Monday, June 6, 2011

We've Moved to a New Blog!

I'm pleased to announce that People to People has a new blog platform. That means we will no longer be blogging on this site. If you'd like to continue reading my posts on health and safety, or April's posts on food and nutrition, please go to . . .

Our new blog has a different format that makes it easier to read, share, and comment on blog posts. You'll notice that we cover many categories and topics in addition to health and safety. It's the best place to get a look into current happenings at People to People Ambassador Programs.

This old blog will stay up for a little longer. But in a few weeks, if you come to this link, you will automatically be redirected to the new blog.

In the meantime, check out the new blog!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Food: Medicine for Travel (Part Deux)

Our overall health can be highly influenced by the foods we eat on a daily basis. In my last blog post, I talked about nature’s medicine for travel with an emphasis on herbs and spices. That was only the tip of the iceberg! Due to the prodigious feedback I received from that post, I decided to stick with this topic and offer some additional advice for common travel ailments and foods to gravitate toward while roaming abroad.

Diarrhea: a spontaneous and ever fluid companion
Even though nobody wants to talk, or even think about it, diarrhea often rears its ugly little head during travel. This is because your gut is likely not accustomed to the spices or richness of the new foods you will be trying in other countries. Even slight changes in your sleeping pattern, environment, and activity level can be enough to trigger the onset of diarrhea.

As a clinical dietitian, I work with children who have cancer and suffer from chronic diarrhea as a side effect of the chemotherapy treatments. In my experience, white starchy foods have been the most helpful in alleviating this symptom.
  • Mashed potatoes (no peels), soda crackers, white rice, Italian or French bread/toast, and pasta are some excellent examples of beneficial starchy foods to eat when you have diarrhea.
  • Another top gun for this trip disruptor is soluble fiber. Many people think fiber is not good for you when you have diarrhea, but soluble fiber is very helpful. It forms a gel with the water in your intestines and bulks things up. Oatmeal and oat bran, along with the insides of beans, peas, and many fruits are great sources of soluble fiber.
  • Because your body loses lots of water when you have diarrhea, be sure to stay fully hydrated with drinks that contain electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium. Coconut water or sports drinks are excellent restorative beverages.
Vacation Constipation: stops you in your tracks
Another very common complaint during travel is the inverse to diarrhea: constipation. The main contributors to this uncomfortable condition include changes in food patterns and composition, dehydration, lack of sleep, and a decrease in activity level. All of these things tend to occur while exploring the world, thus the reason for such a high frequency of this problem with travel.

In the hospital, I also work with a lot of people who deal with constipation as a side effect of their pain medications. While we have all heard that prune juice is a good cure, I most commonly recommend fruit nectar (specifically, apricot, peach, or pear nectar) since it tastes so much better and can be just as effective. These fruits are helpful because they contain high amounts of sorbitol, a natural laxative. So, if you are traveling and experience constipation, be sure to eat these three fruits or drink their juices whenever possible.

Just like with diarrhea, fiber can also be your wingman for combating constipation. However, to fight this enemy you need to consume insoluble fiber rather than soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is the indigestible part of foods, such as the seeds in berries, skin on fruit, vegetables, and beans, the chewy part of celery, or the husk on whole grains and brown rice.
  • Tip: If you are eating high amounts of foods that help alleviate diarrhea, and you do not have diarrhea, there is a good chance you may become constipated. To avoid this problem, be sure to balance foods from both areas under when your gut is working normally.
Stomach Upset/Nausea: a potion for motion, what a notion
Queasiness or general stomach upset is often experienced during travel because our sense of balance and equilibrium is disrupted as unusual motion is detected by the eyes and ears. This is most commonly referred to as motion sickness. Studies have shown ginger to be as effective as prescription drugs in relieving mild to moderate nausea and cold sweats related to motion sickness.
  • Try any of the following: gingersnaps, gingerbread, ginger ale, ginger tea or ginger candies. In many Asian countries, you may be able to find pickled ginger or raw ginger to gnaw on when you need a quick stomach stabilizer.

You can find most or all of the foods mentioned in this blog during your travel experience with People to People Student Ambassador Program.

Happy, healthy, and safe travels!

April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES
[Image Credits – Oatmeal Toast: www. ; Chewy Celery:; Ginger Tea and Biscuits:]

Monday, May 23, 2011

Natural events in the news—Grimsvotn Volcano and Mt. Etna

We are tracking recent volcanic events. Here's the latest:

The eruption by Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano does not have any current impact on any of our programs. We will continue to monitor the situation into the summer travel season to determine any potential impact upon our flight plans for students headed to Europe. This year, the European air system has a much more developed and organized system than last year, which should help minimize any large scale flight disruptions like we saw last year when another Icelandic volcano erupted. [Update -Eurocontrol, Europe's air traffic agency, offers more information on its website.]

Secondly, Italy's Mount Etna became active for the second time this year. It is our understanding that there was some limited localized impact due to falling ash in the town of Catania and surrounding uninhabited areas. While the local airport closed temporarily, there was neither damage nor personal injuries. Prior to this eruption, the most recent activity happened back on January13, 2011. Before that, Mount Etna hadn't experienced any major volcanic activity since 1992.
  • While People to People Ambassador Programs has several itineraries that visit Italy each year, only one (Modern and Ancient Civilizations) has any activity located in the extreme southern region of Italy where the volcano is located.

  • Currently, that itinerary is scheduled to visit the area around Mount Etna for only one day during the program. If any adjustment is needed to ensure the safety of our delegates as we draw closer to the summer departure dates, we will reach out to those leaders and families of students traveling on the Modern and Ancient Civilizations program and inform them of the itinerary adjustment.

  • The next closest itineraries (Journey through the Ages and European Odyssey) are over 350 miles away with Naples as the most southern destination. We do not anticipate any impact on these programs, but will obviously continue to monitor the situation.
As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers

Senior Director of Health & Safety

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Student Travel Safety Tips Shared on World Footprints Radio

One of the things I enjoy most is sharing my experiences with people. I was honored to be interviewed by Tonya Fitzpatrick as a featured guest on World Footprints’ radio show today.

