At the age of 12, Andy Sanders is not only older, he's wiser than when he was 11.
The young Gisela resident recently spent two weeks in Hawaii with 38 other students his age as part of the People to People Student Ambassador program, a visit that gave him the opportunity to experience another culture firsthand.
"It was a very structured trip," his mother, Marci, said. "The University of Hawaii-Hilo organized the whole visit, so it included a lot of wonderful educational opportunities."
Andy, who is in the seventh grade at Rim Country Middle School, began raising the $3,000 needed to participate in the program back in January when he was still 11. Through a variety of fund-raisers and odd jobs, he actually ended up raising $3,500.
The first thing Andy brings up when asked what he learned in Hawaii is the official state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. "Translated from Hawaiian, it means 'pig-nosed nest-builder.' I brought my dad home a T-shirt with it on," he said.
Another highlight was going snorkeling twice. "We saw tons of fish, eels and giant sea tortoises," he said, "but not any Humuhumunukunukuapua'as."
Andy also talks about a visit to Volcanoes National Park where he got to hike across the crater of the Kilauea Volcano, an active volcano that flows underground into the ocean, and about a side trip to Mauna Loa, the tallest mountain in the world when measured from its base which is under water, where he was able to stargaze through a powerful telescope at an altitude of 9,000 feet.
Then there was the visit to the taro fields of Waipi'O Valley. "Taro is a plant, and the Hawaiians eat the root. They grow it in irrigated fields, and we got to play football in one of those muddy fields," Andy said.
While he obviously enjoyed playing football in the mud, he was less enthusiastic about the root of the taro plant. "They make it into this purple gunk," he said, "a thick paste that tastes icky. It's a main food source for them. They cook it. They chop it up and add it to stuff."
Andy's other memorable culinary experience occurred at a Taco Bell. "They put rice in their bean burros over there," he said. "They have rice at just about every meal except breakfast."
Andy has his own horse, and his father is a calf roper who competed in the recent Payson Rodeo, so he also spoke enthusiastically about visiting the Parker Cattle Ranch, the largest working ranch in the United States.
"Cowboys are called panielos over there," he said, "and they ride these really short horses."
Another story Andy likes is the one about what happened when the Hawaiians imported mongooses to get rid of a rat infestation.
"They didn't realize that rats are nocturnal and mongooses aren't," he said. "But thanks to the mongooses at least there aren't any snakes in Hawaii."
Now that he's an experienced traveler at the age of 12, Andy hopes to do it again next year. He's been nominated for the 2000 People to People National Student Ambassador of the Year Award. If he's one of two national winners in his age category, he'll receive a full scholarship to participate in the Student Ambassador Program next summer.
People to People International, which is based in Kansas City, Missouri, is a non-profit organization founded by former President Dwight Eisenhower that promotes international understanding by offering travel opportunities to students from sixth grade through high school.
Andy's goal is to go to Australia.
"That's real ranching country," he said. Besides, time's a wasting. He'll be 13 by then, and he's sure not getting any younger.