exchange, leadership and understanding. Our son's preparations for and involvement with other kids in P2P for the 2010 Summer European Tour (England, France, Belgium and Netherlands).
People to People Ambassador Program: Passport to a Future of Learning
Recently, JP, our 12 y/o son, departed on a 14 day European Tour to England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands per the People to People Program Student Ambassador Programs, which promotes leadership skills and encourages cultural exchange and understanding since its founding in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In preparation for the trip, one of the training meetings we had covered safety issues in traveling abroad, including concerns about pickpockets.
I hadn’t thought about it before but was informed of many devious tricks that are used to distract travelers, who are vulnerable overseas, especially youngsters in groups. One of these involves staging a stealing which does not actually happen but informs the perpetrators of where your valuables are so they can “bump you” later and retrieve your money. JP and I saw the movie “Taken” last year, so it wasn’t hard for me to emphasize to him the seriousness of overall safety precautions that we reviewed beforehand.
Another practical thing I shared with JP is keeping his wallet in one of his front pockets, so it is harder for a pickpocket to remove without being noticed. I shared with him about the time that I lost a wallet while on a Greyhound Bus. Apparently, when I was trying to sleep on my way from New Orleans to Conyers Georgia for an Easter Retreat in 1978 to a Trappist Monastery, my wallet must have slipped out of my back pocket. You know how uncomfortable it can be trying to sleep on a bus without much head support!
While I may have actually had the wallet lifted by someone on that bus when I was sleeping, I suspect that I just wasn’t careful enough about it and how easy that such items can fall out. Thankfully, I didn’t have such a thing called a “credit card” to worry about nor “identity theft” per losing my Social Security card and Driver’s License. And I only lost a little money, since I hid most of my money in my socks!
Another neat thing to store money in is one of those small containers you can wear around your neck and keep under your shirt. Our niece, Sarah, just came back from a trip to France and used that. JP remembered about a similar container that he got free from the Louisiana Hunting and Fishing Day that is always held at Waddill Park (This year – September 25th!), so he used that also. While money belts may be helpful in storing cash, it is not very practical for when you make purchases, so we passed on that item.
It took me a little while to learn the currency differences that I needed to be aware of in our preparations with JP for his trip. The pounds and euro values are higher than the dollar, so we tried to get enough of each to proportion out his trip. Since his accommodations, travel and meals were included in the trip, JP only needed money for personal items like souvenirs.
Getting a good luggage on wheels was also very important, since JP will be moving around a lot on his tours. It hadn’t occurred to me that besides the famous dictum of “traveling light,” especially in light of air carriers new limitations, as well as safety concerns with onboard containers, you always need to consider space for what else you will be bringing back from your travels. Davis, our very apt P2P leader, counseled us on the likely need to have to throw away some clothing to make room for the many memory items that will be purchased. So I went to the “big box” store to buy some throw-away undergarments for JP for the first time ever!
Phone contact preps also presented some challenges. Since JP has a pay-as –you-go phone plan, it did not have overseas coverage included. I was able to find out about an international phone rental plan that was available. JP, like most kids, loves to text, so I had to impress upon him the cost limitations that would bear upon that, as well as regular phone calls. It didn’t make sense to bring a laptop which could easily get lost, but he would have some internet access per his ipod and PSP.
After his first few days on the trip, we found that Facebook was the best inexpensive way to communicate in real time. While the parents had a great “phone tree” system in place for intermittent updates from Davis about milestones of the tour that we could convey to one another, I found that it was really turned out to be a great support system means for us.
Another neat thing that Davis did in preparation for the trip involved the parents secretly preparing a few sealed letters for our children that he would give to them at particular points during the expedition, so as to help address any “homesickness” that may occur. He wisely noted to us to give space to our kids and be positive in our limited conversations with them.
A real neat “parent therapy” he did also happened on the day after our kids left the airport. He sent us a very nice encouragement letter reinforcing to us the utmost care that he would take with our children in his professional oversight during their trip. And the 12 other kids with JP from the greater Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas joined about 30 others in P2P with their Leaders from Oregon and Ohio in Houston on their way to England, so they could get to know many acquaintances to share the learning and adventures of the trip!
So as we anxiously await new contacts and updates from our world-wide travelers, we thank God for the blessing of this P2P opportunity, as well as to the donations from many who helped JP and others to be able to make this trip. We can’t wait to hear the stories and see the pictures from JP about such sites as the Buckingham Palace, the Eifel Tower, Normandy Beach, Brussels and Anne Frank’s hiding house in Amsterdam. Also, we heard that JP and some of the other kids got stuck in an elevator for about an hour at one point overseas - talk about a real good team building exercise!
I'm hoping that we can do another fun gathering with all the local kids and families after they return and have had a little time to get settled in back at home. Just like we had a "Bon Voyage" party, we'll do a "Welcome back" one - hopefully a swimming party at our house before school starts.
No matter what else that JP learns from this trip, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” I’m sure he’ll note the following when he returns: “there’s no place like home!” The P2P experience is truly a “Passport to a Future of Learning” – for both kids and their parents! What a blessing from God that JP was invited to participate in this P2P event, as well as last year when he went to Washington, DC per the P2P World Leadership Summit.
So may we join Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and sing 'Teach Your Children:'
"You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye ...
And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die ...
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you."
Thanks P2P for a lifetime passport to a future of learning! We hope that JP can make some more of these - maybe Australia next year!
Keith John Paul Horcasitas, 1133 Knollhaven Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70810, khorcasitas.yahoo.com, July 11, 2010.