World Footprints is an online radio, TV, and website geared towards responsible, conscientious, and informed travelers.

We discussed how to keep teens safe while traveling internationally, which is a very relevant topic today. I provided some of our top tips on how any student can be careful as they travel.

If you want to hear my interview, you can listen . . .

  • Online: Click here for the audio file (and the show description). [This is an updated link - my interview starts at about 24 minutes in.] The show will be permanently available as an audio file on World Footprints' archive.

  • On Your Phone: If you'd like to listen to World Footprints on your mobile, you can download the Stitcher app for free. The app works with iPhone, iPod Touch, Palm and Blackberry. An encore broadcast of my interview will be available on their mobile channel for one week.
I am privileged to have shared a few thoughts on how to stay safe while traveling and I hope you have an opportunity to listen in.

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Friday, May 6, 2011

Food: Medicine for Travel

Not only does food provide energy and nutrients to help our bodies run on a daily basis, but it contains nature’s cure to many ailments you may experience while traveling. There is a growing body of knowledge that supports the use of whole foods in the maintenance of health and the treatment of illness.

Did you know herbs and spices can offer many of the same benefits found in fresh fruits and vegetables AND help remedy common travel-related sicknesses? For example, basil has been shown to help fight colds, diarrhea, and kidney disease. Unlike the pills and syrups found in your medicine cabinets, these natural “medicines” promote the healing process, rather than suppress symptoms. Spices are the seasonings for food that come from the bark, buds, fruit or flower parts, roots, seeds or stems of various aromatic plants and trees. Herbs are the leafy parts of woody plants.

Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. She exists for no other end. Do not resist. With the least inclination to be well, we should not be sick. - Henry David Thoreau

Student Ambassadors should look for these foods and seasonings during travel to help combat minor illnesses:

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. - Hippocrates

We can all take a lesson from Hippocrates and improve our health during travel through natural food sources. Explore, learn, and live well!


April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES

[Image Credits - Fresh Basil:; Dried Turkish Apricots:; The Power of Bell Peppers:]

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

U.S. State Department Issues Worldwide Travel Alert

The news has highlighted the worldwide travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department yesterday. These types of alerts are frequently issued after a major event as a safety precaution.

Because we take our commitment to safety very seriously, we carefully evaluate these types of advisories in context of the overall situation. Because we do not travel to unstable parts of the world such as Pakistan or Afghanistan for our student programs - nor sensitive military areas that are the focus of this advisory - we are not currently canceling or reassigning any of our student programs at this time.

As you may be aware, we did cancel a Citizen Ambassador program to Egypt earlier this year until we could reassess its safety.

That said, the advisory highlights common sense safety precautions that are wise to follow regardless of any specific issue. I am sharing them below to help provide you guidance to being safe regardless of where you travel:

What advice did the State Department share?
In part, the State Department reminds all U.S. citizens to follow some basic safety measures:
  1. Be informed about conditions in your local areas by monitoring media coverage of local events and staying aware of your surroundings at all times. (People to People's program office does the same, as well as the staff on the ground who live in the countries visited by our Student Ambassadors.)

  2. Always register with Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), to receive the latest travel updates and information on your destination.

  3. Be inconspicuous and maintain a low profile. We always suggest students attempt to blend in and leave the fancy clothing and jewelry at home.
We at People to People Ambassador Programs are always evaluating current conditions. We have a long history of safely traveling over 500,000 students and leaders. Our safety team along with our senior leadership team monitors all situations that could impact our programs. I am personally monitoring the details around the most recent travel alert and receive updates from many sources throughout the day.

Changes in the global political climate remind us why we take the responsibility of safety so seriously. You can be confident in the diligence we take when it comes to the safety and well being of our delegates and leaders around the globe as we offer life changing educational travel experiences.

How do we decide whether or not to travel to a country?

In making the decision to proceed with any program, our senior leadership team relies on up-to-date intelligence gathered from a number of organizations, including the U.S. State Department, the Overseas Security Advisory Councill (OSAC), the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and international safety and security specialists. Again, at this point we have not canceled or altered any People to People Ambassador Program based on this most recent alert.

We will continue to receive multiple updates from these organizations on a daily basis and will stay very close to this situation. If the conditions in any way hinder our ability to provide safe and rewarding programs, we will not hesitate to alter itineraries or redirect programs.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!
Mike Bowers

Senior Director of Health & Safety

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Personal connection with our leaders

Did You Know? . . .

  • Each People to People delegation typically has four leaders for a delegation of roughly 40 students.

  • We strive to maintain a national student to leader ratio of 10 to 1.

  • Often that ratio is even lower which allows a very personal and secure level of supervisor of each student.

  • That's a lot of leaders to train! Over 2,400, in fact.

I recently traveled to Boston, Massachusetts where I had the opportunity to speak with over 200 of our teacher leaders during our Spring Leadership Conference. The main topics were

  1. How our leaders can continue to travel students safely.

  2. How our leaders and students can leverage the massive network of support that they have at their disposal from People to People Ambassador Programs.
This was all part of our 6-city conference tour which kicked off last month in Dallas, Texas and concluded on April 8th in lovely Atlanta, Georgia. Each week, a select group of senior leaders from the People to People Ambassador Programs office hit the road. At all six conferences we had members of our admissions, leadership support, safety and health teams in attendance (along with President, Peg Thomas and CEO Jeff Thomas).

The highlight of these conferences is that we have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with over 800 leaders who are scheduled to travel this summer with your children. During each three-day event we review important health and safety travel information with the leaders to ensure we continue to deliver a safe and enjoyable experience for each student. Even more importantly, we have the opportunity to share best practices with each other and to learn from the vast experience these leaders have accumulated over the years of successfully traveling the world.

It goes without question that no one knows your child better than you - a parent or guardian. Likewise, I would argue that no one better understands the needs of a traveling delegation then our leaders, who successfully travel to different parts of the world each year.
  • In both Texas and Boston (two of the conferences I attended), I was slightly surprised when - after I asked who was a new leader traveling with us for the first time - just a few hands rose.

