Personal link in war research

Last updated 12:00 18/03/2014

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A Palmerston North pupil with a flair for French will travel to Europe, tracing New Zealand history and her family heritage.

Palmerston North Girls' High School student Sophie Allan has been picked as a youth ambassador in a joint French Embassy and New Zealand Government initiative which will see her fly to France this year.

The 17-year-old is one of 10 Kiwis picked for the two-week trip in July.

The tour will take her from Paris to Arras and then to Flanders, in Belgium, visiting museums, monuments and places of World War I history where New Zealand and French troops fought alongside each other.

For Sophie the trip has a more personal connection than commemorating Kiwis' contribution fighting on the Western Front.

"A highlight for me will be visiting the Caterpillar Valley cemetery where my great-great-grandfather is buried," she says.

"He was killed in the Battle of the Somme and his body was never found - it will be such a moving experience."

Sophie picked up French a few years ago when she was searching for an extra subject to take. A language was her last choice.

"I ended up falling back on French - I thought it's just year 10, I'll just take French but it was the best decision and it's now my favourite subject," she says.

"There's a satisfaction you get when you're listening to a French video or reading a French article and you can actually understand it, it's rewarding."

To be picked for the tour Sophie wrote a 500-word essay, in French, on why commemorating World War I is important for New Zealanders and how it is relevant for young people in 2014.

She also had to submit a two-minute video of herself speaking French.

Girls' High French teacher Mia Parker says the trip promotes the values of peace, co-operation and boosts awareness about World War I among young people and about Kiwis' contribution to war.

"It's essential this major episode in New Zealand history isn't forgotten."

Sophie is the ideal person to be flying the flag for New Zealand, Mrs Parker says.

"She has shown leadership skills, determination, she works hard and is very focused.

"She's very keen on learning French and she's got good personal qualities to be an ambassador for New Zealand."

Sophie, who hopes to study medicine, says learning a language is a worthwhile experience.

"Being able to understand something and communicate with people from different cultures, I think that's just amazing."

Part of the trip requires Sophie to complete an assignment based on New Zealand's involvement in World War I.

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"I've decided to do a project on New Zealand identity and if people believe our involvement has contributed to Kiwi identity."

Sophie will survey people in New Zealand and in France about the topic, with her aim to present her findings later in the year.

Sophie will have a monthly blog about her trip at sharedhistories.com.

- Manawatu Standard

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