Last summer, we received a letter in the mail addressed to: The Parents of XXX. The letter informed us that our 12 year old daughter had been nominated for the People to People Student Ambassador Program. We knew a little bit about this program because the daughter of some of our friends was nominated for the program the year before. She had spent two weeks in the summer traveling through parts of Canada. It sounded like an interesting program, so we decided to check it out.
We attended an information meeting and found out that this year's program would take the students to Italy, Greece, and Sicily for 20 days. What???? Can I go???? Sorry, only delegates and their leaders are allowed to go. The People to People Student Ambassador program was started by Dwight Eisenhower. He believed that "people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments". He believed encounters between people of different backgrounds would form the foundation for lasting world peace, so he created People to People with the idea that ordinary citizens of different nations could solve their problems and find a way to live harmoniously with one another.
We then found out how much it would cost to send our daughter and about choked. But we felt it was an opportunity of a lifetime and so we raised some money and paid a lot of our own. We sold some candles and even had a wine tasting event featuring wines from Italy. That was a fun night!
Ever since October, the delegates from our area have been meeting once a month on a Saturday morning from 9-12 to get to know one another better, to learn more about the countries they would be traveling to, to learn about the culture, etc. The kids each had to pick a topic (history, government, arts, culture) about one of the places they would be visiting and had to give a presentation to the group. It's amazing how knowledgeable 12 year olds are on the computer. Some of those presentations were amazing. At a recent meeting, the kids were told to pack their luggage and bring it to the meeting where they had a "suitcase relay". I think that opened their eyes about luggage. Most of them thought the bigger the suitcase the better. I think the relay changed their mind.
So after all the preparation, the clock was ticking down and when I got back from Tahoe, I knew that making sure she was ready would be my number one priority. She had luggage (that we thought she was going to take); she had clothes; she had a travel pillow; she had a camera with an extra memory card. But she didn't have Euros (which they wanted them to go ahead and have for when they get there) and she didn't have a prepaid Visa card that could be reloaded or that could be used to get money out of an ATM if she needs to. Time for mom to get to work.
Getting the Euros wasn't that big of a deal. I just had to run into downtown on my lunch hour one day and get them. But I had to make sure to go to our bank the day before and get cash. Once that was done I set out for Euros. After giving the bank my social security number, my drivers license number and whatever else they asked for I had the Euros. But not nearly as many as the dollars I gave the bank. The exchange rate stinks right now.
After checking on line and calling several places about prepaid Visa cards, I found out that you can get a prepaid Visa card very easily. But once it's gone, it's gone. You can't reload it. I found a couple of places that had reloadable cards, but you have to be a member of their bank to get it from them. The one I found online would be great, but you have to be 13. She's 12. Ugghhh. I called our bank and explained the situation and they said they would let me set up a checking account for her and then give her a check card. We could control the amount of money in the account and it would work anywhere Visa is accepted, even at an ATM. Perfect. So we go to the bank after work and they say they need to see her ID. Ummm. She's 12. She doesn't have an ID.
Next step in the process. My husband takes her to the Department of Public Safety to get a state issued ID card. He took a copy of her passport (the leader already had her original) and had her social security number. But it wasn't good enough. They sent him away with a list of what would be good enough. So I left work early, went home to get acceptable documentation, and headed back. Our ticket said the wait time would be 9 minutes. We waited over an hour.
Finally it was our turned. The lady scrutinized the documentation, finally decided it was ok, took her picture, got her thumb print and said "sign your name". It was one of those things like you sign for a credit card and it was very sensitive. The counter was tall and my daughter was short and it just wasn't happening. It took over 10 minutes for her to get it done. Finally we had what we needed.
The following day we headed back for the bank. We got everything all set up and my daughter walked out of the bank with her very own check card. Boy did she feel "big". I even walked out with my very own check card because up until now I've been in the old ages and have still been writing checks. Now I have a check card like everyone else!
Wednesday night we spent the evening making sure we had everything and I had my daughter go ahead and pack. The luggage set we had bought her had two suitcases: a big one to check and a smaller one that can be taken as a carry on. She packed in the big one. And the suitcase had what I considered lots of extra room. When I travel, I like the suitcase to be full. Not stuffed, but full. So I had her try to get everything in the smaller suitcase. It was just a little too small. Hmmmm. I had seen a luggage set at Target the week before and I actually need a new carry on suitcase (the one I've been using for YEARS finally feel apart coming home from Tahoe). So Thursday I headed to Target at lunch and bought the set. I brought it home and had her try out the 24" bag. Perfect. It was full, but not stuffed. There will be room for souveniers.
Thursday night she had a volleyball game with her church team and then my brother and sister-in-law came over to tell her by. About 9:00 we got in bed. I could not sleep. I woke up when my husband came to bed later and then the alarm went off at 2:00 a.m. We had to be at the airport at 4:00 a.m. This morning. Got up. Got ready. Loaded the car and headed out the door at 3:00 a.m. Got to the airport a little early, but I'd rather be early than late.
I guess the airport is use to groups like hers. Each child was allowed one checked bag and one backpack to carry on. The airline already had the luggage tag printed out to put on the checked bag. The kids lined up in alphabetical order and the tags were put on and luggage carted off.
Next step was to take a group picture.
After the picture, the kids got their boarding passes and passports, said their goodbyes and headed for the security line.
You could tell they were all excited. Some almost forgot to say good-bye. Most of the kids did well. They knew to take off their shoes and to place their loose belongings (like jackets) in the plastic bins, but what most of them didn't know was that they needed to hang on to their boarding passes and passports. Most of them, including my daughter, sent those documents right through the x-ray machine. Luckily it was early and the workers knew it was a big group and were real good about it.
I stood there and watched until all the students and the leaders made it through and then I left. And I was exhausted. Rather than come all the way home and then head all the way into work, I just went straight to work from the airport. I arrived at 5:30. I didn't want to risk setting off any alarms, so I stayed in my car, ate my granola bars for breakfast, and tried to nap a little. Finally at 6:15 am I decided to head inside. I actually had a productive day. I think staying busy helped me stay awake. I did ok until the drive home and then the lack of sleep started to hit me. I picked up my son and headed home to the couch. I couldn't really fall asleep. I gave in and ran on the treadmill and here it is almost 10:00 pm. I should be in bed. I'll get there soon. But I wanted you to know why I haven't updated lately.
As of right now, my daughter is somewhere over the ocean. I tracked their flight on one of those web sites until they were out of American and Canadian airspace. I've got a flight alert set to text my phone when the plane lands in Greece (which will be around 3:00 am my time). We'll see if it works. I should also get a call to let me know they've arrived. The leader will call one parent and then a phone tree will work to call the rest of the parents. We most likely won't talk to my daughter until Sunday. She wants to wish Dad a happy Father's Day. I can't wait to hear her perspective on getting there and seeing Greece for the first time.