Before Samantha Strelzer even set foot into Fairfield Warde High School as a freshman this school year, she could already say she's represented the town of Fairfield as an ambassador to Europe this summer.
The busy 14-year-old -- who is an honors student, active Girl Scout, volleyball player, and musician, among other things -- participated in the student travel program People to People in July. The non-profit organization has created these trips to promote global awareness and leadership skills in students since President Dwight Eisenhower founded it in 1956.
To participate in the trip, students must fundraise to pay their way and participate leadership in their communities. Prior to leaving, Strelzer organized several fundraisers and "goodwill" projects to not only pay for her experience but to benefit local organizations, like Fairfield's Operation Hope.
Strelzer met her goal and jetted off for three weeks in July, touring France, Italy, and Greece.
"The trip gave me a broader understanding of other cultures and will affect my decision-making," Strelzer said, specifically citing being less wasteful -- a notion impressed upon her while visiting more eco-conscious Europeans.
Aside from forming friendships and fostering relationships with families and public officials in the countries she visited, Strelzer sharpened her language skills, traveled to landmarks, experienced a lot of different cuisines, and spent some time helping sea turtles while in Greece.
Strelzer, who is interested in marine biology as a potential future path of study, volunteered with Archelon, the sea turtle protection society of Greece. She and other students cleaned rehab tubs for injured turtles and helped release them back into the water.
Among the many sites she traveled to, Strelzer highlighted a World War II cemetery in Italy and overlooking Pompeii from atop Mt. Vesuvius.
Some of Strelzer's favorite experiences included learning about the life of a Franciscan monk while in Assisi, Italy; staying with a host family in Paris; eating with locals in Italy; and rappelling off a castle in Assisi.
As for food, Strelzer cautioned that there is such a thing as eating too much marinara sauce (pasta was a main staple in Italy, of course). She especially enjoyed Nutella and banana crepes, as well as baguettes in France, and the assortment of juices, breads, olives, and feta cheese in Greece.
Strelzer summed up her experience in three words: "It was amazing."
Interested in becoming a People to People ambassador or nominating a student you know? Visit People to People's website.