When a hostess at the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, D.C., began lecturing and shouting at a group of young visitors, Karin Bartel of Monrovia was taken aback.
"She was perturbed at Americans," said Bartel, 18. "I had to step back and try to understand their side of it."
Bartel is among three San Gabriel Valley teen-agers who visited legislators, diplomats and lobbyists in Washington last week as scholars in the Postgraduate National Young Leaders Conference.
Other San Gabriel Valley youths attending the weeklong conference were Kevin Eng of South Pasadena and Malcolm Murphy of Pasadena. Neil Mouneimne of neighboring La Canada Flintridge, was also one of 350 teen-agers attending nationwide.
The conference is sponsored by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, a 4-year-old, nonprofit, educational organization designed to give young people a chance to learn more about the workings of government. Selection of the teen-agers was based on their academic achievement and leadership skills, a council spokeswoman said.
During their week in the nation's capital, the students met with California senators Alan Cranston and Pete Wilson. Bartel, Mouneimne and Eng also met their congressman, Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-Glendale).
Murphy, 18, was scheduled to spend time with his congressman, Edward Roybal (D-Los Angeles). A graduate of Don Bosco Technical High School in Rosemead, he plans to attend Pasadena City College in September. He is active in the youth group at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Pasadena.
Bartel, who plans to study English at Cal Poly Pomona and become a high school teacher, said: "I think this is good experience for a teacher. This is something I can share with students."
A graduate of Rio Hondo Preparatory School in Arcadia, Bartel was on the high school's varsity volleyball team and served as student government secretary her senior year.
For 17-year-old Mouneimne, a computer science buff and member of the Explorers' Post at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the weeklong experience was an eye-opener.
Calling it a "a once-in-a-lifetime chance," he said the experience was well worth the $800 for air fare, room and board--which he paid for with savings and help from his parents
"The reason I came here is so I can learn about things not directly related to computer science," Mouneimne said. "I feel I have an obligation as a citizen."
Mouneimne graduated from La Canada High School and plans to study computer science at USC this fall.
Eng, 18, a graduate of South Pasadena High School, where he was the student body's commissioner for academics and a student representative to the school board, will attend Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He wants to be a lawyer. And he got some practice at the conference, where he was able to play the role of a defense attorney during a group debate over capital punishment.
"We're learning hands-on stuff that you can't learn in a book," Eng said.
After the conference, he was scheduled to begin a two-week internship with the Governmental National Mortgage Assn. office, which is under the jurisdiction of the department of Housing and Urban Development.
"It's been a real experience," Eng said of his week on Capitol Hill. "I'll remember it forever."