This is a general introduction post, so it’s not terribly interesting. However, on the off chance that someone finds this blog (particularly a future CBYX’er!) I thought I’d start out with a list of questions that I had when I was starting out with my exchange. This promises to be lengthy, but relevant things are linked and different sub-headers are all bolded.
Who are you?
My name is Katie. I’m a girl aged seventeen-and-a-half years who lives in New Durham, NH. I attend high school at Kingswood Regional in the somewhat nearby Wolfeboro, NH. I’ve just finished out my junior year. I’m somewhat of an overachiever: I take all honors classes. I just finished out a year as Key Club President. I’m also a student leader for SAGA. I’m in NHS, World Language Club, Drama (as both an actor and a technical engineer) and Write Club. I edited Wheelbug,, our student literary magazine. I’m also in Junior Senior Honors, which is a program at our school which allows a medium for ridiculously motivated students to write thesis papers and present them. I work as a receptionist at a local nursing home on the weekends.
What are you doing?
I’m spending the 2008-2009 academic year (my senior year) abroad in Germany as an exchange student.
How are you doing it?
I applied for (and somehow was awarded) the relatively prestigious CBYX scholarship. I believe I’m one of fifty students in the Northeast and the only student from New Hampshire to be selected this year. The CBYX Scholarship allows for 250 students across the USA to live and study in Germany for an academic year.
Why not? I just applied to CBYX because it was a scholarship. However, the more I read about Germany, the more I’m enchanted.
Do you speak German?
Nein. More on that a bit later.
What is CBYX?
CBYX, or Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program (Bundestag being the German equivalent of Congress) allows for 250 high school students to live abroad for 11 months. There are a few requirements, but it’s quite the scholarship. The official website may be found at http://www.usagermanyscholarship.org/.
Because I live in the Northeast, my application was handled by AFS, an amazing student-exchange program. AFS has programs all over the world, most of which you pay through the nose for. However, they’ve been absolute dolls when it comes to really weird questions. It’s amazing that they’re entirely run by volunteers: chances are you have a local liaison who is a great resource for getting started with AFS.
What is it like to apply?
First off, let me make it clear that I didn’t think I would get the CBYX scholarship. I had no particular interest in Germany or any of that—I just thought it might be cool to blow off senior year and go abroad. So, I did some googling and found out about the CBYX scholarship. There are a few stages of application.
The first stage of the application was the application just for CBYX. This is application asks for a lot of personal information (such as contact information), your extra-curriculars, service hours, and hobbies. You have to write a few short essays, a letter to your potential host family, and fill out some basic health questions. You have to get two teacher recommendations, snap some photos and send out the whole dilly-o to your local agency (mine was AFS).
About a week after I sent mine out, I wandered downstairs one morning and found a big packet from AFS. Upon opening the package, I discovered another application. It was a lot of the same questions and quite a few health forms. Fortunately, you don’t have to rewrite essays or your host family letter. If you’re just applying for CBYX, you don’t have to pay the application fee. However, if you’re applying for a regular AFS program in addition to the CBYX, you do. You need all sorts of interesting things like your blood type and passport photos.
After I submitted the application, one of the fabulous AFS volunteers got in touch with me to schedule a home visit with a local liaison. I ended up having my in-home interview with Marcia. We had her over for dinner and then my family and I had to answer some questions, mostly just about my personal habits. Somewhere around here I got a letter saying that I was a semi-finalist.
Shortly after that, I had to take a Saturday off from work and my parents and I drove to my semi-finalist panel interview. When we first got there, I was a bit shocked- there were only five or six other kids! Anyways, we got to grill a past AFS student (who’s from Japan and is currently studying at Northeastern), who also asked us questions. One by one, we got called in to face the firing squad. It was actually just a group of AFS volunteers. I felt like I botched my interview—I got terribly flustered at one of the questions and had to do one of my “wait—restart!” moments when I locked myself into a really awkward sentence (I also cracked a horridly non-successful joke about cannibalism). The interview seemed short. I remember somewhere around 5-6 questions.
A note on clothing: I obsess about clothes a lot. I didn’t know what to wear to the interview. I ended up just wearing something like I’d normally wear—a dress with tights. However, I’d just recommend skipping jeans or suits (we had both!). I think nice trousers or a skirt (for those who don’t wear pants among us!) and a shirt. Just look nice. Some of the interviewers were wearing jeans.
I must have done sort of well in the interviews though, since I got a phone call the first week of March saying that I had gotten the scholarship! When the phone call came, I was home alone and couldn’t get a hold of either my parents for quite a while. I was kind of freaking out. Really freaking out—I was shaking and super psyched out.
