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Spencer County High School freshman Zoë Brooks-Jeffiers fondly remembers having a Paris-themed birthday party as a child. From a young age, she has harbored a love for other cultures. Her mind often wanders to far off lands, imagining what it might be like to experience the vast amount of diversity the world has to offer.
This summer, Brooks-Jeffiers, 15, will get to fulfill at least a portion of her dream in a 19-day trip to France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy as part of the People to People Student Ambassadors Program. Brooks-Jeffiers was nominated for the program by a friend at her church, Shawnee Christian, in Louisville. Shortly after that, she was notified by letter that she had been selected for the program.
“As soon as I got the letter, I was in tears,” Brooks-Jeffiers said.
According to People to People’s website, ambassadors can either nominate themselves or be nominated for the program. Prospective participants must submit three letters of recommendation and be interviewed before being accepted into the program. According to the site, student ambassadors pride themselves on making a positive impression of United States culture, while simultaneously having a hunger to learn about other cultures. Ambassadors embody President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vision that peace comes through understanding. Brooks-Jeffiers said she is required to take online educational sessions and quizzes about the places she will be visiting. She pointed out that the trip is an academic opportunity — not just for pleasure.
“I love the idea of going to experience their culture in contrast to our own,” she said.
While in Europe, Brooks-Jeffiers said she will have the opportunity to meet other ambassadors from Kentucky and beyond. She will get unique opportunities to meet individuals in each country, providing her the opportunity to learn first-hand about the culture. She said the trip itinerary is not complete yet, but will include trips to the Alps, the Louvre, the Colosseum and a concentration camp. Brooks-Jeffiers said she was especially interested in an opportunity to meet a Holocaust survivor who experienced life in a concentration camp.
Brooks-Jeffiers’ mother, Paige Brooks-Jeffiers, said allowing her daughter to travel out-of-country for 19 days was not an easy decision for she and her husband, Mark Jeffiers. But after investigating the People to People program and having several parents recommend it, they felt as if their daughter was made to be a People to People Ambassador.
“We’re so proud of her, with everything that she’s done,” Paige said. “She has been telling us since about the sixth grade that she wanted to go overseas. She wanted to travel. She wanted to see how other people lived and how things were in other places.”
Paige said the program seemed very reputable and provided an opportunity for her daughter to expand her horizons even as a freshman in high school.
“She is such a people person and so wants to make a difference. We’ve tried to teach her that one person can make a difference,” Paige said.
Brooks-Jeffiers said she is a believer in peace, and that if she can understand other cultures better, she might be better positioned to a proponent of peace. Her mother has noticed that quality in her daughter from a young age.
“Zoë has always been one of those that she doesn’t see color, she doesn’t see religion, she just sees people,” Paige said. “She just wants everyone to get along. It would not surprise me for her to do something amazing with her life.”
Brooks-Jeffiers is laying the way for future SCHS students, as she is the first from the school to participate in the People to People Student Ambassador program. Although other students have been nominated, she is the first to attend. Brooks-Jeffiers excels academically and is a member of the SCHS gifted and talented program. She helps lead the children’s program at her church, is a member of the FFA, enjoys drama, acting and is a member of the SCHS chorus.
In every way, Brooks-Jeffiers is beaming with excitement about her opportunity. But it won’t come easily for her. The trip cost tips the scales at a whopping $7,000 — most of which she will have to earn through personal fundraising efforts. She is looking to local, state and national government officials, as well as local businesses and private citizens to help contribute to her fundraising efforts. Anyone can help fund Brooks-Jeffiers trip by visiting her personal website at www.zoelee.com. Brooks-Jeffiers is already chronicling her adventures on the site and plans to do so throughout her travels.
Paige said she and Mark decided to allow their daughter to attend because they knew it would open new doors for her.
“She is one of those (children) where you don’t want her to grow up too fast, but you’re also excited to see what she is going to do with her life,” Paige said. “I just can’t believe this opportunity has presented itself. She’s always been taught that you can have the world. All you have to do is take it.”