The U.S. Department of State and German Bundestag are pleased to announce Sara Reich as the April Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) German Participant of the Month! Sara, a CBYX high school program participant, is placed by CIEE at Hartselle High School and hosted by the Vega family in Hartselle, Alabama.
Sara has had a long-standing history with all things music, “I’ve sang in choirs since first grade, it has always been a big part of my life, in school and outside school, I was also in a local band with some friends.” Sara was excited to discover that her high school in Hartselle has a wide array of choir offerings. She has been active in the Hunstville All-City Choir, and Honor Jazz Choir in Birmingham. She is particularly excited to sing the national anthem with the Alabama All-State Choir and at an Atlanta Braves game in front of an expected crowd of 40,000 people!
Sara’s hosts are helping her adjust to life in America by learning about and incorporating German traditions into their family celebrations. For Christmas, the Vega’s made plans to celebrate at a lake house with extended family. Unbeknownst to Sara, they made plans to honor German Christmas traditions. On December 24th, as they pulled up to the lake house, there was a Christmas tree lit in the driveway, and everyone greeted Sara with lit candles, singing German Christmas carols. Sara describes this as a “moment and memory that I will never forget.”
As part of her exchange program, Sara was able to take a trip to Montgomery, Alabama to meet with state officials and visit the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This trip expanded Sara’s understanding of the U.S. civil rights movement. On a culinary note, Sara was also able to explore Southern specialties, with banana pudding landing a special place in her heart (and on her plate).
Sara has taken up volunteer opportunities at the F.E. Burleson Elementary School, the Future Teaching Academy, the Manna House, and the William Bradford library. At the Manna House, a food distribution charity in Huntsville, Sara’s tasks have included packing lunches for the homeless. Sara’s aspirations of someday becoming a teacher led her to volunteer at the local elementary school – even though English is not her first language! Despite fears of using the wrong words, after her first encounter with the third graders, she felt supported and encouraged. “The little kids are amazing, and I definitely want to be a teacher.” Sara’s role at the school consists of classroom observations, reading to the students, tutoring students, and creating lesson plans – her most recent was about fractions! Through the After School Tutoring program, Sara has also learned about events and happenings at the public library, and she has proudly taken up opportunities to read stories and bake cookies for local children.
Sara believes spending an academic year in a foreign country is an “incredible yet hard to believe experience… The whole year is a highlight in my life.” She encourages others to seek out exchange experiences and is even encouraging her host sister to apply for the CBYX program!