November 7, 2016 – Maddy K. spent her AFS year in Germany as a recipient of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and participated in the 2016 AFS Returnee Leadership Summit. Read her account of her exchange year in Europe and the #AFSEffect.
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 Chapter 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, CBYX 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.
Learning to ski with my host family at Erbeskopf
Maddy’s Life After Her 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 the 2016 Returnee Leadership Summit. It was absolutely amazing and gave me the opportunity to connect with other volunteers and work with the AFS DelMarPa Volunteer Team. During the summit, we learned about different approaches to reintegration into our home communities after exchange and how to help returnees 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 the Leadership Summit, I have co-hosted my chapter’s Welcome Home Orientation, volunteered at our Late Stay Orientation, and assisted recent returnees in becoming AFS Volunteers. It is a bit difficult to maintain a strong role in my chapter here from Italy, but I have already started volunteering with the AFS Florence Chapter, and I should be a registered Italian volunteer by the end of the month.
Being an AFS Volunteer is one of the best decisions a returnee could make. It is oftentimes difficult to balance one’s life abroad and their home life, and becoming a volunteer 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 an AFS Volunteer, and many of them involve the people I have met through AFS. AFS is an amazing community, a family, and a support system that never really goes away. I hope that every returnee takes advantage of the volunteer opportunities AFS provides them after exchange.
My best friends from CBYX in front of the Brandenburger Tor before our meeting with U.S. Ambassador Emerson
What #AFSEffect means to Maddy
During early October of my exchange year, I had my first AFS orientation in Potsdam with around 35 other exchange students. We spent every meal talking about our host families, singing and dancing to songs in other languages, and sharing our cultures with each other. It was the first time that I realized that I wasn’t just a part of an American-German exchange, but instead I was a part of a global network.
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.
The CBYX program is proud to receive support from the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Learn more about the CBYX program at www.USAGermanyScholarship.org.