Petting koalas and kangaroos, exploring the Australian outback and standing on top of an Olympic Medal Podium aren’t activities most middle schoolers get to experience during their summer break.


That’s why 12-year-old Tanner DeGrado of Newton considered himself fortunate to have a chance to experience an adventure “down under” through a trip to Australia sponsored by the People to People Student Ambassador Program.


Petting koalas and kangaroos, exploring the Australian outback and standing on top of an Olympic Medal Podium aren’t activities most middle schoolers get to experience during their summer break.

That’s why 12-year-old Tanner DeGrado of Newton considered himself fortunate to have a chance to experience an adventure “down under” through a trip to Australia sponsored by the People to People Student Ambassador Program.

Tanner, who will be a seventh grader at Chisholm Middle School this fall, traveled to Australia June 29 through July 13. About 45 students went on the trip, including 11 from the Kansas area.

“It was such a life-changing opportunity,” said his father, John DeGrado.
John believes Tanner was nominated for the program by a principal or school teacher. Tanner’s parents agreed to let him go on the trip with one condition: He had to raise the money for the trip himself.

Tanner said it’s difficult to choose his favorite activity from the trip, and he enjoyed visiting sites such as the Parliament House, where he learned about Australia’s government; the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Center, which was built for the 2000 Olympic Games; the famous Sydney Opera House; and the outback.

The trip gave Tanner and the other students an opportunity to study the differences between the American and Australian cultures.

“It was different because (of) the people, the way they acted, the way they talked,” he said. 

He said the city of Sydney is comparable to New York City here in the United States, while Brisbane is comparable to Hollywood. Although Americans are more familiar with Sydney, Brisbane actually is more popular with Australians.

Australia’s seasonal cycle is the opposite of the seasonal cycle in the United States, meaning the country experiences its wintertime in July. Tanner said the weather wasn’t too bad while he was in Australia, though the mornings were a little cold.

He tried several exotic foods while on the trip, including kangaroo, crocodile, “Tim Tams” (a type of chocolate-covered cookie) and “Vegemite” (a dark brown paste locals like to put on toast or bread).

While Vegemite is a favorite of Australians, Tanner isn’t too keen to try it again.

“It was terribly bad,” he said. “It was very salty.”

Another disappointment on the trip was seeing the Great Barrier Reef, which didn’t turn out to be quite like Tanner had hoped. He had anticipated the reef to be bright and colorful, but the group went to the reef on a rainy and windy day, and the coral was yellowish and gray. He learned there is a better view if you dive deeper into the water and go at nighttime, instead of during the day.

In addition to sight-seeing, the group worked on community service projects and met with children in local schools. Tanner said he was impressed by how many words the younger students knew and thought they had a bigger vocabulary than their peers in the United States.

Although Tanner was homesick a few times and had a few mishaps (such as losing his wallet), he said the trip was a good experience, and he would recommend it to other students.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned responsibility.”