Rockdale teen’s European adventure
The Rockdale High School freshman is from a family of travelers, as dad Art and mom Susan were both stationed overseas during their stints in the military, as did her older brother Jere who served in two tours in Iraq while serving in the United States Marine Corps.
Erin’s sister Patti has also traveled out-of-country through the People to People group, going to Australia a couple of years ago.
“My sister had gone on a trip before, so I already knew about the program,” the redheaded teen said. “You have to interview and be chosen to go with the People to People group and once chosen for the trip, you have to raise the money to go.
“It took me a few months to save up most of the money and I did it through saving and recycling cans,” Free said. She had help from people at The Ranch, Oriental Kitchen, Rockdale Federal Credit Union, Rockdale Full Gospel Church, Ricky Reet and Pat Jerman in saving those cans. The trip cost about $8,000.
21 day journey
Free went on the trip with a People to People group out of Austin that included 43 other seventh through ninth grade students from the area and four chaparones.
The group left out on June 24 for 21 days that included stops in Great Britain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.
“We saw other People to People groups from Alabama, California, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland,” Free said.
She had to go to several months of prepatory meetings before leaving on the trip for paper work and such.
Highlights of Free’s trip she said included going to the beach at Normandy, France, white water rafting in Switzerland, seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louve, eating Belgium chocolate, bike riding through the windmill fields in The Netherlands and staying with a host family in Germany.
The stop at Normandy was a bit of a history lesson for Free.
“I loved it, it was very emotional,” she said. “I found out I might have a relative buried there too. ”‘
Free has wanted to go to Germany for some time and said that when she saw that on the itinerary, she knew she had to go on the trip.
“I always wanted to go there,” she said. Her favorite part of the trip was the time she spent with her host country in Germany. She attended school with the family’s high school daughter Tamara and learned that German schools are in session just five and a half hours a day, compared to seven and a half in Rockdale.
The ambassador group also performed a community service project during their stop in Germany.
While in Amsterdam, Free and her group had the honor of touring the home where famed Anne Frank hid from the Germans during World War II.
Free said another favorite activity on the trip was white water rafting in Switzerland.
“The water was so cold, but beautiful.”
The water wasn’t the only cold thing in Switzerland. The group stopped their charter bus on the side of the road at one point to play in the snow. Free jumped in, flip flops and all.
As for going overseas, the new adventurer says everyone should give it a try.
“ I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to go,” Free said.
While Free is also involved in extra curricular activities like tennis, band, FFA and FCA, her enjoyment of international travel may now be a new found love.