People to People Student Ambassador Program
|Motto||Promoting peace through understanding|
|Formation||September 11, 1956|
|Type||Youth Peace Ambassador/Travel|
|Website||People to People Student Ambassadors Program|
The People to People Student Ambassador Program is a travel service based in Spokane, Washington offering domestic and international travel opportunities to middle and high school students. The group was founded in 1956 and reincorporated in 1995. Since its founding, nearly half a million students, adults and athletes have participated in the ambassador programs. Since 2002, the services offered have been operated by Ambassadors Group, a for-profit company. Though open to international primary and secondary school students, programs are primarily for American students aged 10 through 18. The typical length of a program is three weeks for a group of thirty to forty students. .The organization currently operates as a for profit travel company with income of almost 100 Million.
In 1956, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sought diplomatic alternatives to the wars he witnessed as a soldier, general and Allied Commander. On September 11, 1956, he called a White House conference of 100 top American leaders, who joined him in creating the People to People initiative, focused on creating cultural exchange programs. The idea for this conference came after a Geneva summit, where Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev expressed enthusiasm for exchange programs as a means to ease Cold War tensions. Participants in this conference included Joyce Hall, comedian Bob Hope, and Walt Disney, who became one of the founding directors of People to People and later drew inspiration from the initiative to create the "It's a Small World" attraction in 1964.
The program was originally sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency, a branch of the Federal Government. In 1961, Eisenhower decided that it should be preserved by private citizens and asked Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, to facilitate the privatization. That same year, the nonprofit People to People International began a contractual relationship with Ambassador Programs, Inc. to administer People to People travel programs for adults and students. In 1962, the first delegation of university students traveled overseas and stayed with families all over Europe. The first Student Ambassador Program was organized in 1962, with regular programs beginning in 1967. Until expansion in the 1980s, the organization only sent a few hundred students abroad each year. In 2002, People to People International granted a license to operate student programs under the People to People Student Ambassador Program name to Ambassadors Group, which had been formed as a separate company out of the Ambassadors Education Group.
People to People Ambassador Programs offers four types of ambassador travel, including international student ambassador travel, domestic leadership ambassador summits and forums, international collegiate ambassador travel, and international citizen ambassador travel for industry professionals.
Some countries that have been visited include Germany, France, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Italy, Greece, Fiji, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Russia. Experienced alumni students looking to participate in the program again are given the ability to choose more exotic destinations for subsequent trips such as South Africa, or Antarctica. Programs typically depart between June and August, rather than during the academic year, in groups of between thirty and forty students with a target student teacher ration of 10-to-1. Trips usually have students from a given city or county, not from a specific school. Tuition – the fees charged for a trip – range from $4,500 for trips to Canada to more than $7,999 for trips to Australia and the South Pacific; the fee for the Antarctica trip is not listed.
During the trips, students attend various educational activities, including the chance to meet local leaders and dignitaries; trips also feature outdoor activities such as hiking, snorkeling, zip-lining or repelling. Longer itineraries include a 2- to 3-day home stay with a local family.
Each student ambassador travel program includes a service component in which ambassadors participate in hands-on community service projects. Participants can also earn high school or college credit for classes through the Washington School of World Studies (operated by People to People), as well as through Eastern Washington University.
People to People Ambassador Programs also offers domestic student trips for grade school, middle school and high school students through Leadership Ambassador Programs. These programs are focused on leadership development, community involvement, civics education and college preparation. Leadership Ambassador Programs include student trips to various U.S. destinations, including Washington D.C., New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, to hear from speakers and industry experts, and exchange ideas with their peers from around the world. On these four- to ten-day programs, delegates engage in leadership curriculum, team-building and personal development exercises.
Any student (5th grade or older) can apply to travel on a program, but some parents have complained that the program's marketing makes it appear that their child was exclusively selected or nominated to participate. All students must complete an application and an interview process before they can go on a trip to ensure that they possess the maturity and social skills needed for extended travel.
The nomination process is open to any applicant, but some parents have complained that the program's marketing makes it appear that their child was exclusively selected or nominated to participate. The Iowa Attorney General investigated the program's operator in 2006 after an invitation was accidentally sent to a family's long-deceased child, leading the operator to slightly modify the invitation and presentation process. In another case, a family received a People to People solicitation claiming that their deceased family pet had been selected as an ambassador.
In 2007, student ambassador Tyler Hill died of complications following his group's hike on Mount Fuji in Japan. The family sued the program and its parent company, reaching a settlement in 2009. In 2008, People to People invested more than $3 million to support health and safety initiatives. The Company also hired a full-time Senior Director of Health and Safety and began a Safe Travel 24/7 blog. In 2010, People to People Ambassador Programs launched the FindMe program with Cellhire that allows a mobile phone to be tracked using GPS or cell tower triangulation. Parents of students may also rent the FindMe phone and have text conversations with their children through the FindMe website.
In July 2011, CBS News reported that People to People had retained a for-profit marketing company, AmbassadorsGroup to solicit participants. Among their reportedly questionable tactics: solicitations to long deceased children citing their "exceptional academic performance" as the reason for the solicitation, and the signed endorsement of a Virginia State Senator without her endorsement or knowledge.
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