Pau-Wa-Lu student on way to China

Dakota Stephan, 14, a ninth-grader at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School, is looking forward to almost everything on her trip to China as a People to People ambassador.

What interests her most is learning the language.

"Their language is really different. It's really hard to speak. Their symbols mean different things. Four-letter words could be one symbol. Their letters have different signs, too," said Dakota. "Also, their culture, except for I won't eat fish. They're mostly vegetarians down there."

On the 17-day trip to China, Dakota and 60 Northern Nevada students and chaperones will be able to walk the Great Wall and see the "Terra Cotta Warriors" that have been unearthed in an archaeological dig. The clay soldiers and horses are exact replicas of real soldiers who lived in 246 BC.

"The person who made them took an exact drawing to create their features," said Dakota, who has been learning about the country through books and from others in the program who have been there.

The student ambassadors will travel to Hong Kong, Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. They will ride in a rickshaw, meet with government officials, play ping pong with local students and see giant pandas at the zoo.

The group leaves on July 4. Up until then the students meet monthly at a school in Reno, where they were initially interviewed. The student ambassadors are responsible for finding two current events in China to present at each meeting.

"You tell them what the issue is and what happened," said Dakota. "It sounds more interesting than I thought it was when I read up on it. Now, I'm excited to go even more."

The People to People program began in 1956. It was founded by President Dwight Eisenhower to foster understanding and so student ambassadors can build leadership skills.

The total cost is told to the families upfront so they can have time to raise the approximate $6,000 to pay for the trip. Dakota's family was still short about $2,000, but have a benefit scheduled in Fernley and are sure they can raise the remainder in time.

Students must be nominated to be invited into the program, and they are not told who recommended them. Dakota thinks maybe she was nominated because of an extracurricular program she is involved in. She is in Upward Bound at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she stays in a dorm during the summer and once a month on weekends during the school year, taking college preparatory classes.

"I was so surprised. I thought, 'Wow,' I get a chance to go somewhere else other than the U.S.," she said.

n Jo Rafferty can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 210.


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