Emma Ostilly's father worked in advertising, her mother in the fashion industry. Both parents modeled for a time, and her cousins in the Ostillys' native South Africa do so now.

It's no wonder Emma often thought about modeling herself. But until two months ago, the Staples junior never had the opportunity.

Now she's not only a model -- she's on the fast track. She signed with the prestigious Wilhelmina agency, was chosen to represent North America in the Elite Model Look World Final, and recently returned from a whirlwind tour of China.

Even in the go-go world of modeling, that's impressive.

Emma's career took off soon after she won the swimsuit competition, and placed second overall, in an International Modeling and Talent Association contest. Sixty agencies in North America and Europe called her.

She signed with Wilhelmina Models. "I'm 5-9, which is on the short side for models," Emma explains. "Because I'm not tall, I won't do high fashion runway modeling. Wilhelmina does a lot of print. You don't have to be tall to do that."

Soon after she signed the contract, Elite Paris saw her photos. They loved her look, and chose Emma and another American girl to go to China. It would be her first actual modeling experience ever.

The only stipulation: She had to lose five pounds. She did it by running.

In early October Emma embarked on a three-week journey to Sanya, an island off Hong Kong. She stayed in a five-star resort, but few people there spoke English.

Emma was joined by 70 other models, from dozens of countries. She befriended many of them.

"They're all really nice," she reports. "They're very interesting people. They thought it was amazing I was a model from `New York.'

Her days were spent learning the business. Part of the experience involved "cultural outdoor shoots." The models went to historic sites, where "paparazzi" tried to catch them off guard. "I learned a lot about modeling -- good and bad," she says.

There were constant rehearsals for the final event: a big runway show. Emma did not win -- but she's in good company. Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista have done the Elite Model competition before. They did not win either.

Back in the States, Emma is making a portfolio for Wilhelmina. Once her book is completed, she'll be sent on casting calls. Her goal is to do high-fashion print, magazine covers and catalogues.

"I've always wanted to be a model," she says. "It's fun. I love fashion and clothes, and modeling is all about working with designers."

Her Westport friends, she says, "are proud of me. They think modeling is really cool."

Her Staples teachers have been very helpful, she adds. They helped her organize her work, gave her assignments to complete in China, and are meeting with her now to make sure she stays current.

One of her Staples courses is African Studies. In China she met models from Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa. She surprised them with her knowledge of their homelands.

She surprised herself by being able to communicate in Spanish with other models.

Emma's major Staples activity is Student Ambassadors -- an organization that, among other tasks, guides visitors around the school.

With Emma's good looks, great smile, poise and welcoming personality, she makes quite an impression on every guest.