By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON April 25, 2003 Matthew Webb believes in second chances.
The Sullivan West/Delaware Valley sophomore got an offer two years ago to represent his country as a People to People ambassador, one of only a few hundred young people in America heading out to foreign lands to investigate the culture.
He was supposed to go to a training session Sept. 20, 2001.
But just weeks prior to the workshop, terrorists hit American soil on Sept. 11. His mom, Sharlene Kall, said, No way.
She wasnt sending her son to Europe with a war going on in Afghanistan and anti-American sentiments rampant the world over.
Webb was disappointed. Hes never traveled outside of the United States, and he was looking forward to the chance to spend some time abroad.
Then fall of 2002 rolled around, and there was another letter in Webbs mailbox.
This time he was being invited to join the student ambassadors heading to Australia.
The news came at the worst time possible the same day the letter arrived, Webbs grandmother, Mona, passed away.
I still remember getting that letter in the mail and being so thrilled, Kall recalled with tears in her eyes, then getting that call later.
This time Webb, 15, was pumped up on making the trip.
Ive always thought it was an interesting place, but I never got to go, he explained. You can read about it on the Internet, but thats just not the same.
I always thought Australia was interesting, he continued, the animals there, the accents of the people.
Kall finally agreed to let Webb sign up for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
So hes making the trip as a tribute to his grandmother, the first woman to graduate with a bachelors degree in engineering from the University of Florida.
She was really involved; she always supported me, Webb explained.
Now hes looking forward to making the summer trip. Begun by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, People to People Student Ambassadors has been sending generations of American youth worldwide since the 1950s.
Students qualify to join the program either because of academic achievement or teacher recommendation. Webb, who is on the honor roll at Sullivan West, doesnt know which distinction earned him the chance to visit Australia.
But hes still looking forward to the trip.
Student ambassadors have a chance to spend a few days with a family in the host country, visit the school system, check out famous sites and experience something a little bit different.
The kid from Callicoon will have a chance to go kayaking, bushwalking, snorkeling and maybe even hot air ballooning.
Im going to see the koala bears, he added with a laugh.
Webb is most looking forward to the venture into the Australian school system. Because their seasons are the reverse of those in the United States, students there will be in school even though Webb and his fellow ambassadors will be on summer break.
Hes also looking forward to perusing the sights and sounds of Sydney, the countrys capital. There will be some free time at night for the ambassadors, and they will be going to the site of the recent Olympics and other major venues while on tour.
Webb will have to keep a travel journal for the trip, so he can show his sponsors after his return all that the ambassadors accomplished.
Students visiting Australia at this time will be from across the Mid-Hudson area Webb has been going for training sessions with kids from across the region in Poughkeepsie each month to learn everything from the dress code to appropriate behavior in another culture.
Most of the lessons, he said, were common sense, because the Australian way of life is similar to that of Americans.
People tell me that the people of Australia are very friendly, he noted.
With America wrapping up a war with Iraq and the world in turmoil, Webb said now is a good time to represent his country and show off the best we have to offer.
It is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that we are truly concerned about the well-being of our fellow man, he said.
Now the only hurdle Webb has to jump before boarding a plane to Down Under is financing the trip.
Through family and friends, hes been able to put together $2,000 in the past few months, but the family needs another $3,000 to cover everything from airfare to meals.
Its been an incredible amount of money to bring together, Kall said.
Those who wish to make a donation to Webbs cause can send a tax-deductible check made out to People to People to Sharlene Kall, P.O. Box 64, Callicoon, NY 12723. Webbs delegation ID number, 621530, must be included on the check.
Hes hoping to find at least 60 people to donate $50 each to help meet the fundraising goal.
I plan to give a speech and share my journal, photographs and experiences with all my contributors upon my return, Webb said.