  • I then asked those that have traveled with us for more than 5 years to raise their hands ... and the room was filled as hands shot up in pride.

  • We played this game for a little while longer recognizing the large amount that had traveled for more than 10, then 15, then 20 years.
Ms. Barb Capozzi is one such leader having traveled for 20 years. Barb wears many hats as she also serves as an Area Director for People to People and is the Vice Chair on the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees for People to People International. I asked Barb if she would like to share any feedback from the leaders who attended one of these conferences, and she provided me with quite a few! It occurred to me that these comments are worth sharing here, to give some insight as to why the Spring Leadership Conference is so important to us here at the program office.

Quotes from People to People Teacher Leaders:

"I received some really good ideas and techniques that will be helpful during travel this summer. It is always helpful to hear ideas from other leaders. Also, it was very valuable to have the Health & Safety Team explain what they are doing to assure safety for the delegates and leaders. The information received will be passed along to help reassure the parents that their child is in good hands. I felt the conference was very beneficial." Ruth Irving

"As a delegation leader who has traveled with People to People for 14 years, I have always spoken highly of the program; especially the safety aspects. After attending the conference and hearing from the people that work at the program office, I have a better understanding and can relay the message about the research, time and effort that goes on continually to ensure a safe and quality program." Mary Ann Lauricella

"After working with the People to People organization for ten years I am still amazed at the quality of the programs and the amount of support that is available to make these programs be a success. As I have these opportunities to meet other leaders and hear the wonderful and innovative things they do to make their delegation run more smoothly I am constantly incorporating these best practices and feel that our programs only get better and better." Charlie Herwick

"Having the opportunity to meet and spend time with fellow leaders is always a great experience. I feel inspired when I hear about travel stories and the passion that fellow leaders have for travel and their students. A true inspiration was hearing the alumni student speak about how her People to People experiences have impacted her and their entire family! A great story to share with parents and students." Lora Yanuavich

"The conference gave me a better understanding of how the Health & Safety Department works. Mike's speech was very helpful. I now understand the importance of filing an incident report, contacting the Health & Safety Department when needed, and the importance of the GPS phone in helping to locate the delegation." Twyla Edward

"I am always amazed by the leaders and delegates I am privileged to work with through People to People. It is so motivating to hear the success stories of growth, knowledge, and exchange that have occurred because of these programs. The talent and experience we are surrounded by is priceless. I like that we always put safety first! I like to think of the program as being safe, educational and fun!" Sue Olekoski

"It was great to be able to meet with approximately two hundred delegation leaders who have traveled with students all over the world and sharing their best strategies for keeping students safe while having the time of their lives. It was the greatest education I could have ever asked for. It was like gaining years of experience in one weekend. In addition, I feel I now have an even better working knowledge of the People to People organization and know with confidence exactly who to contact with any issue that may arise." Emily Bayzon

"By meeting together we had the opportunity to share stories, improve programs and share what works and what doesn't to help make ourselves better leaders, People to People a stronger organization, and to ultimately provide improvements to an already stellar program that offers life changing experiences to the students who travel with us. Our leadership development weekend consisted of hundreds of experiences, thousands of miles, countless stories spanning several continents and many hearts, collected in one room with the intention to grow from a weekend spent with like-minded international neighbors. The conference was led by an all-star staff and consisted of delegation leaders from around the US. We were given the opportunity to meet and talk about our experiences and how we could grow as leaders. The weekend also provided the Student Ambassador program an opportunity to learn and continue to excel as the leading and premier educational travel program, not only in America, but in the world. The willingness of the delegation leaders to take the time to meet and grow as leaders was only matched by People to People's openness to our feedback and incredibly quick action to change and improve. This weekend was an invaluable resource to us as leaders and to People to People as an ever changing and progressive organization. I am honored to have the opportunity to share in the history and inspiration of the weekend and hope to participate in further leadership development sessions in the future." Brandon Herwick

At the program office, we place great value on each and every one of these leaders and the vast amount of knowledge they have accumulated over the years. The fact is we just could not deliver the same high quality and unique programs without their dedication, passion and commitment to the overall mission and values of People to People Ambassador Programs. This conference gave us the opportunity to thank them and the intimate venue provided the perfect setting to share stories and learning from each other. It enabled each one of us the ability to pass on to the next generation of leaders who have joined us.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Travel Health Basics: Vitamins & Minerals

While the three main nutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) can be thought of as the stones in the Great Wall of China, vitamins and minerals might be the dirt and rubble that binds the stones and makes the unit work as a whole. Eating foods with a large variety of vitamins and minerals is necessary for peak health and performance while traveling.

Vitamins and minerals play important roles throughout the body and are essential to everyday functioning. Adolescents, in particular, need higher amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. Iron and calcium are of specific importance for growth, with iron being the most common nutritional deficiency in adolescents in the United States. When combined with the increased needs for travel health, Student Ambassadors need to take extra steps to make sure they are getting the additional nutrients they need.

Student Ambassadors should focus on getting more of the following vitamins & minerals before and during travel:

Many vitamins and minerals are absorbed better when combined with other food sources. For example, the iron from a spinach salad (pictured below) will be more readily absorbed if eaten with bell peppers, due to their high vitamin C content. Also, the absorption of Vitamin D is enhanced when combined with foods high in calcium (such as in milk or yogurt). You can read more about Vitamin D in "D-Lightful News for Travel" - one of my previous blog posts.

[ Photo credit: Lady Lerandia, ]

Some nutrients can inhibit absorption or cause depletion of vitamins and minerals, as well. Of concern to youth in the United States is the balance between phosphorous and calcium. Soda contains high amounts of phosphorous. In an attempt to maintain the balance between phosphorous and calcium in the blood, calcium is pulled out of the bones. Many adolescents are not meeting their calcium needs due to the overconsumption of soda, which often replaces milk and increases phosphorous intake.

