Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, visiting cultural centers, watching Aboriginal dances, and conquering her own fears were just some of the things Rebecca Jefferies did as a participant in the People to People Student Ambassador Program in June.

Rebecca is the 14-year-old daughter of the Rev. Don and Angela Jefferies of Shelbyville.

The People to People Student Ambassador Program provides international educational opportunities for grade school, junior high school, and high school students. Students for the program are nominated by teachers or other student ambassadors.

Rebecca returned to Shelbyville June 25 and admits she still has her days and nights mixed up. The 16-hour time difference has caused her to stay up until the wee hours of the morning and sleep most of the day away since she returned home. Her return trip also caused her to repeat a day as she crossed the International Date Line.

Rebecca left with 19 other students from Central Illinois, meeting up with others from Louisiana and Texas in Los Angeles. There were 41 student ambassadors and four chaperones on the trip which began June 7.

The trip took them to places including Melbourne, Grampians National Park, Wagga Wagga, Canberra, Mangrove Mountain, Sydney, and Cairns.

During the trip, the students did a farm stay and a home stay to learn about the customs of the people firsthand.

As part of the farm stay the students fed and herded cows, played “bush” games, and attended a ho-down.

“They did a Duck Dance which is like the Chicken Dance, but different,” Rebecca said. “It has the same motions, but you say things instead of listening to the song.”

During the home stay, students stayed with families and observed their customs.

“We had familiar food,” Rebecca said. “We ended up eating a lot of stuff we eat here (in America). We had chicken stir fry and tacos.”

“They had McDonald’s. The double cheeseburgers seemed bigger than ours, though. The whole time I was there I couldn’t find any Hershey’s. That was sad. The chocolate there tasted different, too. Since they grow sugar cane, they probably used that in their chocolate.”

Rebecca didn’t think there was a lot of difference in things between the U.S. and Australia. The movies are the same as in the U.S., but had different names.

“The movie 13 Going on 30 here was called Suddenly 30 there,” Rebecca noted.

She admitted there were times when it was hard to understand the language in Australia. She had to do some research on the Australian slang before her trip.

“They don’t say ‘G’day, mate’ as we think. They just say ‘G’day’,” Rebecca said. “They also call the bathroom the ‘loo’, or the ‘dunny’, or the ‘toilets’.”

She and the other students were required to do detailed journal entries daily about the program – what they did and what they learned. Every four or five days the leaders would check to make sure the journals were up to date. The leaders also gave the students letters from their families which were pre-written. The mail would not be able to keep up with students who were traveling from place to place in the country.

“We were able to keep track of where Becca was by a money trail,” said Rebecca’s mother Angela. “She had a prepaid Visa Buxx card, and we could see where she spent money. Phones weren’t available as parents would have liked.”

Rebecca added that it cost to use the Internet and sending email was not something they could easily do.

Rebecca’s favorite thing to do while on the trip was the day the students did activities to step out their comfort zone and conquer their fears. The activities included the repelling down a 40-foot wall and swinging by a harness and rope.

“It taught us to live life to the fullest and to have no regrets about our lives,” Rebecca said.

“I didn’t really get homesick,” said Rebecca. “I wish I was still in Australia.”

Rebecca is hoping to go on an one of these trips next year. Ambassadors could be asked to go again if the leaders felt they did an exceptional job.

“It would be really fun to do this again next year,” Rebecca said.

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