Amanda Hanniford was 12 when her mother made her join the Royal Canadian Air Cadet program. She absolutely hated it.
Six years later, Hanniford was selected as a top cadet to participate in the International Air Cadet Exchange program. She's one of 10 cadets visiting Utah for a week and a half, learning about leadership and goodwill ambassadorship. They met with Gov. Mike Leavitt Monday at the Capitol, exchanging gifts from each of their countries.
"It's a good experience," said Hanniford, who said her visit fits well with her plan to be an ambassador herself someday. She'll study public policy next year at the University of Toronto.
Utah's visitors hail from both Canada and Hong Kong, though the program involves a total of 15 to 20 countries, said Maj. Russell Chazell of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol and the program officer for Utah's exchange. Other foreign cadets visiting the United States are in South Carolina, Arizona and Oklahoma.
"Their response has been outstanding," said 2nd Lt. Mark Moldowan, the Canadian cadets' escort. "They have seen and done a lot of things."
Civil air patrols are the volunteer, nonprofit, non-military branch of a country's air force, Chazell said. The Air Force Rescue and Coordination Center assigns them to help with more than 85 percent of inland search and rescue missions.
The cadets, who range in age from 12 to 21, learn about flight, the military and life skills like goal setting without having to make a military commitment, he said. They meet about once each week for discussion and class.
"The mission is to promote aviation education throughout the world," he said.
The six Canadian cadets and their escort, and the two Hong Kong cadets and their escort, have visited The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Tabernacle and Hill Air Force Base and planned to visit 2002 Winter Games venues Monday after touring the Capitol. They also hope to spend a day at Lagoon. Later in the week they'll fly with the Wyoming Air National Guard to an air show in Oshkosh, Wis.
It is Belinda Chunyi Liu's first visit to the United States. The 20-year-old said it's hard to get aviation knowledge in Hong Kong and that most people don't use their free time for pursuits like hers.
"They usually spend their leisure time on games," said the Hong Kong Air Cadet Corps squadron sergeant. "We spend it on this so it's very meaningful to us."
The U.S. Civil Air Patrol, which now has 60,000 members between cadets and employees, began Dec. 1, 1941, and is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Chazell said. He said about 10 percent of the 25,000 U.S. cadets go into the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Utah plays host every other year or so, he said. One Utah cadet from Provo is visiting Europe as part of the program. Last year one traveled to the Netherlands.
Before coming to Utah, the cadets met with others in Washington, D.C. They will return there to discuss their experiences next week.
Hanniford said visiting America has helped her to dispel some myths she once believed.
"It's amazing," she said. "It's like nothing I'll ever see in Toronto."