This ends our series on ‘Basic Travel Nutrition.’ There are many exciting topics to come and I promise they will be very applicable to your student traveler. Some of these topics include: ‘Food Remedies to Common Travel Ailments’ and ‘How to Experience Culture through Food’…stay tuned!

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fox News and Gadling Recognize People to People as Source for Safety Advice

As readers of this blog are aware, my organization places a large amount of resources and importance on safety. This focus on safety is, at times, recognized by our partners, and sometimes mainstream media. I'd like to share one example - of which I'm particularly proud - that's been unfolding over the past couple weeks . . .

On March 13, published the article “What to Do if a Revolution Spoils Your Trip.” I was quoted, along with Michelle Bernier-Toth (managing director, Office of Overseas Citizen Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State), and Phillip Farina, who heads a security and risk management company for the hospitality industry.

This article highlights what to do when traditional communication channels fail to stay in contact with the outside world when traveling. It was featured as a top story in the site's Leisure category. It's an article that any of our Ambassador's parents will appreciate in light of recent, unexpected issues that have arisen in Egypt, Japan, and elsewhere.

My comments in the article outline a practical strategy for helping parents track their students through their bank accounts. I personally never travel my own kids without a bank card for expenses. Bernier-Toth agrees - the State Department has successfully used credit cards to track people down.

The article was picked up by influential travel writer Chris Owen, who blogs for (widely considered the most popular travel blog worldwide). Thanks, Chris, for mentioning People to People.

While it is nice to be recognized, it is more important that People to People Ambassador Programs share our practices and procedures with outside organizations and the public to make travel safer for everyone who travels. Indeed, I am honored to be recognized as a safety expert, and we are proud that our practices are validated by organizations such as the state department.

In coming blog posts please look for a series on important travel and safety tips we plan to share.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!
Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Japan Delegations Being Reassigned

I am happy to report that the team here in the program office is on-track to meet the April 1 deadline for reassigning all Japan delegations and communicating those reassignments to the primary leaders. We have been actively working with primary leaders to plan their delegations’ re-accommodation details and appreciate their help and our delegations’ understanding. Since we are accommodating each delegation separately (to try to keep them together traveling in the same window of time), your local primary leader will have the most current information for each delegation should you need specific details.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Travel Health Basics: Fat

The latest post from April Davis in her series on Travel Health Basics.

Fats, similar to carbohydrates and proteins, are an important nutrient for your student traveler. Fats serve as a primary energy source at rest and during light-to-moderate activity, along with providing calorie-dense nutrients capable of meeting the high energy demands of active itinerary days. In addition, fat provides essential fatty acids required for normal bodily functions, adds flavor to foods, promotes feelings of fullness, and is required for the uptake of certain vitamins. So, while fat gets a bad rap, it is a necessary and healthy nutrient (when consumed properly) that will be important as your student travels with People to People Ambassador Programs.

What are fats and where can I find them?
Similar to the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz, fats are molecules that are “water-fearing,” or hydrophobic. Unlike the Oz character, however, they do NOT dissolve (or melt) in water but, rather, in more fat. This affects how they are digested, absorbed, and transported throughout the body.

Fats yield 9 calories per gram, compared to only 4 calories per gram for both carbohydrates and proteins. So, if extra calories are needed, you get more bang for your buck with fat. Other nutrients can be converted into fats within the body when excess calories are taken in. For example, if carbohydrates or proteins are eaten in surplus, they will be converted into fats and stored for later use as energy.

Fats are found in most food groups of the MyPyramid food guidance system.
  • The richest sources of fat are found within the oils category of the pyramid.
  • Some grain products as well as certain vegetables provide a small-to-moderate amount of fat.
  • Fruits provide minimal or no fat.
  • Animal sources can vary from low to high in fat and typically contain a higher amount of unhealthy fats.
  • Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of high-quality, healthy fats.
As mentioned previously, some types of fats are considered healthy and essential, while others are unhealthy. (The picture at left shows good fats, courtesy of Travis K on Flickr.) All fats are a mixture of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids. Healthy fats contain a higher percentage of mono- and poly- unsaturated fatty acids and less saturated fatty acids.
  • An easy way to identify most healthy fats is that they are liquid at room temperature. Examples include canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, and safflower oil.
  • Fats with higher amounts of saturated fatty acids are typically solid at room temperature and include butter, Crisco, lard, and animal fat.
  • For these reasons, getting your recommended daily fat from plant sources is the healthiest option.

During my observation travel with People to People last summer, I witnessed and partook in numerous meals that contained a healthy amount of plant-based fats. Much of this was from olives and olive oil, since most of my time was spent in Italy. Hazelnuts were also a popular addition to the meals and a great source of protein and healthy fat. (Not to mention the lovely bruschetta pictured at left.)

One of the essential fats that is often lacking in the American diet is omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are unsaturated and used as an energy source. However, they are also used to make other compounds such as hormones that reduce inflammation. A lot of research has focused on these fats recently due to the protection they offer to the heart and blood vessels.

Including a source of healthy fat with each meal will help your student absorb crucial nutrients, such as vitamin D and E, and increase the feeling of fullness so that over-consumption is less of a problem. Healthy fats will help your student traveler maintain energy levels on busy travel days. The “Healthy Protein/Carb Snacks for Travel” that were mentioned in my previous two blogs contain proper amounts of healthy fats, too!

Additional Resources
  • Find out how much fat you and your student should be getting on a daily basis (from the USDA)

  • Visit the Nutrition Source from Harvard School of Public Health to learn more about fats and cholesterol.

April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Update #3: Japan - Upcoming Delegations to Japan to be Reassigned

An open letter from Peg Thomas, President of People to People Ambassador Programs:

Dear Ambassadors and parents,

With the uncertain conditions plaguing Japan in the wake of last week’s earthquake, we have determined that we will not be sending the 25 delegations of Student Ambassadors to Japan this summer as originally planned. The reports from our friends and partners in Japan confirm what you’re seeing in the news—that the challenges of shoring up nuclear reactors and caring for thousands of newly homeless citizens will be the primary focus of the nation for the foreseeable future.

