By Michelle Butzgy/ParaglideSeptember 9, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Most children's "what I did this summer" stories are about going to camp, babysitting, swimming, visiting the beach with their Families and other ordinary summer fun.
Two rising seventh graders enjoyed two weeks of high adventure, history and fun as they explored ancient ruins, toured historic battlefields and made a lot of new friends both from North Carolina and Europe.
Through the People to People Ambassador Programs, Darian Wyatt and Kate McCosh traveled with other North Carolinian ambassadors to spend time in England and France for 12 days of sightseeing, activities, history, intercultural studies and international politics.
Darian, daughter of Niki and Sgt. Timothy McFarlin, 82nd Sustainment Brigade and Kate, daughter of Paula and Chaplain (Capt.) Scott McCosh, 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group chaplain, were nominated for the program by Michelle Smith-Groves, their teacher at Irwin Intermediate School.
After filling out applications, getting three letters of recommendation and interviewing along with six other children, the Fort Bragg students were told they were accepted into the program.
There was a lot of preparation before arriving in London, said McCosh.
"The girls had online classes that they had to complete through People to People that taught history, culture, diversity, all kinds of things, not only about England and France but group dynamics and travel. They met once a month about exercises and team building (before the trip.)"
The students flew to London, where they met their tour guide, Sarah, a college student from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. One of Kate's favorite sites was the London Eye; a 443-foot tall Ferris wheel perched on the bank of the Thames in London.
"We were able to see Big Ben, the Parliament Building and Buckingham Palace from the London Eye," said Darian.
Next was the Tower of London where the ambassadors saw an armor exhibit and the crown jewels. "It was scary to think of all those who were beheaded there," added Darian.
Other destinations were Winsor Castle, Winston Churchill's underground war rooms, Oxford, Buckingham Palace's changing of the guards, the Millennium Bridge and Stonehenge.
"Stonehenge is right in the middle of nowhere," said Darian. "It felt different than anywhere else I've been."
Sightseeing was only one of the many experiences the two students experienced. The group traveled to Warwick Castle where they learned how to wage war as a knight. "Learning how to fight with swords in the pouring rain was not my favorite day," said Kate.
They also traveled to Mill on the Brue, a farm loaded with activities. "We built rafts and floated on the river," said Kate. "They were big enough to fit five to six people." There was also a ropes course for students to climb.
The ambassadors also learned some acting skills with Christian Roe, an actor from the BBC, and caught a show at London's West End, England's equivalent of Broadway.
The group took an overnight ferry on the English Channel to Normandy, France. "It was small," said Darian. "There were four of us to a room with four bunk beds and a chair."
When they arrived in Normandy, they visited Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. The experience seemed to move both students. "When we were on the beaches of Normandy, there was one beach that was left (untouched). You could see the bomb holes and wires sticking out of buildings with walls half gone," said Kate.
"(France has) so many museums and memorials dedicated to (World War II). Here in America, we don't have as many as them. We have to go to another country to see our war history," said Darian. "It was very sad knowing all these people died."
After visiting the cemetery, the ambassadors attended a ceremony where they sang the American national anthem and placed a wreath by a statue, said Darian.
The North Carolinians had their first encounter with other children their age at a picnic. "We played soccer with French students," said Kate. "They kept calling me Princess Kate. It was kind of funny but kind of weird," she added.
Darian used her knowledge of French phrases and love of Celine Dion to speak with the students. "It was fun. They asked a lot about America."
Kate noticed some differences between American and French students. "(The students) were everywhere by themselves. Their schools also seemed a lot more fun than our schools," she said.
The ambassadors also visited the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. "Mona Lisa is not very big," noted Kate. "I have lots of people's heads in my pictures."
Darian was more patient. "I had to wait 20 minutes before I could take a picture. Finally, I got up front and got my picture. The Louvre is amazing," she added. They also saw Venus de Milo, the Coronation of Queen Josephine and crowns in cases as well as the glass pyramids outside of the museum.
The Palace of Versailles was another stop on the tour, one of Darian's favorite places. "I liked the hall of mirrors. It was amazing with all the mirrors, chandeliers and gold leaf."
The ambassadors wrapped up the trip with a visit to Disneyland Paris.
Both students experienced a lot during their trip. While Kate enjoyed England, Darian was drawn more to France. "I think a lot of the reason why she liked France was that the warm and different culture that she felt there," said Niki McFarlin. "I thought the people in London were definitely friendlier," said Kate.
Will the experience help them in school next year? "I do think (it will help) because I'm going to Shugart Middle School and will be learning world geography. I think it will help me in the long run because I was able to go at a young age where older people may never go," said Darian.
Both parents felt it was a great experience for the two travelers. "She's always liked geography and has been interested in other cultures. She teaches herself other languages," said Niki McFarlin, Darian's mother also added that she felt her daughter had changed a little during the trip.
"She was the main one crying when she was leaving (for the trip) but when she came back, she was cool as a cucumber. She didn't' drop a beat."
McCosh felt the same way.
"I think for me, it was a rite of passage for both Kate as a student and for my wife and me as parents to let go for those two weeks. I think the independence, decision-making and group dynamics, experiencing that without mom and dad was really powerful (for her,)" said McCosh.
People to People Ambassador Programs have helped students experience other cultures and learn about their world for 50 years. To find out more about the program, visit www.peopletopeople.com.