EL SERENO : Trip to Europe Is Lesson to Remember

Roberto R. Valdivia never imagined that answering a mailer about a program designed to increase student awareness of other cultures would result in a trip abroad.

Much to his surprise, the 16-year-old Cathedral High School honor student has bought his first suitcase and plans to leave this month on a 23-day trip to Washington, London, Paris, Lyon, France and Geneva with 30 other area students and teachers.

They are part of the People to People Student Ambassador Program, which takes American students abroad to study other cultures, industries and governments. They will be staying with host families for part of their visit.

Valdivia's group, which will be studying international mass media, plans visits to the British Broadcasting Corp. in London and to newspapers in the other cities.

"I'd like to learn how other media operates in other countries," said Roberto, his black hair tied in a short ponytail. "I'm the type of person who likes to do a lot of different things, so in case I don't like journalism, I'll be able to find something else I like."

The program evaluates students' grades, community activities and teacher recommendations, and interviews are conducted before selections are made, said Janet Beach, a Cerritos High School journalism teacher who will accompany the group abroad. About 100 students were interviewed for the 30 slots.

"They get to travel with other young people, and we have orientation meetings that give them background information on the cultures and languages (they will encounter)," Beach said.

Roberto, who writes for his high school paper, The Phantom Times, has learned that chewing gum in Britain is considered rude and that it is customary to bring a small gift to people you visit in France. He said he is learning to say please and thank you in several languages, "so we don't embarrass ourselves."

The students can also earn high school or college credit if they meet certain requirements, such as keeping a journal or making a photo presentation about their trip.

Roberto, who has raised $2,000 of the necessary $5,000 from friends and relatives and by holding a dinner, borrowed the balance from his mother, Maria Valdivia.

Information: (213) 225-2438.

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