All 25 delegations will be reassigned to another destination. Our dedicated travel team and our experienced partners overseas are working hard to arrange your Student Ambassador experience in another part of the world. New home stays, service projects, school visits, and unique-access activities are being scheduled for you as we speak. We are proud to have the global resources to still be able to provide you with a life-changing adventure in 2011.

We’ll notify you of your new destination through your primary delegation leader on or before April 1. We believe this will be the most effective way of reaching out to all the students and families impacted by the change. Each delegation is unique, and we are weighing many considerations to place you on the best possible program.

As I mentioned in my previous message, your position on the withdrawal fee schedule will remain frozen through April 1, in order to protect you from financial impact while you wait to learn your new destination.

Our hearts go out to the Japanese people. Their strength and resilience is truly amazing, and I trust that we will be able to offer you another opportunity to experience their beautiful country for yourself in 2012.

Thank you for working to build friendship and understanding all over the world. It’s events like this prove the true value of those relationships.

Peg Thomas

President, People to People Ambassador Programs

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Update #2: Japan (Letter to Ambassador Families)

Below is an open letter from our president, Peg Thomas, to those delegation members and their family who are scheduled to travel to Japan this summer. With many students traveling to Japan this summer, we are focused on ensuring an open and engaging conversation with the families about this disaster and the unfolding ramifications.

Dear Ambassador family,

Overnight we have seen the crisis in Japan continue to develop and there is no shortage of news and opinions all around us. I want to assure everyone connected to People to People Ambassador Programs that we are working with a global network of experts to determine our response to this situation. At the forefront, the safety of our delegates and leaders continues to guide our decision making.

Late yesterday we had a conference call with leaders currently scheduled to travel to Japan where we learned a lot about how our families are reacting to the earthquake and the resulting impact to several nuclear power plants in Japan. We understand that there is a lot of concern and confusion about the potential safety of traveling to the impacted area this summer. I want to reiterate that unless we are confident that our programs in Japan can be offered without risk, we will not be sending anyone to that area. In the meantime, I’m asking you to look to your primary leader as your point of contact. We are working closely with your leaders to explore options as we are in constant contact with our global network of experts to determine the right course of action. I want to remind you that as of March 11, 2011, we have suspended the penalties for withdrawal for families currently enrolled in a delegation going to Japan and encourage all of you to hold tight while we investigate the options.

We have heard from many of our friends and partners that are on the ground in Japan and are pleased to report that they are alright and managing through this uncertain time. We recognize that the rapidly changing situation is unsettling and ask for your patience and support as we face this challenge together. Please follow our commentary on the crisis by continuing to visit this Health and Safety Blog.

Thank you,

Peg Thomas
President, People to People Ambassador Programs

Monday, March 14, 2011

Update #1: Japan

We'll be providing updates on the situation in Japan on this blog. If you have questions or concerns, please leave a comment (below).

March 14, 2011: We are now closely monitoring the situation with the damaged nuclear reactors. If there is any possibility of harmful radiation exposure in or near the areas our delegations will be traveling, be assured that we will not move forward with the itineraries as planned.
  • With the resulting reduced power production and the available power being redirected to focus on rescue efforts, rolling blackouts have become a regular part of life for people throughout all of Japan.

  • We are working closely with our partners on the ground to understand the situation and make informed decisions with our primary focus being the well-being of our delegates and leaders. We expect to make a final decision on changing our Japan itineraries or not by April 1st.

  • This afternoon we have a conference call scheduled with our primary leaders currently assigned to the Japan delegations so that we apprise them of the situation; and engage in a dialogue with them to hear any personal concerns as well as anything they are hearing from families. Following that call, we will be sending regular communications (including here) so that all the families with students scheduled to travel to Japan are well informed about our approach to this situation.

Stay tuned for additional updates.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Natural Disaster Devastates Japan

As you have probably heard, Japan was rocked by the most powerful earthquake in its history, resulting in an extremely damaging tsunami reaching from the Pacific Rim to the Pacific coast of the US.

For those that have students traveling to Japan this summer, we want to let you know that at this time our program itineraries do not appear to be impacted. We will continuously follow the events as they unfold to ensure this holds true and will quickly reach out to all families in the event the situation does change. [Update: 3/14/11 - We have an update on the nuclear reactor situation. Please continue to check this blog for additional updates.]
  • Early indications show that the region to the north and east of Tokyo were the primary targets for Earthquake and Tsunami damage.

  • People To People Student Ambassador programs are primarily focused to the south of Tokyo in areas that appear to thus far have been unaffected by today’s disaster.

  • The two maps below are provided to help you gain sense of the locations of the earthquake and the tsunami. The first map shows the area impacted. The second shows a map of the locations the student visit. Our People To People representatives in Tokyo were quick to inform us that all was well and that their offices and staff in Tokyo were not impacted.

Areas Affected:

Asia Land Routes by Itinerary

Land of the Rising Sun Itinerary

Treasures of Japan Itinerary

This is the latest in a string of natural events that have occurred. Over the past couple of months we have provided guidance on the steps we take to ensure our delegations are safe when traveling to countries that have experienced a catastrophic event. A few recent examples are the earthquake that hit Christchurch in New Zealand, the temporary suspension of travel to Egypt, and the flooding and cyclone that struck our friends in Australia. Now once again we are witnessing an event in a country we plan to visit, Japan.

Earthquakes are not uncommon. Living on the west coast most of my life, I have personally experienced them. The last one happened just after I got off the airplane in Seattle on Wednesday February 28th, 2001. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit Seattle in over a half century. At the time I was attending the University of Washington to earn my Master's Degree and suddenly I had a flashback to my old school days and our teachers drilling us on what to do when an earthquake strikes. Knowing what to do and how to reduce the chance of being hurt, helped me through that event. With that in mind and with so many earthquakes in the news this year, I thought I would provide a refresher to educate your student and yourself on safety hints during such an event.

