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Franklin Park teen going to the ends of the Earth

| Thursday, April 9, 2009

While her classmates at North Allegheny Intermediate High School are enjoying the Christmas holidays with their friends and family, one sophomore will be trekking to the ends of the Earth.

"How many 16- or 17-year-old kids get to say 'I'm going to Antarctica over break?' " said Ashley Aftanas, 16, of Franklin Park. "It's going to be great."

Aftanas is one of 15 teens nationwide -- and the only one in Pennsylvania -- going to Antarctica this Christmas as part of the People to People Student Ambassador Program.

People to People International, the program's parent organization, has allowed more than 400,000 people to experience other cultures since it was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.

"We are always encouraging students who have a hunger to learn to travel on our programs," said Peg Thomas, president of People to People Ambassador Programs. "(They) offer unique access to amazing places around the globe, inspire confidence in today's youth and help prepare a younger generation for success in a globalized world."

This will be Aftanas' third trip with People to People. She visited Europe when she was 12, then Australia two years later. To date, she has been to seven different countries on two continents. She will add two more continents this time around, as the group will be hiking in Argentina before traveling by boat to Antarctica.

That's the part that scares Aftanas -- she gets seasick. But she is eager to see a continent most Americans never will.

"Apparently that is the roughest water at that time of year, but it's going to be interesting," Aftanas said. "I'm interested to see what lack of civilization there is in Antarctica. It's not going to be a bustling New York City, not as many people around or any skyscrapers and Golden Gate bridges. It's just ice and penguins."

Aftanas and her family have to pay for the trip, which will cost more than $10,000. The teen jokes that she'll be eating cheap for the rest of the year, but she believes the experience will be worth every penny.

"I'm so excited," Aftanas said. "Now I just have to find a way to get to Asia and Africa."

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