Towards the end of April this year, I found out I was accepted into a student exchange program in Germany. Around the same time I was accepted to the program, which includes a scholarship paying for almost everything, I found out that my school, Northwoods Community Secondary School, is being moved into Rhinelander High School next year, and that several of the teachers are leaving.
Before I knew this, I wished that I had known about the program in my sophomore year, because it would be easier to finish up high school and prepare for college if I was in the country, but as things stand now, I am glad I’m going when I am. I’d much rather leave the country for the first time, and live with strangers in a country whose language I don’t fully understand, than stay and see what is next for NCSS.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be negative here. I’ve attended NCSS for six years, and I’m just too attached to how it is to be excited about what will certainly be a different school after the move. For younger NCSS students and staff, the move will bring positive opportunities that might not exist today, just like my year abroad will for me.
At the mandatory pre-departure orientation, we learned to have “realistic expectations,” which I guess means don’t expect any specific answers to your questions. We went through things to expect, like hard questions we might get asked about America and how we’ll be expected to answer for all 311,591,917 people in the country. Mostly they told us how to dodge those questions. So I’m trying to learn the language and how to dodge questions about health care policy, low education standards or American foreign policy. I might respond to a health care question with an answer like “Many people think the system works, and at my age I have no say in the matter,” instead of “I have no idea, please stop asking,” or I’ll answer a question about education saying “my personal experience with the education system does not reflect the whole” instead of “I’m not dumb, I swear.” More practically I’m learning phrases like “Wie geht es Ihren?” (How are you?)
The exchange organizers couldn’t tell me all the specifics of when I’m going, where in Germany I’m going, or how I’m flying to D.C. quite yet. All I know now is I leave in late July and return next June. There are only a few weeks of school left, and I feel like I simultaneously have nothing to do, and 1,000 things to do. I need to get a visa, photocopies of my passport, and the special health insurance that will cover me overseas. I’m worried that something will prevent me from going, that I’ll have difficulty keeping my grades up, and that I won’t take advantage of my time there like I should.
I hope that NCSS will keep everything that makes it work; I hope this exchange program will open more doors for me, and I hope that I will have another entire language of great books to read.
Overall, though, I’m not really scared. My time at NCSS has given me more than facts and figures, it’s given me skills to learn and adapt, which I will need to succeed in this.
And the remaining staff and students of NCSS will certainly be using the same skills next year as well.