Garrard student becomes international ambassador

August 05, 2004|BETH DOTSON

When Nikie Schmiers received a letter in the mail saying she had been selected to go to the British Isles as an ambassador with People to People, she didn't know how this had come about. Her mother feared the offer might not be legitimate and suggested they check with the Better Business Bureau. They discovered after their investigation that it was an authentic offer and someone had anonymously nominated Nikie, then an eighth-grade student at Garrard Middle School, to participate.

"My mom liked it because it was safe and I liked it because it was awesome," Schmiers said about the opportunity.

Like many people her age, Schmiers had never traveled far beyond her home county and didn't have a passport or plans to travel overseas any time soon. But this opportunity changed all of that for her.

People to People International works to increase understanding among people from different parts of the world by sponsoring opportunities for travel and cultural exchange. President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded the organization in 1956. People to People Student Ambassadors travel overseas for two to three weeks during the summer to learn, share and represent their communities and schools.


Schmiers attended monthly meetings from January to May to learn about the countries in the British Isles and to prepare for her first international travel experience. She also had to raise $5,100 to pay for the trip.

Schmiers and her mother tried yard sales and putting jars in local businesses to raise the money. Although those things provided a start, raising more than $1,000, it became obvious that they would never earn enough money that way. That's when Brenda Powers, a friend of the family and the director of Community Education in Garrard County, stepped in to help raise money. She helped Schmiers find groups to speak to about the opportunity who might give donations.

"I had never done public speaking before," Schmiers said. "I was a little bit nervous at first but then it came pretty much naturally because I love to talk with people. It was like I pretended I was talking with people one-on-one. And Miss Brenda made things much easier for me."

Powers also approached people personally and asked for donations until they had raised the money Schmiers needed.

"I thought it was an opportunity of a lifetime for her," Powers said.

And so did Schmiers. She was especially interested in the trip because of her Scottish heritage and the opportunity to visit Ireland, where she had been told the air is so pure that people don't have allergy problems, which Schmiers deals with at home.

Schmiers also looked forward to the chance to really learn about the places she would visit. "I've always thought that the monarchy was really interesting but I didn't know that much about it, so I got a chance to learn about the monarchy and how it works."

So in July, Schmiers left with a group of 24 students between the ages of 12 and 15. They met with another group of 14, and all of the students, who were primarily from Kentucky, flew across the ocean to see what life is like in another place.

Some people think Americans are like aliens

One of the things Schmiers discovered was that some people think Americans are like aliens. But that didn't surprise her too much since she has heard some people in the United States express the same sentiment about people from other countries.

What Schmiers discovered, however, was that family life in the British Isles isn't much different than what she knows in Kentucky. She stayed with a family in England who took her to a caf where their daughter worked, took her shopping and to a birthday party, and for a ride on a double-decker bus. "It was kind of like sitting back watching me and Mom," Schmiers said. "I laughed and had a great time."

Schmiers also stayed with a farm family in Ireland where they cooked good food but didn't offer other entertainment beyond watching television. Again, the situation didn't seem so foreign.

The group also learned about history and culture through sightseeing. In their time in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, they visited historic and cultural sites like Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. In Ireland they visited the bogs and learned how the people had at one time dug holes in the bogs in which to bury food to keep it cold.

Schmiers discovered that her favorite country was Wales, with its stunning countryside, coast and castles. "The castles have such beautiful craftsmanship that it's amazing, especially when you think about the age when they didn't have machines like we have. And to build something spectacular that stood for that many years out of medieval resources is kind of staggering to me."

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