Char Valley senior tours South Korea through scholarship program

This article was originally published in the Tribune-Review on Friday, August 24, 2018. Click here to read the article on the Tribune-Review website. 

Amya Mebane dreams of someday traveling the world to learn about other cultures and ways of life in other lands.

This summer, the 17-year-old Chartiers Valley senior had the chance to leave the United States for the first time to spend a month touring and learning in South Korea for free, courtesy of World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh’s Global Travel Scholarship program.

From July 4 to Aug. 1, Amya was immersed in the South Korean culture, listening to K-Pop and eating spicy food while attending peacekeeping workshops and visiting Korea’s demilitarized zone that brought her within two miles of North Korea.

“I learned an appreciation for a culture I never knew about,” she said. “And I learned to be a better person and realize that other people have problems and you need to be aware of that.”

Amya’s love for travel was sparked as a child watching Dora the Explorer.

“I always thought, she gets to go to all of these really cool places, why can’t I?” Amya said.

Amya read books about other countries and learned about their languages and cultures.

She began taking German at Chartiers Valley as a freshman. German teacher Frau Mary Zollars shared her love for traveling with her students.

Amya “fell in love” with the idea of exploring the world even more.

“Now, I just want to go everywhere,” she said.

Her teacher introduced Amya to the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh’s Global Travel Scholarship program which sent eight students this summer, including Amya, across the world through World Learning’s The Experiment in International Living program to many countries including Morocco, Germany, Costa Rica, South Africa, Mongolia and Japan.

Amya was nominated and went through an application process, with Germany as her first choice.

She still remembers the moment she got the call saying she was going to South Korea, her second choice, and the shock that surrounded it.

“I was just so surprised. I didn’t think I’d ever go to South Korea,” she said.

For Amya’s mom, JeNaya, sending her child to Korea was scary. The first thing that ran through her mind was “nuclear weapons,” she said. Then she realized, she’s going to South Korea.

“I was obviously very proud, excited and scared,” she said. “Every parent wants their kid to do great things. She’s always been a very bright person. I hope this helps set the bar for all that she wants to achieve.”

Amya participated in a peacebuilding and contemporary culture program with kids from across the United States.

In South Korea, they spent time in Seoul, where Amya noted the “very busy nightlife” and how the country is “very family oriented.” They visited museums and learned about the history, seeing the capital building.

They traveled to Busan for a couple of days at the beach and visited cities including Goyang.

The group’s final stop was at Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, where they learned about the history of the area and reasoning behind it.

The group stayed in a guest house.

Amya had never met any of the kids on the trip, but now, she calls them her “best friends” after all they experienced.

During the trip, the group attended peacekeeping workshops, where they learned how to solve problems between two places using words instead of violence.

Amya said she learned a lot that she hopes to utilize in the future.

She plans to talk about her trip with everyone she can and hopes that it helps people realize that there’s a great big world out there for them to explore.

“There’s more than just Pittsburgh. There’s more than just America out there. Go see it,” she said.

JeNaya said this trip is proof that if your child wants to do something, don’t let your situation hold them back.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributor.

 | FridayAug. 24, 2018, 1:33 a.m.