Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 19, 2003

Marissa Hovlid to represent Howard Lake in 'land down under'

By Lynda Jensen

Australia will be hosting a delegation of young people from the US ­ including Howard Lake resident Marissa Hovlid.

Hovlid, 17, packed her bags and will be one of about 45 young Minnesotans leaving for Australia May 28 as part of the People to People Student Ambassador program.

The program is a non-profit organization started in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower, with the purpose of promoting "peace through understanding" among countries.

The purpose of the program is to promote international goodwill.

"He thought students would make good ambassadors," Hovlid commented of Eisenhower.

Hovlid will spend 19 hours in a non-stop flight to the other side of the world with the other delegates, she said. They also plan to visit New Zealand as well.

The plane leaves from Los Angeles for the long flight to Australia, and it will take Hovlid three hours to get there in the first place from Minnesota, she said.

Australia is one day ahead of the US, time wise, she said.

The delegates will stay for 22 days, spending time with host families, and making visits to schools and farms in the outback.

Host families include their American guests in everyday activities, enabling the student ambassadors to gain a first-hand understanding of the ways people live and work in other cultures.

Breaking down stereotypes

The students will also attempt to break down stereotypes of Americans as being ethnocentric, and the perception that they don't care about world issues, she said.

They take this very purpose seriously, and are even being asked not to chew gum, in order to get away from improper appearances, she said.

Before their departure, the students spent time learning about the government, economy, and culture of Australia.

Each student ambassador is selected on the basis of recommendations, including references and personal interviews with members of a screening committee in their local community.

Once students were accepted into the program, they prepared for their overseas project by attending orientation meetings in their own area, and studying background material on the countries and organizations they are visiting.

Most of the 45 students going on the trip are from the St. Cloud and surrounding areas.

Alumni of the program have reported that their overseas experience, and the maturity and world awareness they gained, provide a competitive advantage for university acceptance, as well as a new appreciation for life in America.

Outstanding student ambassadors are also eligible to apply for future service as interns.

Young Americans have served as student ambassadors for more than 50 years.

An international network of People to People chapters in nearly 60 American cities and 35 countries assist program administrators in arranging homestays and educational activities.

Among the early supporters of the program include J. C. Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards, Inc., Walt Disney, Bob Hope and approximately 100 other remarkable individuals from industry, academia, and the arts.

The late Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, contributed pieces of artwork. Since its inception, nine US presidents have served as honorary chairman including current President George W. Bush.

Today, President Eisenhower's granddaughter, Mary, serves as chief executive officer and executive vice president.

Students can obtain high school and university credit through participation and may be eligible for grants.

For more information, contact: Kevin Zak, 1254 Virginia St. N, St. Paul, MN 55117, phone (651) 487-6301; or the program office at: People to People Student Ambassador Program, Dwight D. Eisenhower Building, Spokane, WA 99202, phone (509) 534-0430

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