Montgomery enjoys summer in Australia

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 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Bullitt Lick Middle School eighth grade student Katie Montgomery spent three weeks in Australia as part of the People to People Student Ambassador Program.

“This trip was such a great experience,” said the 13 year-old daughter of Duane and Beth Montgomery of Nichols. “I would definitely go again and recommend it to everyone else.”

The program is a student travel service based in Spokane, Washington offering domestic and international travel opportunities to middle and high school students. Since the group was founded in 1956, half a million students, adults and athletes have participated in the program, whose motto is promoting piece through understanding.

During the trips, students attend various outdoor and educational activities. Longer itineraries include class time with local teachers, where the student-teacher ratio is typically less than 10:1. College and high school credit for classes can also be earned, which is granted through Washington School of World Studies and Eastern Washington University.

All students who apply to the program are interviewed and submit three letters of recommendation before acceptance. Once on their program, Student Ambassadors are expected to create a positive impression of the United States, whether making a good impression in a school visit overseas, meeting local citizens, or attending a briefing with a government representative. This diplomatic spirit is one of the things that sets the People to People experience apart; Student Ambassadors are global students and teachers of their own culture.

Bullitt Lick Principal Robert Fulk praised Katie on her accomplishment and her humble attitude.

“We are very proud of Katie,” he said. “She has some pretty amazing stories and pictures to share but she really tries to downplay the trip. She is a testament that any student there could experience the world if they want to make it happen as much as she did.”

Her summer vacation away from home began in earnest with an airport announcement.

“I remember hearing ‘Flight 7633 from Louisville to Dallas is now boarding,’” Katie said. “Three airplanes, three airports and 29 hours later, I arrived not only in a different country, but a different season.”

Katie and 26 middle school students from across the United States made their way up Australia’s east coast starting in Sydney and concluding in Cairns. “We lived out of a suitcase for three weeks,” she smiled.

“I walked through the Sydney Opera House that I have seen on books and on TV...but I was actually there, backstage!” Katie continued. “I went to a place called Moreton Island where I got to work with dolphins, went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef where the bright colors of the fish and coral are truly unbelievable and amazing.”

Katie stayed with a host family, Keith and Sandy Fogarty, for three days. They made her feel welcome and allowed her to learn many things about Australia through their insight.

“It really opened my eyes to see that we are different but yet more similar than different in many ways,” she observed. “I even taught my host family how to say ya’ll by the end of my stay with them even though it sounded weird with their accent.”

Katie got to hold a koala bear, walk with crocodiles, and actually learned how to surf, “which is way harder than it looks...I even stood up,” she said.

Summer in the United States is winter half way across the globe. Katie said she typically spends her American summers at the pool and beach in hot and humid weather.

She did the same in Australia...minus the hot weather. “I had to wear jackets, long pants and a wet suit in the ocean,” she said.

Katie recalled a quote when thinking of her Australian adventure.

“Whoever said ‘Beginnings are usually scary and endings are usually sad, but it is everything in-between that makes it worth living’ was right,” she observed. “My first day in Sydney, Australia was scary because it was so different and so far away from home. The last day in Cairns was sad because three weeks full of fun experiences and great memories was about to end. Every moment in-between definitely made it all worth living.”

Going over to the Land Down Under took persistence and a lot of money. Katie said her cost was roughly $6,000 and a lot of homework.

“As a student ambassador for the United States, I had to go through monthly meetings for six months, take courses and tests about Australia, go through an interview to even be accepted in the program and writer a paper about why I wanted to go on the trip,” she explained. “I had also never met anyone else on the trip before these meetings which as scary. But, it was so worth it!”

Duane Montgomery plays music with a rock band and orchestrated a fundraiser which raised approximately $2,500 for his daughter to fulfill her dream.

“I was really surprised at the generosity of my family, friends, teachers and even total strangers who helped me raise money along the way so that I was able to have this experience,” she said. “There were few kids or families on the trip who were actually able to pull the money out of their wallets, most had to raise the money over a period of months, some kids even raised the money over years. I raised money by washing cars in addition to the benefit concert.”

“I can never say ‘Thank You’ enough to everyone who helped me fulfill this dream,” Katie said. “It was something that was truly incredible and life changing. I cannot wait to experience more of the world!”

Katie is ready to enjoy her final year of middle school by earning all A’s and tackling high school level math in Algebra 1.

“I really want to focus on my future because college is very important to me,” she said.

Her goal is to become a physical therapist for athletes and get them back on the field as quickly as possible.

Katie enjoys cheerleading and is a member of Bullitt Lick’s Beta Club. In her spare time, she enjoys writing feature articles and most recently explored the public obsession with pop stars such as Justin Bieber.

Bullitt County Public Schools has over 13,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12. There are 25 school facilities, a certified staff of over 850 and a classified staff of over 850 working every school day to make the district the leader in educational excellence.