- Associated Press - Friday, June 12, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Michelle Obama is following a path taken by prior first ladies as she gets ready for a weeklong trip to London and three Italian cities. She’s stepping up the pace of her international travel without President Barack Obama.

The journey that Mrs. Obama is scheduled to embark on Monday will be her second overseas jaunt without Obama this year, and her third in the past two. And with next week’s trip, she’s also getting a chance to grab the global spotlight for three of her four core initiatives as first lady.

The first stop is London, where Mrs. Obama will meet and talk with students about efforts by the U.S. and the United Kingdom to help adolescent girls around the world get an education. The U.S. government-sponsored “Let Girls Learn” initiative was announced earlier this year and the first lady promoted it during a solo visit to Japan and Cambodia in March.

In London, Mrs. Obama is also scheduled to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Harry.

From London, Mrs. Obama will head to Italy and lead a U.S. delegation to the Milan Expo 2015, where she will tour the USA Pavilion and highlight her 5-year-old initiative to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S. The expo opened May 1 for a six-month run under the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

The presidential delegation includes U.S. Ambassador to Italy John Phillips, former NBA player and Obama supporter Alonzo Mourning, celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Carla Hall, and Nicolas Jammet, co-CEO of the sweetgreen restaurant chain, among others.

Mrs. Obama is scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi while she is in Milan.

As part of her work supporting military families, she will visit U.S. service members stationed at an Army post in Vicenza and meet separately with soon-to-be and new moms on base.

Tina Tchen, chief of staff to Mrs. Obama, said Friday that the girls’ education initiative was the impetus for the first lady’s foreign trips this year.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser who also discussed the trip with reporters, said Mrs. Obama is well-respected and well-liked around the world. When she raises an issue, “it gets attention,” he said.

“It’s been a huge asset to have the first lady champion adolescent girls education,” Rhodes said. “It’s raised awareness in ways that we could not otherwise have done.”

Mrs. Obama will be accompanied by daughters Malia, 16, and Sasha, who turned 14 this week, and her mother, Marian Robinson. All three accompanied Mrs. Obama on a weeklong visit to China last year. In Venice, the city with only canals and boats, and no cars or streets to drive them, the family will sightsee. Venues were not announced.

Anita McBride, who is on staff at American University, said it’s easier for first ladies to keep a more aggressive travel schedule in a second term because politics and campaigning is largely in the past, and that frees them up to do a lot more. “You want to,” said McBride, who was chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush.

Mrs. Bush embarked on more than 60 foreign trips during her husband’s second term, the vast majority of them without him. She paid repeat visits to Africa and the Middle East to promote Bush administration health initiatives on AIDS and breast cancer.

As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton also traveled abroad during Bill Clinton’s second term, often taking their teenage daughter, Chelsea, as her companion.

Robert Watson, who teaches American studies at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, said second-term first ladies travel more and are more active, partly because it can take that long to feel comfortable in a highly public role for which there is no advance preparation.

“I think it’s natural that a first lady can spread her wings,” he said.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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