By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Before her trip with the People to People Ambassador program this summer, Holy Trinity High School student Mikaila Norman had never flown over the Atlantic Ocean, rappelled down the side of a castle, or tasted haggis (meat cooked in a sheep’s stomach).
Now, she’s done all these things and that’s just the beginning.
It started in the spring of 2012, when Norman received an anonymous People to People nomination letter in the mail.
“I went to the informational meeting, and scheduled an interview with the delegate leaders,” Norman said.
From there, she was selected to go on an 18-day journey to the United Kingdom with more than 30 other students from Minnesota and Wisconsin. The ambassadors then met monthly to prepare for the trip and get to know one another.
Sparks while flying
Before her plane departed the evening of the 4th of July, Norman remembers feeling a little sad that she’d miss seeing fireworks. The timing worked out perfectly, however, and she watched a fireworks show from the air.
“As the plane was taking off, there were fireworks all around us,” she recalled.
When they landed in the UK, the first attraction Norman visited was the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel 443 feet tall and 394 feet wide.
The trip included visits to all four countries in the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), as well as the Republic of Ireland.
“Wales was my favorite,” Norman said. “It was beautiful and picturesque.”
While in Wales, she rappelled down the side of the 75-foot Penrhyn Castle, an activity exclusively reserved for People to People groups.
Norman was wearing a harness to ensure her safety, but still got a rush of fear and adrenaline before descending the side.
“It’s a confidence-building activity that gets people out of their comfort zone,” she said.
Another royal adventure was at Warwick Castle in England, where students “became knights” and learned about weapons, armor, and customs of castle defenders in the Middle Ages.
“Among other things, they taught us the basics of swordplay, which was pretty amazing,” Norman said, adding that they also got to see a fireball being launched out of a trebuchet.
A sheep farm in Scotland was another highlight.
“There were border collies left and right,” Norman said. “The shepherd had so much control he would call them by name, and they’d go a certain direction.”
Norman also had a chance to try Irn-Bru, a Scottish carbonated soft drink.
“That was one of my goals,” she said.
Other traditional foods she tried included bangers and mash (made of sausage and potatoes), and haggis.
According to the encyclopedia definition, haggis is a national Scottish dish “made of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep, all chopped and mixed with beef or mutton suet and oatmeal and seasoned with onion, cayenne pepper, and other spices. The mixture is then packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.”
“It has very flavorful spices, and the texture is really bizarre and gritty,” Norman said.
In addition to educational experiences, the People to People program also includes a service aspect.
“When we were in Ireland, we worked with an Irish youth organization,” Norman said, explaining that students cleaned attics, visited hospital patients, weeded a cemetery, and cut peat.
Norman describes peat as mossy bricks of dirt that can be burned as fuel.
“The ones we cut, once dried, were going to be given to the elderly to heat their houses in the winter,” she noted.
In the future, Norman said she would love to do more overseas travel, and learn about other cultures.
After she graduates from Holy Trinity High School in 2014, she plans to study creative writing, and possibly anthropology.
People to People:What is it?
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed the vision for the People to People Ambassador Program, with the goal of bridging cultural and political borders through education and exchange.
The mission of the program is to create global citizens, in order to make a more peaceful world for future generations.
Today, more than 20,000 People to People Ambassadors travel each year.
Programs are available for youth and adults. To learn more about the student experience, call the People to People office toll-free at 800-669-7882 or e-mail email@example.com.