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What's the best thing that's happened to you?" said Dylan Buss to Alex Boylan, after he had lunch with Hillside Elementary School students Wednesday, Feb. 20.

"You guys" Boylan said, tousling Buss's hair.

It was a special event for the school when Boylan spent the entire day talking with third-graders who e-mailed him weekly on his world tour that began in September of 2007. The rest of the school was fascinated, too, as he was escorted on a school tour and greeted kids in the hall.

There wasn't a hug left at the end of the school day because Boylan responded to every student who wanted to hug him, talk to him, shake his hand or ask him a question.

The school's relationship with Boylan began after Tammy Hanson, school volunteer, saw him depart on the CBS Early Show. He, and cameraman Zsolt Luka, planned to travel with no money, relying on new and old friends to help them.

Hanson, whose daughter, Katie, is a third-grader at the school, got Boylan to agree to exchange weekly e-mails with the four third-grade classes.

"Ask Alex" boxes were placed in each room to accept questions. Weekly winners were selected.

"It was so wonderful how he was so engaged with the kids," Hanson said.

After traveling through 16 countries and logging 45,000 miles, Boylan and Luka's last stop was the school. They stayed with the Hanson family.

"It was kinda cool," Katie said. "It was like having a celebrity staying at your house. He's very interesting."

Boylan, responding to all student questions in the four classes, said the "weirdest" way to travel was a five-day bus trip in South America. His favorite country is Cambodia and his favorite animal is the lion. He saw six of them in Kenya. "Imagine a 600-pound cat," he said.

One of his favorite places was Machu Picchu where Incas lived in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

Students were fascinated when he told them about Cambodian vendors who sell bugs, such as grasshoppers, to eat. "Nothing like a little snack on the way home," he told students.

"It was fun," said Kyle Renfroe. "He seems really nice."

Students submitted their names in a drawing with the winner to host Boylan and Luka for dinner on the day of the visit.

"I won by crossing fingers on both hands," said winner Tyler Muellner, adding he had not talked to his mother about what would be served.

The school raised airfare for the pair to fly to New York on the last leg of their journey to be featured again on the CBS Early Show Saturday, Feb. 23.

Boylan, a Boston native, who is planning another trip with no money or credit cards, has numerous television and Internet interests where his trips are being marketed.

"If some kid is inspired to travel," Boylan said, "they'll have a better understanding of who they are." The school also covered Boylan and Luka's school lunch.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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