Earthquake Safety Procedures

The State Department sent this information out this morning to remind all Americans of this important guidance.

The American Red Cross recommends that in the event of aftershocks, persons should move to open spaces away from walls, windows, buildings, and other structures that may collapse, and should be alert to the danger of falling debris. If you are indoors, DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON: If possible, seek cover under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm. If there is no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you. Avoid damaged buildings and downed power lines. Great care should be used with matches, lighters, candles, or any open flame due to the possibility of disrupted gas lines.

(Disclosure: I am certified instructor for the Red Cross)

Also today our good friends and partners at On-Call International provided these insights into precautions a person should take when a Tsunamis is fore-casted:

Tsunamis can rapidly flood coastal areas with devastating results. Areas at greatest risk are those less than 25 ft/8 m above sea level and within 1 mi/1.6 km of the shoreline. If you're in a coastal area when an earthquake that lasts 20 seconds or longer occurs, first protect yourself from the earthquake: Drop, cover, and hold on. When the shaking stops, move quickly to higher ground away from the coast.

If you are on the beach and the water suddenly and dramatically recedes from the shoreline, a tsunami may be imminent. The approaching wave may be visible as a churning line of foamy water, but it may not be visible at all until it strikes. Don't delay to collect belongings: Run for higher ground immediately, or climb to the highest floor of a multistory, well-built building. Be careful to avoid downed power lines, and stay away from buildings and bridges from which heavy objects might fall during an aftershock. A last-ditch survival tactic is to climb as high as you can into a sturdy tree or climb onto the roof of a building. Tsunamis often occur as multiple waves of varying size, so do not return to an affected area until you're certain the danger has passed.

As an international organization dedicated to building bridges with people around the world, we at People to People Ambassador Programs feel a connection with the tragedy unfolding in Japan. We have a strong presence in Japan, and what happens to Japan happens to us. Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends and the families affected by the earthquake, tsunami and their aftermath.

Several organizations are coming to the aid of Japan, including the American Red Cross, if you are interested in donating to rescue and relief efforts.

I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Travel Safety Tools that Support our Delegations

During the travel season at People to People Ambassador Programs - as with travel of most any kind - minor hurdles can pop up. These "usual suspects" are anticipated, and we successfully and effectively deal with them every year. We have learned the best way to ensure small issues don’t cause a problem during the program is to bring along some very important travel tools. A sample of just a few of these tools will be highlighted in this article for your information.

Leader Credit Cards

If you've traveled in the last ten years, you know all too well how minor and unexpected costs add up on the road (e.g., baggage fees). We've altered our system so these on-site travel expenses can be easily paid for by us, in a way that won't impact your student's experience.

In 2011, every leader that travels with People to People Ambassador Programs will be provided a Leader Credit Card. This card can is used to pay for baggage fees, meals in the event a delegation’s flight is delayed by weather, and other such unexpected events.

In prior years, we provided this card to only to Primary Leaders of each delegation, as most unexpected expenses (at the time) occurred after the group assembled and headed off on their adventure. But with the introduction of baggage fees by most every airline on domestic routes, the need for every leader to have such a card became evident.

Leader cell phones

As technology advances, so do the tools we provide our delegations. Working with Cellhire, based in Dallas Texas, we have developed a Smart Phone solution that meets the needs and protects the interest of delegations.

The Primary Leader of each delegation receives two cell phones prior to travel:

  1. One is a Nokia Cell phone which we refer to as a standard phone. This phone comes with a complete kit including wall and car chargers, an international adapter and either a local SIM card or a roaming SIM card for the destination. (Students can also rent this phone for as little as $45 plus the cost of actual calls.) This phone has a number assigned to the local destination that results in reduced air costs versus using a U.S.-based phone.

  2. The second phone we provide is the Individual Tracking Smartphone which is a Blackberry. Within this phone is a GPS devise that allows our program office to track the delegation around the world. We can even zoom down to a street level to see the same sites as the delegation sees.

    New for this year is a Panic button on the phone. This feature allows the leader to press the button a few time and immediately an alert is sent to our On-call staff, the Cellhire Operations center and to me personally. Receiving this alert triggers immediate contact with the leader, identify their exact location, and then clear up the alert. Once the Panic button is suppressed, a 20 second recording of what is going on around the phone is immediately sent to our office via and email. We can then listen to the recording and determine if the button was suppressed in error or have good information to understand what the source of the alert is. Either way we must talk directly with the leader to clear the alert. Many providers rent such a panic type alert system but we believe we are one of the first if not the first, to include it into the cell phone.

    What’s also really cool is that for a low price of $29, a parent can track the travels of their own child by way of the leader’s phone. When the student returns home, the entire family and sit down and pull up the history of the students travel and relive the adventure together.

Both of these phones can make and receive calls, as well as make and receive SMS messages. Sometimes on less urgent issues we can just send a message to a leader when we need to talk with them instead of waking them up on the more urgent issues. If you are interested in renting a phone for your student while they are on program, learn more here.

Medical First Aid Kit

It might seem obvious to have a first aid kit wherever we travel. But our goal is to make sure that the obvious is never overlooked, no matter where we go.

Every motor coach we use around the world has a first aid kit in it. Leaders are shown the location of these kits as soon as they arrive in the country they are visiting. Also virtually every venue we visit has trained first aid staff, a medical station, and/or a first aid kit available. Of course we also have full service medical facilities quickly available all along the way for the more serious situations.

On occasion the delegation is away from the motor coach for longer periods of time - such as when students are participating in a community service project or out taking advantage of the great scenery around the world. In these cases we felt it was important to provide a portable option for the leaders to keep with them.

  • Each Primary leader receives one of these first aid kits about 7 weeks prior to travel. That means no less than two and many times many more are on each delegation.
  • The kits are full of items typically used when administering basic first aid. This year - based on great feedback from our leaders - we have added more items including face masks, disposable thermometers, CPR barriers, and bio bags that allow leaders to safety dispose of waste products such as used bandages, etc.

