Southeast Bulloch Middle School eighth-grader Ansley Burnham, and her mom, Shannon, went on a special adventure in March that took them to The Netherlands and Belgium.
Ansley’s aunt contacted her last fall and encouraged her to enter a contest sponsored by AAA-The Auto Group, AmaWaterways and Allianz Global Assistance. The “Discovery Crew” contest winners take a week-long educational river cruise, and the cruise, airfare, travel insurance and money for passports is all provided for the student and a parent or guardian. The contest is open to all eighth-graders from the 14 states that AAA serves. Students were required to answer three essay questions and submit a selfie, showing their passion for travel.
“We were amazed by the passionate responses from the many students who expressed their interest in going on this trip,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “The winners chosen are different in many ways, but each share a similar enthusiasm for travel. Soon these students will immerse themselves in different cultures and see what it’s like to be an eighth-grader in two different countries. The students who attended the previous trip called this a life-changing experience, so we are excited to share this opportunity with another group of people.”
This was the second time AAA-The Auto Group sponsored the contest, and a total of 60 winners were selected last fall. Ansley was the only winner chosen in Georgia.
Ansley says she wrote the three required responses to the essay questions the night before they were due, and her submitted photo, which showed her looking as if she were sleeping and holding a book, was entitled, “Dreaming of Belgium.” The submissions were made in September 2022, and she was notified she’d won in November.
Shannon says students in the eighth grade were chosen because “they can travel and soak it all in.”
“I mean, watching them all week, I was like they were right, they are the perfect age for this, because they’re old enough to, kind of, take care of themselves, but they’re still young enough to really soak in the adventures,” she said.
The dates for the trip were March 11-19. The mother-daughter duo flew from Savannah to Atlanta, then from there to Amsterdam, where they were met and put on a tour bus and taken to the ship, the AmaLucia.
Each evening, they were given an itinerary for the next day. They boarded the ship in Amsterdam, and took a canal cruise in the city the next day. The students were able to tour the Anne Frank House, while the parents took a walking tour of the city, which Shannon says was one of her favorite tours.
In the afternoon that same day, students visited a Dutch school. Both mother and daughter remarked how well everyone they encountered spoke English.
“It was so amazing, because we would be somewhere and (the guides) would be talking to us in English, and they would turn to someone and immediately go to Dutch, and have a conversation and then turn and keep talking to us in English,” Shannon said. “I was like, I don’t know if I could do that.”
Ansley said all the kids spoke English in the Dutch school she visited, and she couldn’t get over the amount of windows in the classrooms. She also noted that the lockers students used didn’t have locks; instead, students used an app on their cellphones to unlock them.
Other excursions the group enjoyed included walking tours, museums, bike tours and a tulip experience.
All along the way, AAA had set up food experiences, allowing the students and accompanying adults to try chocolates, candies and other treats. Ansley said the Belgian waffles were really good, but she was surprised to find that they are only for special occasions there.
Ansley was given some licorice to sample, but she didn’t like it. They also were given a gummy-type candy in Antwerp that locals lick and stick to their foreheads — the candies are supposed to resemble noses.
She says they saw lots of “old cities,” and her mom says, “It was a very full agenda.”
“They had afternoon tea on the boat every day, but we never went, because we wanted to see and do everything we could while we were there,” Shannon said. “We were determined to take every tour they offered.”
Each evening on the ship, there was some sort of speaker or entertainment. The first evening, they heard from a Holocaust survivor, and the movie made from “The Diary of Anne Frank” was shown. The last evening, there was a dance party for everyone.
“All the kids were dancing and they played music,” Ansley said.
“The adults were dancing too, we just stood in the back of the room,” Shannon said, and they both laughed.
Of all the adventures she experienced, Ansley says the most unexpected was when the students got to hold pigeons in Amsterdam. They were visiting the square there, on the last day.
“There were a bunch of pigeons, like New York or something,” Ansley said. “There was a guy handing out bird seed, and we were like, yeah, sure, sure. So all the pigeons would just, like, fly to your hands. It was really cool.”
Ansley came home with souvenirs for family members, and some candy and a clogs key chain for her book bag.
But she — and her mom — also came home with lifelong memories.
For more information on the cruise and how to enter, go online at AAA.com/DiscoveryCrew.