CBYX participant Maddy K. reflects on her life in Germany and after.
Maddy’s Year in Germany with CBYX
As a sophomore in high school, I was lucky enough to meet an AFS exchange student studying at a local high school. After hearing about her experiences, I met with my local AFS volunteers to discuss my different opportunities to study abroad, including the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship. I wanted to study in Germany because of its incredible culture, interesting language, and unparalleled beauty. I applied for the scholarship and was accepted!
I remember my first few days in Germany being incredible. I arrived in Berlin by train, and my host father drove me through the downtown area and pointed out the historic areas. I didn’t speak any German and my host family spoke very little English, but we were able to communicate without too many issues. After the short tour, we went home to unpack my things and begin to get to know each other. I remember opening the front door and seeing the entire house covered in sticky notes with German words scribbled on them to help me learn the names of different things. I loved it.
During exchange, the CBYX program provided me with amazing opportunities to interact with other American exchange students, as well as gain insight into German culture through educational trips to Hamburg and Berlin. In Hamburg, we learned about the shipping industry, different art exhibits, and a newspaper produced solely by the city’s homeless community. In Berlin, we traveled to the Reichstag building for a reception with members of German parliament, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Ambassador John Emerson, and spoke with members of the Department of State’s Foreign Service at the U.S. Embassy. It was an unforgettable experience.
Life After Exchange
After my exchange in Germany, I knew that I needed to work in international affairs. Through my time abroad, I developed a passion for other cultures and a desire to learn as many languages as possible. I’m currently a freshman at New York University’s campus in Florence, Italy, and I plan to major in Global Liberal Studies with minors in Linguistics and Business. I will also go back to Germany for my junior year, where I will study at NYU-Berlin.
This past summer, I attended a leadership training through my CBYX implementing organization. It was absolutely amazing and gave me the opportunity to connect with other volunteers who work with exchange students in our area. During the training, we learned about different approaches to reintegrating into our home communities after exchange and how to help alumni as they process their year abroad. After our trainings, we volunteered at the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) End of Stay Orientation, where we were able to practice our new skills.
Since joining the leadership training, I have co-hosted my area’s Welcome Home Orientation for returning American exchange students, volunteered at our Late Stay Orientation for hosted exchange students, and assisted recent alumni in connecting and volunteering with the local exchange community. It is a bit difficult to maintain my volunteer service from Italy, but I have already started volunteering with the local exchange community in Florence.
Volunteering to work with exchange students after returning from CBYX is one of the best decisions an alum could make. It is oftentimes difficult to balance one’s life abroad and their home life, and volunteering maintains a connection to our exchange years without actually being abroad. Some of my favorite memories from this past year revolve around my time as a volunteer, and many of them involve the people I have met through my service.
When reflecting on my year abroad, the greatest thing I could possibly take away is that people are truly amazing. From my host family, to the AFS volunteers, to my friends, everyone I met touched my life in some unique way and taught me something valuable. Not only does foreign exchange push students to learn a language and become independent, but it shapes us to be better, well-rounded people.