By Carrie Williams:
People to People is a program in the United States that sends students from all backgrounds to foreign countries for trips abroad for one to three weeks. The length and content of the trips vary, but the most common program is the ambassador program.
This is where the child (ages 13-18), can request a particular number of days to go out and plan a trip with as many countries as they can. They choose from over 70 countries and take classes beforehand on the cultures of those countries to prepare themselves for travel.
I first learned about the People to People ambassador programs when I was in high school. A friend of mine went to Australia, then re-applied later to go to China. I think the programs are a great anthropological venture because they send students that are very young out into the international community.
The organization was founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to promote international understanding through friendship by educational and cultural experiences. Downfalls are that it is an expensive program and a for-profit business. The company has branched out to include domestic programs for students to visit college campuses. They also have programs for adults and university students and high school students also have the option of earning credit. However, the company sends invitation letters to students without any particular criteria for admittance, given they can afford it.
I was just recently reunited with this company through a friend of a friend. One of my friends and I were on our way to a meeting when he got a phone call from one of his friends. From overhearing their conversation I gathered that his friend was a photographer and needed help to carry some heavy equipment. He sounded so concerned that he couldn’t help his friend, that I asked, “Why don’t you help him out? It sounds important to you.” So he replied that he could reschedule the meeting. He then asked if I wanted to come along to meet the photographer and carry equipment.
After the photographer came to meet us, we drove to the destination. He didn’t say anything about the nature of the assignment because he was nervous. Later he told us that he knew the company had never done anything serious like this before and they wanted something really good. I asked him who he was taking photos of and he said People to People. He started to explain who they are, and I said I already knew.
So here I was, looking at the place where the People to People programs are organized. It was a sunny day and I felt again like an anthropologist. I felt that this is my chance to research this company and learn something. We walked inside and as the photographers started to set up I got a side tour of the office. There were several graphic designers brainstorming and they were chatting with a few alumni students from various parts of the country: Kentucky, Oklahoma among them. All around the offices are maps of different countries. There are different offices, each labeled with the title of a country. I felt as if I were part of a miniature United Nations.
I learned even more about the organization that day from our host, a very helpful and cheerful girl answered all our questions and showed us the coffee machines. She said that this year, the company had decided to put a budget into art direction and make an attractive catalogue to send to alumni. Four different alumni students, all seniors in high school, flew over. She mentioned that the program has two offices in the United States. One is in Spokane in Washington State and the other in Washington D.C. I asked one of the students where she went and she said she spent a few days in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and France. She wished they could have spent more time in Europe and she had very positive memories of the experience. She described to me in detail how they played soccer in a field in the Netherlands and ate lunch after their trip on a boat. A different student explained that he had been only to New Zealand and was excited that he got a chance to experience the hype of the World Cup that was in while he was there.
I felt better connected with the organization through this experience. Not only was I able to observe the set up of photography equipment, but I met some of the alumni and staff. We had fun directing the poses and the color schemes of the photos. We looked for props, tested the cameras and lighting. This is not what I expected to do that day, but am glad I did!