Each year we invest a great deal of time and effort in evaluating the tools we provide and new technology that will help us remain the leader in safe travel. These are just a few examples of ways we help ensure your child is safe and healthy so that they can take advantage of this great opportunity to experience the world first hand.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!
Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

Monday, March 7, 2011

Travel Health Basics: Protein

Hi everyone! April here, back with another installment of our current series on Travel Health Basics. My last topic was carbohydrates, and this week we'll dive into proteins (like the legumes I'm holding at left).

While abroad, your student’s protein requirements will increase slightly due to the highly active schedule and extra demands of traveling. Like the medieval castles your student might visit on his/her trip overseas, proteins are constantly being broken down, transformed, and rebuilt. This means proteins must be replaced on a daily basis through proper nutrition to maintain overall health.

What are proteins?
Proteins consist of chains of amino acids linked in very specific sequences. The order of the amino acids determines the type and function of the protein. Imagine the EuroRail train with the entire unit representing a protein and each box car an amino acid. (Image credit:

Some amino acids can be made by the body but almost half are considered essential because they must be obtained from the diet. Consuming protein-rich foods during travel is necessary in order to get the appropriate amounts of these essential amino acids. Proteins are involved in every bodily process, including growth and repair of muscle, maintaining fluid balance, and immune function. They also serve as an energy source when needed. Therefore, adequate intake of protein is critical for daily recovery and health while traveling abroad.

Where can I find proteins?
Protein is found in both animal and plant-based foods. Your student should consume a variety of protein-rich foods daily while traveling in order to ensure he/she is getting the required amino acids. Animal and soy-based proteins are considered complete because they contain all of the essential amino acids in high amounts. However, animal protein sources are often not as healthy as their plant-based counterparts. A food gallery of protein-rich sources and proper portion sizes can be a very useful tool to help educate your student prior to travel.
(Image credit:

When consuming a vegetarian (and especially vegan) diet, your students should eat complementing proteins throughout the day. One food may complement the other by providing differing amounts of the essential amino acids. Examples of this are grains and legumes or nuts and beans. These types of sources will provide your student with plenty of protein, while keeping his/her muscles and immune system ready to tackle each day’s adventures.

Including a source of protein with each meal and snack will increase stamina on busy travel days by helping your student feel fuller for longer. A helpful reminder from the previous blog on carbs: low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products provide a convenient mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber – a perfect combination for active travel days.

Healthy Protein/Carb Snacks for Travel
  • Popcorn with chocolate soy milk
  • Yogurt topped with fruit and nuts
  • Whole wheat crackers with string cheese or a hard-boiled egg
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Banana, celery sticks, and peanut butter
  • Hummus and veggies
How much protein should be consumed daily?
Individual protein requirements will vary based on age and gender; however, youth and teenagers have increased needs to support growth and development. When combined with the additional demands of travel, your student should be getting 12-20% of his/her daily intake in the form of protein.

Take-Home Message: A proper intake of protein will help ensure your student’s overall health and stamina throughout his/her dynamic travel experience!

For more information of protein, please visit


April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Proper Training of our Delegation Managers is another key to our success

We often reference the great amount of training each leader goes through each year prior to traveling (I've already written four blog posts on this subject). Our leaders are the teachers who ensure that our programs becomes extensions of the classrooms—focused on the educational and developmental aspects of students on our program and ultimately the safety of the students.

Part of what makes our Teacher Leaders effective that way, is that we pair them with Delegation Managers who are focused on providing the best experiences for the students at the locations they visit, so the teacher does not have to worry about that. Like our teacher leaders, Delegation Managers go through extensive training that is tailored based on the cultural diversity of the country. We would like to share with you what that training entails.

(Photo of our recent DM training in Beijing - more on that below.)

What is a Delegation Manager?

They are not just a tour guide. We prefer to refer to them as "Delegation Managers" because we think this title better reflects their role and responsibility on each program. They are not just a tour guide.

In addition to guiding the delegation for the entire length of the program, DMs also call ahead to make sure restaurant reservations are in place, work with any attraction we plan to visit to ensure our delegations have limited wait times, collaborate with the hotel management to ensure a smooth check-in and check-out progress, and act as safety specialists in everything our delegation does. If a member of the delegation isn’t feeling well, they know exactly where the closest clinic is to seek immediate medical attention. They are a lot of fun to be around and help the students learn more about the local culture and history of the area visited.

How are they trained?
The interview process to become a People to People Delegation Manager is a rigorous process and includes language tests (most DM’s must speak their home language, English, and at least one other language). They make presentations on the countries to be visited, the culture, and even a presentation on the foods in that area. This is all during the interview process before they are even selected. Many apply but only the best are chosen.

Once a Delegation Managers is selected, they then must complete an 8 to 10 day training program which includes things like:
  • First aid response and Crisis Management plans.
  • Fun ways to pass the time while travel between major attractions.
  • Teamwork between bus driver, delegation leader and the delegation manager
  • Hotel and Restaurant Check In / Check Out
  • Conducting Home stay meetings
  • Effective communication
  • Navigation systems
  • Practice on the motor coach
  • Use of micro phone
  • How to conduct safe group travel (especially in metro areas)
...And then even more training.

Once a DM completes the local training, they then begin real life touring and practice of the program. Once all the local training is complete and personal back ground checks are done, People to People Ambassador Programs sends one of our many Program Managers around the world to deliver very detailed training specific to that region.

Our U.S.-based Program Managers are responsible for each region of the world to ensure every detail is in place. It is this level of attention to detail that allows us to differentiate our programs from others. Each spring the Program Managers pack up and travel to the countries they represent to deliver very specific training related to the upcoming season. This is in addition to the People to People Ambassador Program on-line training each DM must complete. Greg Marcinkowski, Vice President of Travel Services and I had the opportunity to deliver that very training two weeks ago in Beijing, China.

That's Greg pictured above/left.

In this training we carefully explain how to create a team between the DM and the Teacher Leaders who travel with the students. We review our key safety processes that reduce the possibility of any unwanted event from happening, and we review past situations so we all have an opportunity to learn from our best practices.

