Rising OCCHS freshman’s journey takes her to the land down under
Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 9:04 pm
She comes from the land down under.
Kaycee Mathenia, 14-year-old daughter of Mike and Peggy Mathenia of Union City, recently re-turned from the 20-day Australian Adventure with the People to People Student Ambassador Program.
In those 20 days, she did more than most people will do in a lifetime, according to her father.
Miss Mathenia, a former Lake Road Elementary School student who will be a freshman at Obion County Central High School when classes begin next week, decided to participate in People to People’s travel program after receiving a letter inviting her to an informational meeting in Jackson. She said prospective participants are often chosen based on student honor rolls and academic achievements or by being nominated by someone who previously traveled.
People to People Ambas-sador Programs organize and promote global educational travel opportunities to bridge cultural and political borders through education and exchange. For nearly 50 years, People to People has been the exclusive educational travel provider for People to People International, a non-profit organization founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 to promote peace through face-to-face interaction by ordinary citizens around the world.
The Mathenias were impressed by what they learned at the Jackson meeting and they began fund raising efforts for Miss Mathenia’s journey after she expressed interest in the group’s Australian Adventure. The family raised funds for a year through activities such as cookie dough and bread sales, as well as yard sales.
Miss Mathenia — who had never traveled outside the U.S. and never been on an airplane — began her adventure June 24 when she and 40-plus other junior high-age student ambassadors and their chaperones flew out of Memphis and then completed a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia. They crossed the International Date Line and arrived at their destination June 26.
“I left Memphis on June 24th and I didn’t have a 25th at all and I landed on the 26th in Sydney,” she said. “As soon as we landed in Sydney, we had to fly up to Cairns, which took about three hours. As soon as we stepped off the airplane in Cairns, we immediately got on our coach and went to the first place. If you had jet lag, you just had jet lag.”
“They hit the ground running,” her father added.
The adventure begins
The stage for adventure was set the very first day in Cairns when the delegation rode through a rainforest in a World War II amphibious vehicle, an Army Duck; encountered koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles and wombats at a wildlife sanctuary and had photos taken with a koala; learned how to throw a boomerang and tested their skills on the didgeridoo as they interacted with local Aboriginal people; saw a traditional Aboriginal performance; and had the opportunity to participate in a bush dance.
Over the next 16 days, the group visited Ravenshoe, Townsville, Airlie Beach, Yeppoon, Sunshine Coast, Moreton Island, Coffs Harbour and, finally, Sydney.
The stop at Ravenshoe included a two-day farm-stay with a host family on a 42,000-acre cattle station, which Miss Mathenia said is “a little farm” by Australian standards.
After leaving the farm, the exciting activities included snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef; taking a cable ride over a tropical rainforest; bush walking and spotting wildlife in the outback; enjoying a sleepover at an aquarium; learning about local Australian government during an official briefing with a government representative; traveling to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the 74 Whitsunday Islands; visiting a sugar farm and tasting a raw stalk of sugar; exploring Olsen’s Capricorn Caves at Yeppoon; visiting a crocodile farm and tasting crocodile chowder; visiting the small community of Gin Gin, where the local Parents and Citizens Association provided lunch and where the school has been assisted with funds raised by many years of hosting People to People delegates; traveling the Sunshine Coast; visiting Brisbane and boarding a ferry for Tangalooma Resort; snorkeling near the Tangalooma Wrecks; sand tobogganing on Moreton Island’s giant sand dunes; feeding wild dolphins and assisting with dolphin research; and crossing the border into New South Wales and visiting the coastal town of Byron Bay while en route to Coffs Harbour, the home of surf beaches, fishing and banana plantations.
The final five days in Sydney began with a two-day home-stay with a local family, followed by three days of taking in the sights of the city. The delegates discovered the historic Rocks area; cruised Sydney Harbour; enjoyed a guided orientation of the majestic Sydney Opera House complex; learned about Australia’s national gemstone, the opal, during a cutting and polishing demonstration; dined overlooking Darling Harbour; abseiled down an exposed rock face in the Blue Mountains; tried their hand at surfing at Bondi Beach; and learned to play the summer sport of cricket.
Miss Mathenia said the Australian people were friendly and often greeted her with a “Good day, mate.”
“I walked into the Sydney airport and this guy passed by and he’s like, ‘Good day.’ They just walk by and they’ll go, ‘Hey, good day’ and keep walking,” she said. “The people were very friendly.”
She said it was a bit challenging at first to understand the Australian accent.
“Some were thick accents and some were not. Our farm-stay family sounded like they were from the South. They didn’t sound that different,” she said.
Miss Mathenia — who snapped about 1,800 to 1,900 photos during her adventure — said one of the most memorable moments was rappelling, or abseiling, in the mountains around Sydney.
“I didn’t think I could do it and then when I got up there and actually did it, it made me feel good,” she said.
Her father added, “What’s that going to put in her way from now on? She did more in two weeks, almost three weeks, than most people do in a lifetime — and she took on the challenges and did them all.”
On a lighter note, Miss Mathenia recalled a nosedive she took during one of her attempts at surfboarding.
“It washed out my sinuses really well,” she said with a smile.
Miss Mathenia said she truly enjoyed her first international travel excursion and would love to travel more.
“I’ve always wanted to travel the world — so there’s my first step to it,” she said.
Published in The Messenger 7.28.10