Trip of a lifetime: Scholarship allows students to spend year in Germany
Hudson High School German teacher Charles Bublitz has taught at Hudson for 12 years, and of all things he is most proud of about his time at HHS, his students receiving the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship is one his favorites.
"I'd say that for our department, it is a point of pride to have our students take part in this program. We are trying to connect our students to opportunities as often as we can," Bublitz said. "Their year in Germany not only helps them linguistically, but it also gives them an opportunity to grow personally. It is also a great way to develop world citizens who know how to navigate a different culture and language. It gives them a different perspective, even when it comes to how we live in our own culture. It helps you appreciate our own culture and those of other people across the globe."
The CBYX scholarship is jointly funded by the U.S. and German governments to allow German and American students to spend a year living and studying in the other country. The high school currently has two seniors who spent last year attending school in Germany as youth ambassadors with the State Department.
This year, a 2017 HHS grad will spend her gap year in Germany as a CBYX scholarship recipient. In Bublitz's time at HHS, he has had at least one student receive a CBYX scholarship almost every year, with a total of 11 students receiving scholarships through the program since 2011. Families in the Hudson community have also hosted eight Youth For Understanding students since 2010 from a variety of countries.
"These two statistics suggest that families and leadership in the Hudson Community School District welcome diverse cultures. As a percentage of the enrollment, and simply in raw numbers Hudson High School's acceptance and encouragement of world views is evident," said Youth For Understanding Field Director for Wisconsin, John Ganahl. "Just as it's not unusual to have a tradition of sports success at certain schools, this mindset of acceptance and inquisitiveness likely plays a role in the successful sharing of cultures at Hudson High School."
The program is basically free, Bublitz said, with the student's plane ticket, room and board being covered through the scholarship. The only thing the students have to pay for is any of the experiences and recreational activities they want to take part in while they are there. According to Bublitz, applications for the program are due in late December, early January the year before a student would be leaving for the year abroad.
"To apply for the scholarship, I had to write three essays and go in for an interview. Applying was the easy part; it was the waiting to find out if I was chosen that was so difficult. My study abroad is a gap year, and it was stressful deciding what I would do about college if I was selected to receive the scholarship," said 2017 HHS graduate Channa Kalsow, who left for Germany on Aug. 12 and will return on July 6, 2018. "I am excited to speak German fluently and to experience a new culture. I am also excited to become a part of my host family and to meet new friends. I want to experience life as a German as authentically as possible, and this is the first step."
Kalsow deferred enrollment to the College of Saint Benedict so she can start school when she returns from Germany. She plans on double majoring in German and another area of study.
According to Bublitz, the students start the program off with a four-day orientation in Washington, D.C in mid-August. The students then fly to Germany where they spend about a month in an intensive program to learn the language and anything else they would need to know to enjoy their time in Germany.
"What you learn at the Hudson foreign language department is a solid foundation for you to begin your long-term language apprehension. Like ordering, getting directions, and so on, they allow you to live like a German for a day, but it is through those interactions with native German speakers that you become fluent," said 2016 HHS grad Samuel Kast — who was part of the CBYX program from 2014 to 2015 in Bühlertal. "I am currently at Gustavus Adolphus College studying Political Science and minoring in both Public Health and Communications. I hope to someday work with the State Department or participate in our current political discourse to expand and further our healthcare system and create a healthier America."
Knowing German isn't even a requirement, Bublitz said. Students take an entrance exam to gauge their language skills, then they go through an eight-hour language training course. Once they have completed the program, the students are placed with a host family. During the initial program, students stay with a temporary host family.
"The Congress-Bundestag scholarship aims in its last instance at cementing political and economic ties between Germany and the USA. It is without a doubt that many former exchange students have gone on to facilitate German-American economic cooperation in the private sector, or to pursue political positions," said 2013 HHS grad Mikayla Robers — who spent her 2011-2012 school year in the town of Bad Segeberg.
"I spent a large amount of time with my host family. We went on nice family trips together. On a day-to-day basis they played the most important role in me learning the language and understanding the German culture and mentality. I was extraordinarily lucky to have such a patient, engaged and simply wonderful family to take me in. After just a few short months I felt completely at home."
Since graduating from HHS in 2013, Robers has been enrolled in Hamburg University in Germany where she studies political science and will be completing a Bachelor's shortly. Robers said none of that would have been possible, or even a thought in her head, if she hadn't been part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship program.
"I love hearing about their experiences after the fact. They always talk about the challenges they experienced in a different country, but they are always very positive about them and how they helped them become better speakers and better people," Bublitz said. "Overcoming those challenges and continuing on help the students realize that they can get through anything."
Every year, Bublitz has HHS alumni of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship program share their experiences with his classes.
"We have a tradition where alumni of the program come in and talk with our current students about their experiences and the application process," Bublitz said. "The program is amazing and it is an amazing experience for the students who get international experience to help them with their language skills. Immersion is the best way to learn a language and this program puts the kids right in the middle of it all.
"It is really interesting to talk with the students when they come back they have all picked up different vernacular from the very different places they spent their year. It is kind of like the bubbler thing for us."
With each student's experience in Germany being different, it is no surprise that each of the students came home with different memories and feelings about their time away. But, according to Bublitz, each student came back as a better human being for getting the chance to see the world through the eyes of another culture.
"The outsider perspective of American politics and other political issues from around the world was single-handedly the thing that changed me," Kast said. "When I went to Germany, I felt that it was reasonable to believe that Germans would believe very similarly to Americans — while in some discussions true, the different route of finding solutions in the German culture fascinated me. An example of this was when the Eric Snowden controversy was occurring. I worked with community members, schoolmates, and even politicians about the American and German lens of the issue and how it should be handled."
Those interested in applying for the program should contact Charles Bublitz or visit online.yfuusa.org/scholarships/congress-bundestag-youth-exchange-9.php. The deadline for applying for a CBYX scholarship is Dec. 12.
"My favorite memory is also one of my saddest. Towards the end of the year, two friends of mine through the same program and I set up a going away party on a beach of the Elbe River. I couldn't tell you how many people showed up. I had every one of my friends from the exchange year there and it ended up getting very emotional," said 2011 HHS grad Garret Lokkn — who is currently studying German and international studies at UW-La Crosse. "About a week or two later I had to board the train to the airport, and my entire class of about 20 people were there to say goodbye. I really felt like a part of the community and I really felt like I belonged there. It was a great feeling knowing I meant so much to these people that meant so much to me."