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Abby Schmidt, second from left, stayed with two host families while studying abroad. Pictured is her first family who lived in Hamburg, Germany

High school senior spends a year abroad

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news River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

After a life-changing trip to Germany, Hudson High School student Abby Schmidt has a new outlook on life as she goes into her senior year.

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Schmidt, 17, first became interested in traveling to Germany after a two-week summer session at Concordia Language Villages when she was 12 years old. She took German as a foreign language in eighth grade, and became fascinated with the culture after a presentation from a foreign exchange student through the Youth for Understanding (YFU) program.

Schmidt was so intrigued that she decided she wanted to travel to Germany through the same program. She organized her trip through the Cingress-Bunestag Youth Exchange scholarship program, and was a part of the YFU organization. The scholarship is awarded to 250 students in the U.S. each year, as well as 250 German students to study in the U.S.

The goal of the program is to create international connections through young ambassadors. It involves staying for three weeks with a temporary host family in the beginning of the year for the duration of a language and orientation course, and then spending the remaining 47 weeks with a permanent host family in a new location.

Schmidt spent her time abroad living with her first host family in Hamburg, and then moving to Bonn with her more permanent one. She said her host family encouraged her to meet new people and experience what Bonn had to offer.

“My host parents gave me freedoms that are normal for youth in Germany but that I was not accustomed to in my American family and culture,” Schmidt said. “The friendships I made, with natives of Germany as well as American students currently abroad with me, were almost immediately as close, deep, and strong as if we had known each other our entire lives.”

Schmidt was able to experience Europe in the best way possible, visiting a number of places over her year stay, including an island in the North Sea, Zurich, sailing in the Netherlands, and skiing in the Austrian Alps.

“Everywhere I went I felt blessed to have had this opportunity to see and do things I never would have had the chance to experience otherwise,” Schmidt said. “Europe was even more beautiful than I had imagined, and seeing all this beauty for myself has inspired me to travel throughout the world and encourage others to pursue international experiences as well.”

Schmidt’s future plans include going to college, returning to Germany at some point, working internationally with exchange students from cultures around the world, and possibly writing a book about her time abroad.

She says what she has taken back with her is a broadened understanding of the world, people, culture, family and herself.

“The relationships I forged, and meeting some of the most fascinating people I can imagine, is probably my favorite part of the experience,” Schmidt said. “However, I am not sure I can really choose a favorite experience, because the entire year was more than incredible and life-changing.”

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