Kayla Irwin, a junior at Buffalo's City Honors School, was choked with emotion when she was asked to be one of just three students to represent the United States at an all-expenses-paid youth conference in Taiwan next month.
"Pure joy, terror -- everything mixed together," is how Kayla described her reaction. "I was just in shock."
Kayla and classmates Cliff Wadsworth III and Jimmitti Teysir still are pinching themselves. At the same time, they're preparing for a rare, unexpected opportunity.
William Kresse, the City Honors principal, received a letter from a Taiwanese high school over the summer stating that City Honors, which has built an international reputation for excellence, was chosen as the only school in the United States to take part in a youth culture conference, to be held Dec. 2-8.
Concerned that the offer sounded almost too good to be true, City Honors officials investigated and found that the conference is not only legitimate, but highly prestigious.
A teacher and three students from each participating country stay with host families, take part in a three-day conference with Taiwanese students and travel throughout the country to visit government facilities, national parks and cultural and historic landmarks. All expenses are covered by the Taiwanese government and corporate partners.
In addition to the City Honors participants, three students will take part from each of six other countries -- Australia, Finland, Israel, Russia, Japan and Ireland.
Elissa Banas, coordinator of City Honors' International Baccalaureate program, will accompany the students. She chose to invite Kayla, Cliff and Jimmitti based on their participation in school activities stressing international understanding and their trustworthiness and responsibility.
At the conference, the City Honors students will give a joint presentation on Buffalo before an audience of 3,000 Taiwanese students and later give individual speeches on selected U.S. corporations.
Cliff, a City Honors junior, said he senses that many people in other countries have a dim and distorted view of the United States, and that he hopes to counter that opinion.
"I'm just excited to tell my side of the story," he said. "I take this as my own personal quest to change some people's minds."
The trip also marks the first international trip for a group of Buffalo Public Schools students since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Board of Education recently rescinded its ban on overseas travel so the City Honors group -- and others that follow -- can visit other countries that are deemed safe by the U.S. State Department.
Jimmitti, a City Honors sophomore, thanked the board for letting her take part in what she views as the opportunity of a lifetime.
"I think that was a necessary thing to do -- to open that door again," she said.
Banas and the students plan to share their experiences with frequent updates at chstaiwan.blogspot.com.