One of Delaney Schneider's Christmas presents was a suitcase. The suitcase itself was not as significant as the contents inside.
It was Christmas Day when the Soldotna Middle School eighth-grader found out she was the recipient of a scholarship sweepstakes from the People to People Student Ambassador Program titled "50 for fifty", which awarded to one student from each state traveling with the program this summer. For Schneider, that means her three-week trip to Europe will be paid for, save for her own spending money while she's there.
"I thought it was really cool -- my mom and dad actually knew for a while," Schneider said. "They had me open (the suitcase) up, it had all the papers inside that said I won, I was just really happy."
Schneider will be traveling to France, Italy and Greece with other students her age from the Kenai Peninsula and other parts of the state, as well as meeting up with other delegations from other states during their trip.
Students are nominated for the program. Schneider doesn't know who nominated her, but she is thankful for the consideration.
"I think that's cool that someone would think I'd be good enough to go on this kind of trip and to represent Alaska and my town and country," she said.
At first, she was hesitant. But when she attended the informational meeting, the hesitation turned into excitement. The delegation leaders gave a presentation of what students could expect on their trip, and that was when Schneider knew what she was in for.
"Just seeing what I'll get to do and all the opportunities," she said.
Her trip is scheduled to start June 3. The only downside, she said, is that it falls in the middle of softball season.
"It's worth it, missing softball," Schneider said. "That's how I saw it -- I didn't think I'd ever be able to do it again if I didn't go on this trip."
She'll visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower, Rome and the Vatican, among many other European destinations. Since she'll be with People to People, Schneider will be able to experience things that many tourists don't get the chance to. In Venice, the students will be paired up with Venetian host families and spend a couple days experiencing every day life in a different culture, something her mom, Darnell Schneider covets.
"She'll get the ins and outs where normal tourists don't get to see," Schneider said. "And that's really what attracted me (to the program), is that she'll get to see the other side of the picture."
As a representative of her city, state and country, Schneider is welcoming the chance to share stories about where she's from with other ambassadors and Europeans she'll encounter along her trek.
"I think it'll be cool -- if they ask me how I live, I'll tell them how different it is," she said.
Already having traveled to Maine, Canada and Mexico, Schneider has heard some pretty absurd questions, which have kept her on her toes.
"I don't live in an igloo, (but) I'd probably just go a long with it," she said with a laugh.
There are many experiences Schneider is counting on, some maybe more than others.
"I really want to see all of the cultures," she said. "I'm looking forward to, but not at the same time -- trying snails and frog legs.
"I'm kind of grossed out, but I'll do it. That's a big thing."
Logan Tuttle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.