2012-11-23 / Community


Sixth-grader has passion for travel
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Nikolas Youells Nikolas Youells Nikolas Youells’ trip to Europe this summer as a student ambassador with People to People got off to quite a start. After the long plane ride across the Atlantic Ocean, he said there were rumors among the group of 40 or so fifth- and sixth-graders that the first hotel in France was haunted.

“We’re all pretty sure. The lights were flickering on and off in our bathroom and the TV would unplug itself,” Youells, of South Portland, said.

Luckily, the group made it past that first night, and was able to enjoy the rest of their two-week trip experiencing the highlights of Britain and France. Youells saw Stonehenge, the London Eye, the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London (“the Beefeaters kept yelling,” he said) the Eiffel Tower, where he snaked through the crowd to reach the top, the Louvre and, of course, Disneyland Paris.

Youells was one of only a handful of students from Maine who took the trip; the rest came from all over the country and as far away as California. He was nominated by an anonymous adult, likely a teacher at Memorial Middle School, Youlls thinks, although he hasn’t been able to confirm that suspicion.

“I love traveling. I just like seeing the new things. I like the way it feels to experience new cultures,” said Youells, now a 12-year-old seventh-grade student.

Youells enjoyed the British food, which can be a turnoff to some Americans, and said a meal in Chinatown before a show of “Shrek the Musical” at Theatre Royal in London stood out as a highlight, as did the croissants and baguettes that came with breakfast at the hotels – even the haunted one.

The one downside of the trip, according to Youells, was usually the only thing offered to drink was Coke. Apparently, he said, Europeans have a perception that American children drink a lot more of it than they actually do.

But overall, he came away with a very favorable impression of people from France and England.

“I really liked them. They were nice from the people I saw. They’re just normal people from a different place,” he said.

Now that he’s back, the jet lag slept off, and he has been back into the routine of school for a few months, Youells said he’s ready to travel to more new places. Australia is on his list, and he mentioned a handful of other countries, but really anywhere would do. Youells said he wants to see every country – not continent, country – in his lifetime.

People to People offers travel programs for students in grades five to 12 domestically and abroad. High school students have the option to stay with a local host family, and the program can end up earning students college credit. Youells was too young to take advantage of those options, but he was able to learn about the sites he saw up close in person outside of a classroom. At the middle-school level, student ambassadors learn about history, politics and culture by participating in various activities throughout their travels.

But the cost of that opportunity was significant. Monika Youells, Nik’s mother, said the total price tag came to more than $5,000. To reduce the cost to the family, the Youells organized a bottle drive. They sent out letters to neighbors on the west side of South Portland letting them know about the trip Nikolas planned to take, and asked anyone who wanted to help to leave bottles or cash donations outside their homes.

Monika Youells said she was impressed by the response from the community. One couple made a $100 donation, many more left donations outside their homes, and even some local businesses chipped in.

South Portland Clipper Co. offered Nikolas a $50 gift certificate and a free haircut before he left. Now that his hair has grown out again, Monika said he’ll need another cut if he plans to pursue his goal of visiting every country in the world.

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