What are you doing before you leave?
AFS organizes a few conference calls. They last for about an hour: we discuss things about German culture and all of that good stuff. In April I attended the local MassBay Orientation, where we learned a bit more about the exchange experience. AFS sent out a book about Culture-Grams. I half-heartedly read about half of it before giving up.
I’ve been spending a lot of time reading past exchange student blogs, haunting the Facebook group for CBYX (AFS and entire CBYX). I’ve also been lurking on the Culture-Shocked Forum. I’ve been listening to some German radio, trying to familiarize myself with some of the language. In addition, I ordered the book The Exchange Student Survival Kit. While it’s corny, it gives you some idea of things to expect—it also talks extensively about culture shock. More on that later!
How did you convince your parents?
Amazingly, I didn’t really have to convince my parents. I think they realized that I was pretty bored with high school and was searching for a way to get out of it. I didn’t tell my dad that I was applying until the application was almost finished.
Because the CBYX scholarship is allegedly so hard to get, there really wasn’t much discussion about whether or not I was going once I was awarded the scholarship. I think it really helped my parents to realize that I was going with AFS—even though going to live with complete strangers for a year sounds sketchy, AFS seems to do a great job with placement and support, so…
What about your host family?
Right now I don’t have a host family! However, I’m anxiously awaiting. The AFS group of CBYX’ers is slowly getting their host families, so I’m hoping to get my assignment soon.
What about finishing high school?
Since I made pretty good decisions about my courses in my first three years of high school, I don’t have to do a lot next year as far as finishing high school. I went and talked to my guidance counselor and she and I talked about what I was going to do. I need to take three online classes to graduate with my class: an English credit, an elective (I think I might take Calculus) and a geography course. I’m taking all but the geography class through VLACS (an online high school that is currently free for all NH students). The other one I think I’m taking through Penn Foster.
Some students’ high schools are taking their courses from the German school as credit, but mine has decided not to. Hopefully my college will take some of my experience as a language credit.
What about college?
I tried to do as many college visits as I could over the school year just past. I still have a few more to do this summer. I’m not nearly as ready as I should be. I think I’m going to apply to the SUNY schools (particularly Albany), the honors college through CUNY, Cornell and McGill. Since I’m not going to be here, I’d like to apply Early Action for Macaulay. I’m going to do as much applying as I can this summer. I already have my letters of recommendation.
My parents and I will be in internet cohorts with my guidance counselor next year. She will note relevant scholarship information and pass it off to my parents who will send it to me so I can fill it out. Fortunately, I won a $2,500 scholarship this year. If I attend a SUNY/CUNY school, that takes quite a chunk out of a year’s tuition.
What about traveling?
I’m due down to Washington DC on September 3, 2008. We fly out of DC on Friday night (Sep 5) and into Frankfurt early the next the morning. That is on the same flight, of course.
I think I’m going to take the Amtrak train down to Washington DC. It’s about seven hours (and ironically, most of the air flights are about that long as well!) I’m really fond of trains, so I’m hoping my parents will go for it (hint, hint).
What about packing?
As I previously mentioned, I obsess about clothes. I tend to wear the same clothes over and over again. However, for our year abroad, we’re allowed one checked suitcase (44 lbs/20 kg), one carry-on and a personal item. Believe me, you’ll get a full packing list and pictures of the suitcase as I try out packing several times before the ‘big day’. I keep hearing to pack and then get rid of half of your stuff—but right now, with my list, that would only leave me with three or four days worth of clothing.
What about learning German?
I signed up for a private eight week class at a local language center. I’ll hopefully learn some basic ‘survival German’. I’m taking the class with my mum, so she can help me out at home.
What do you feel right now?
Right now, I’m kind of feeling awkward. I just finished my last day of high school and I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to be done with high school. Senior year is a big, pivotal year, so the idea of skipping it and all of the things associated with it is a hard one to grasp.
I’m starting to realize that I’m going to be leaving my parents. Since I’ve never actually left North America, I’m worried about being so far away from home. I’m also trying to spend a lot of time with my parents and friends before I leave. However, it’s proving difficult since a lot of friends are spending the summer away and my parents are very busy.
I’m scared for a number of reasons—first off, I don’t speak German. Secondly, I don’t have a host family. I’m worried about getting to Germany and not being able to fit in/begin to understand. I’m also worried about being able to maintain my vegetarian diet whilst in Germany.
So, I’m worried and excited and very, very ready to just get started!
Well, that was epic.