PHS exchange students setting sights down under

By Helena Rodriguez

Two Portales High School students want to go to the Land Down Under this summer as part of a People to People Student Ambassador Program exchange and they have four months to raise more than $10,000.

Cory Baca and Alycia Leal are among 36 area students who have been gathering at regional meetings in Roswell every month to make this June trip to Australia and New Zealand a reality. Some of the students, including Baca and Leal, are combining forces and will hold carwashes in Clovis on Feb. 4 and March 4 along with other fundraisers. They are also accepting donations.

Although the program has been around for many years, it is only the second year that People to People has been active in eastern New Mexico. People to People is an educational exploration program founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Students invited to participate in the program have been recommended by a teacher, a former People to People student ambassador or based on national academic listings.

In the program, students will spend 20 days in Australia and New Zealand and can earn high school or university credit for a history class they will take. They will also become familiar with the government (parliaments) in these country as well as the native cultures. They will also tour world famous sites such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Great Barrier Reef.

“I’ve always wanted to go to a different country. I’ve been to California, Missouri, Nebraska and Utah, but never a different country,” said Baca, a sophomore at PHS. “I want to swim in the Great Barrier Reef.”

Baca, who has never flown in an airplane before, said he’d like to become a Marine pilot and travel around the world.
As for Leal, a freshman at PHS, she said she has been to the southern tip of Mexico, visiting Cabo, San Lucas, and the island of Cozumel. However, she would like to go to another continent, a 17 hour flight from El Paso and thousands of miles from home, to learn about Australian culture. She is particularly interested in seeing the exotic Australian animals such as the kangaroos and koala bears.

Baca and Leal said they hope to go to the Land Down Under one way or another this summer. They have both already raised the initial $1,000 each which they had to pay for a down payment and still need to raise about $5,500 each.
Baca is the son of Lorenzo and Monica Baca and is an A-B student at PHS. He is active in the PHS band, playing percussion, and with the skate board park organization. Leal is the daughter of Lisa and Rick Leal. She is also an A-B student and is active in volleyball, basketball and the youth group at University Baptist Church.

For more information or to donate to these students’ trip, call Lisa Leal at 760-8687 or email her at or contact Monica Baca at 356-0147 or at