These are no small events: our recent training in Beijing had well over 100 people in attendance and the agenda was packed full for all three days. Greg and I both shared important information and details about our delegations so that when the students arrive this summer, everyone is prepared and ready to help them have a life changing experience.

And that's me at the Beijing training, above.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers

Senior Director of Health & Safety

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Travel Health Basics: Carbohydrates

A new post from April Davis,' our resident dietitian, in her series on basic travel nutrition.

Most people have heard the term “carb-loading” in relationship to endurance sports. In fact, traveling can be a rather athletic activity. Many novice travelers are not expecting or used to the and constant motion that traveling often entails, especially the day-long site tours and hikes. A proper diet with the correct portion of carbohydrates will provide the energy needed to sustain your student throughout his/her daily adventures while traveling abroad.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. The body converts carbohydrates into a simple sugar called glucose. They provide the main source of fuel for all physical activity, along with being the sole source of fuel for the brain. Adequate intake of carbs is crucial for recovery from long-term physical exertion and maintaining the correct amount of carbohydrate stores, known as glycogen, in the body.

Where can I find carbs?

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbs are made up of only one or two sugar molecules, whereas complex carbs are composed of two or more linked simple sugars. The complex carbs found in foods are starches and fiber. It is important for your student to include complex carbs in his/her daily diet because they help keep the digestive system healthy, lower cholesterol levels, and aid in controlling blood sugar. During travel, it is extremely beneficial to maintain a healthy gut and stabilize blood sugar levels. A high-fiber diet will also help your student feel fuller for longer, which is important with an energetic travel itinerary.

Most of the foods found in the grains section of the USDA pyramid are excellent sources of complex carbs, fiber, and B vitamins. The key is to choose whole grain products that are more nutrient-dense to sustain energy longer than simple, or refined, carbs. In addition to whole grains, fruits and vegetables are ideal for traveling because they contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products provide a convenient mix of carbohydrates, fiber, and protein – a perfect combination for active travel days.

Healthy Complex Carbohydrate Snacks for Travel
  • Popcorn with chocolate soy milk
  • Yogurt topped with fruit and nuts
  • Whole wheat crackers with string cheese
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Banana, celery sticks, and peanut butter
  • Hummus and veggies
How much carbohydrates should be consumed daily?

Your student should be getting about 45-65% of his/her daily intake in the form of carbohydrates. In the days leading up to travel, encourage your student to trend toward the upper end of this range by consuming slightly more complex carbs than normal. On days that are particularly active, your student should “graze” on nutritional snacks (I highly recommend the granola bar recipe above!) that are rich in carbohydrates. Most importantly, your student should remember to replenish his/her energy stores by eating extra complex carbs after a markedly physical day. A good rule of thumb is to eat about 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight after prolonged strenuous activity.

Remember, a proper intake of complex carbohydrates will ensure your student has enough physical and mental energy to meet the demands of his/her dynamic travel experience!

For more information of carbohydrates and fiber, please visit

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

People to People Carefully Monitoring Tragic Events in the South Pacific

Our friends in the south Pacific have had more than their share of challenges in the last few months, including the floods and cyclone cyclone Uasi that impacted several cities in Northeast Australia earlier this month. We are carefully monitoring the current situation surrounding the earthquake in New Zealand to determine if the events unfolding might impact our students in any way during the upcoming travel season.

Immediately following news of the earthquake, we prepared frequently asked questions (FAQs) that were provided to all of our delegate support associates. Our objective was to be as prepared as possible for the questions parents may have regarding their children’s future travel plans.

Here is what we know right now:

The earthquake has mainly affected Christchurch and surrounding areas, located on New Zealand’s South Island. The majority of People to People’s itinerary destinations in New Zealand, are unaffected by the earthquake. We will assess the damage to any activity locations however at this point we know highlights for each itinerary will remain the same. The Schedule of Activities will be posted at 60 days prior to departure and will reflect the final itinerary for each If that situation should change in anyway, we would quickly reach out to all parents of students who are planning to travel to New Zealand with any updates regarding alternate programs or cancellations and details on the refunds provided.

The following is an outline of the approach we take in evaluating the impact of natural disasters or other events that may impact the safety of People to People programs:

How We Handle Disasters

  • The most important thing for you to know as parents is that if an event poses a risk to your child’s safety or health, we would not hesitate to cancel or reschedule the program.

  • When a safety threat occurs, key representatives of the organization are immediately notified. We typically receive information from one of the many partners we work with around the world as well as from a government organizations like the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) at the US State Department. Once we have knowledge we immediately seek additional relative information from our partners within that country.

  • We then work with our partners to determine if an event will have lasting repercussions that may require changes to our itinerary. If necessary, we devise plans to off-set any scheduling or itinerary changes that may be needed.

  • Even if a situation appears stabilized, we prepare for the worst case scenario. Our primary concern is for the health and safety of our student travelers as well as our staff traveling with them. We will take every precaution to be prepared to respond in any possible scenario.
[Updated] Should we have any delegates actually traveling on program, we initiate a fully planned, rigorous safety plan run by a duty officer and managed by our 24/7 OnCall center, which coordinates with key executives. We have successfully implemented this plan for events such as the London Bombing, where we had accounted for the safety of all our delegates and made alternate arrangements for them before many parents even knew of that event. [End of Update]

I hope knowing that we take each of these situations very seriously helps ease any concerns a parent might have with regard to our upcoming itinerary in New Zealand. My son will be traveling there this summer and he is extremely excited. He has started reading the newspaper to stay current as the events down under unfold. I am confident that our team at People to People Ambassador Programs is prepared to address any safety threat that may present itself. Together with our health and safety team?, I spend 100% of my day looking out for the health and safety of every student we send on a life changing adventure with People to People Ambassador Programs.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the 75 people known to have perished in this most recent tragic earthquake and we wish gods-speed to the more than 400 rescuers from Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, the United Stated, and Britain who are searching for the remaining missing.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety