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Hempfield student will visit Costa Rica

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Morgan Bellush

Morgan Bellush, a freshman at Hempfield Area High School, will make her first foray into international travel this summer when she serves as a cultural ambassador.

Bellush will be among 40 students who will venture to Costa Rica, a Central American nation between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, with the People to People Ambassador Program. It is designed “to bridge cultural and political borders through education and exchange,” according to its website.

“Right now, I know very little right about the country or people, but the more I research I do, the more I am fascinated about the history and culture,” said Bellush, 14. “This is my first trip outside the United States and I'm very excited about the opportunity.”

The community is pitching in to give her that opportunity.

A Zumbathon, vendor fair and basket raffle will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday in Pitzer's Townhouse, 101 S. Fifth St., Jeannette. The venue, aerobic instructors, vendors and others are contributing to help Bellush raise money for the trip and People to People.

Bellush will visit a banana plantation and nature reserve, interact with students at various schools and an orphanage and engage in community service during the visit from June 30 to July 13. At the same time, the student, who is enrolled in French classes in school, will be getting a crash course in Spanish.

The group will be helping to refurbish schools, planting trees, repairing a rural lodge and clearing hiking trails in conjunction with a reforestation project at Nacientes de Palmichal. They will visit the National Institute of Biodiversity's rainforest station, where Bellush will work with biologists monitoring amphibians and participate in collecting data emanating from frog “songs” during evening excursions.

Erin Rogers, project manager for the Costa Rica trip, said the concept for People to People was developed during the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. The ambassador program was initiated in 1963.

“Our mission is to bring American students closer to peoples and cultures of the world and provide direct and unique interaction of those American students with students of other cultures ...,” Rogers said.

Bellush will spend two nights with a local family in Santa Ana, where she will be able to help prepare dinner and see what life is like for an average Costa Rican family. The travelers will also be given the opportunity to go surfing and whitewater rafting.

Bellush's cousin, Tyler Treadway, traveled to Europe with People to People several years ago, and her aunt, Sherry Purtymun, is an avid traveler who encouraged Bellush through the application process.

Bellush, the daughter of Jenifer and Tony Bellush, is associated with Girls on the Run, a nationwide program that fosters life skills and confidence among participants, and the Girl Scouts.

At Hempfield, she is a member of the French Club and the Spartan Army, a community service program that raises funds for various organizations. Bellush, a rec league softball pitcher and member of the Hempfield indoor track team, plans on playing softball for the Lady Spartans.

She has met once with her future traveling companions. Bellush, who will celebrate her 15th birthday before the trip, is preparing a presentation for the group about Costa Rica's history, geography and its capital, San Jose.

“Students grow during a trip of this nature,” said Sarah Jones, the local contact for People to People. “They are more appreciative of other cultures as a result, and more appreciative of their own cultures and homes, and more aware of how fortunate they are to live in the United States.”

Les Harvath is a freelance writer.