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Fifth-grader selected to venture 'down under'

June 30, 2010 - Kalei McLennon's summer adventure began when she boarded the plane last week.

Her destination - Australia.

The 10-year-old Pine Knob Elementary student was chosen as a People to People Student Ambassador, one of 38 Michigan students.

"I felt excited but nervous at the same time," she said when she learned she was one of the contenders.

"I was nervous because I had to answers some questions they gave me like 'have you traveled to another country' and 'have you gone scuba driving.'"

She answered the questions and received a phone call to let her know she was one of the ambassadors.

"It was just - wow," she smiled.

Since October she learned about the country's history, culture, art and geography.

"It was quite interesting to find out who found Australia and how the Aborginals were there for thousands of years," she shared. "It's interesting to find out new things about the people before I visit."

She was interested in some of the dishes they ate - including Vegmite, a vegetable paste made from yeast.

"It is something like peanut butter they put on their toast," McLennon said. "But it's not - it doesn't look like it. It looks like dark brown pudding."

Another delicacy she will be introduced to is eating alligator and kangaroo.

"I don't want to try kangaroo," she said. "I like kangaroos.There are a lot of kangaroos there so it would make sense they eat them a little. They don't eat them a lot because it is their main animal."

"Kangaroo is like deer here," said her mom, Dawn. "It's the culture. We eat deer. They eat kangaroo."

Kalei didn't mind the thought of eating alligator as much.

"As long as I don't see the head - I am good," she said. "I want to know what it is but I don't want to see what it is."

Kalei and her fellow ambassadors were anxiously anticipating their busy schedule before they left.

They will visit the Olympic Park grounds, the Sydney Opera House, Brisbane, the Australian Zoo, and Olsen's Capricorn Caves.

She will also learn how to throw a boomerang, play the didgeridoo with the Aboriginal people, and dairy manufacturing with a farm family in Bileoia.

Kalei took a waterproof camera for one of her other ventures, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. If time allows - learn how to surf.

Another treat for Kalei is visiting a marine biologist.

"Hanging out with the marine biologist is going to be the most fun for me," Kalei said, "That's what I want to be some day."

Before she left she had some of her vocabulary words down - ones she was told she would hear a lot.

"I learned when they say barbie they are not referring to the doll but barbeque," she said.

As for other words, she knew mate meant friend, good day is hello and joey is a baby kangaroo.

"I think that is my favorite of all the words," she smiled.

It is also Kalei's first trip abroad without Dawn and Tim, her dad.

"She knows she can communicate with us whenever she needs to via email or phone or texting," said Tim. "It's a chance for her to gain some real independence and responsibility."

She won't be alone - she will be with friends she met through People to People.

"I am excited because I have made new friends and I am excited to try new things with them," said Kalei.

Kalei returns July 7.

The People to People Student Ambassador Program was started in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of students have traveled to the South Pacific, Asia, Europe and other destinations.

Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.
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