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Gainesville seventh-grader will be student ambassador to China this summer

POSTED: April 6, 2009 11:13 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Morgan Mercer, a Gainesville seventh-grader, has been invited to be an ambassador to the People to People International Studies this summer in Beijing, China.

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At the age of 12, Morgan Mercer’s passport has gotten more use than those of most adults twice her age.

She’s already traveled to London and France and this summer she’s headed to China as a student ambassador with the People to People Ambassador Program.

People to People International was founded by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 as tool for "organizing and promoting opportunities for bridging cultural and political borders through direct interaction, unparalleled access and unique experiences."

In order to participate in the program, students must be nominated and then submit an application, three letters of recommendation and be interviewed by program officials.

During her 17-day trip abroad, the Gainesville Middle School seventh-grader will live with host families in five different cities including Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai.

"(Program organizers) told us that we will be doing whatever it is that our host family is doing," Morgan said. "I’m concerned about the language barrier because they told us that most of the families don’t speak any English, so we may have to draw pictures to get our point across. But I’m really looking forward to seeing the Great Wall of China. I’ve read about it and we’ve talked about it in school, but I think it’s one of those things you have to see to really understand how big it is."

For the most part, students will be staying alone with their host family, but during group trips they will have a guide who speaks English.

Although the straight-A student travels to a two-week summer camp each year, Morgan’s parents, Brett and Amanda Mercer, admit that they still had some initial reservations about letting her take the trip.

"It scares me to death, but we wouldn’t hold her back from something that she really wants to do," said her mother, Amanda Mercer.

"You can only learn so much in a classroom, but going out and seeing these things in person is what it’s all about. As an ambassador, she’ll be able to experience so many more things than the average tourist could."

During her trip, Mercer’s group will be exposed to a variety of tourist attractions, possibly including Tiananmen Square, the Peking Acrobatic Show and the Beijing Zoo. The students also may have the opportunity to do other nontourist activities such as helping local students practice their English, assisting a host village in harvesting their crops or helping their host family prepare a traditional Chinese meal.

Although participating in the student ambassador program is a valuable opportunity, it does come with price tag of $6,000 that Morgan must raise herself. A high mark for some, but doable for such a dedicated student who also is an active band member and athlete.

"I was accepted into the program in February, but after talking to some of the other kids, I found out that some of them were accepted back in September," she said.

"But since then we’ve had two garage sales — it rained both times — and we sold (snacks) at a furniture sale."

Mercer must have the money raised before June, when she and 32 other Georgia and Florida students will begin their international adventure.

People to People also offers citizen, sports and leadership ambassador programs.

In its more than 50-year history, the program has amassed about 400,000 alumni members. The organization also has ambassador destinations to other countries including Peru, Chile, Ireland, Scotland and France. The student ambassador programs are open to students in grades five through 12.



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