By LISA CAPOBIANCO
For Bella Hamelin of Bristol, traveling to Japan is the trip of a lifetime. An eighth grader of St. Anthony’s School, Bella will soon travel to the “Land of the Rising Sun” through a program provided by the People-to-People Ambassador programs, which have created global citizens through educational travel opportunities for students nationwide for 50 years.
Bella was accepted into the Student Ambassador Program, which offers youth in grades 5 through 12 (as well as college students) an opportunity to take part in activities abroad that enhance their global awareness while fostering maturity, independence, and a love for learning about other cultures.
“I’ve always wanted to go outside the country, and going to Japan would be a great opportunity,” said Bella, who will receive academic credit for her participation in the program.
Bella’s interest in the program began after receiving an anonymous letter that recommended her as a potential candidate. She then attended an informational meeting where she learned more about the Student Ambassador Program, hearing about the experiences of other students who traveled abroad. Bella said what struck her the most was hearing the perspectives of the parents, who recalled how the trip changed their children’s lives forever.
“It sounded very interesting,” said Bella. “If an experience like this can change someone so much, it’s worth pursuing.”
After the informational meeting, Bella underwent an interview, which entailed a series of questions about “what she would do” in a given situation while abroad. Since her acceptance into the program, Bella has started her experience even though she has not yet boarded on the plane. Between learning different Japanese traditions and completing civics worksheets or projects on aspects of Japanese culture, Bella is preparing for the trip in a number of ways.
“I find it interesting how their clothing has changed,” said Bella, adding the girls in Japan wear “Hello Kitty”-style clothing. “Now, it’s more modernized.”
Bella will spend over a week in Japan this July, and has spent the past eight months raising funds for the trip, which costs thousands of dollars. She has made chocolate pops with her mother Donna, selling the treats at various community events.
“She has been working hard for this,” said Donna, adding she hopes the trip helps build more confidence, independence and growth in her daughter.
Although her fund raisers have been successful, Bella will continue her efforts with an upcoming pasta dinner this Saturday, with the hope of reaching her goal, so she can give back to tsunami victims in Japan.
“We are going to clean up the beach where the tsunami hit,” said Bella, who will stay with a family in Japan. “Being there, being able to help, will make a difference for those who lost loved ones.”
From visiting schools to experiencing home stays to learning world culture through exploration, student ambassadors have the opportunity to increase their global awareness in a variety of ways while strengthening their leadership and teamwork skills, reported People to People’s website. During the trip, Bella will record her daily experiences in a journal, noting the activities she engaged in and the people she met. She will also travel with a delegation of 40, including individuals from Massachusetts and Illinois.
Bella said she looks forward to her role as student ambassador, which she hopes will provide her a unique cultural experience.
“I just want the entire experience—I want to see how the tsunami affected people,” said Bella, adding she also hopes to learn more about Japanese culture during the trip.
The pasta dinner will take place this Saturday, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Bethel Christian Church, 750 Stevens St., Bristol. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children age six to 12. There is free admission for children ages five and under. For tickets and more information, contact Donna Hamelin at (860) 583-9864 or Tracy Carlson at (860) 620-4166. Tickets are also available at the door. All proceeds benefit People to People Student Ambassador Bella Hamelin.