Natalie Beesinger will experience a completely different junior year of high school than her fellow students at Peninsula High School.
Beesinger, 16, will be spending her junior year studying abroad in Germany after receiving a 2016 Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship (CBYX).
“I think it’ll be interesting to have a totally different experience,” Beesinger said. “I’m glad that I decided to go in my junior year because my senior year is the one I’ll want to be here for.”
Beesinger was one of 250 high school students chosen for the program, out of 3,000 applications nationwide.
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I think it’ll be interesting to have a totally different experience. I’m glad that I decided to go in my junior year because my senior year is the one I’ll want to be here for.
“It was a pretty big application process,” she said. “It’s really stressful ... I’ve never been interviewed or applied for anything so it’s kind of a new experience.”
Beesinger said she only had one month to get her application together, which included six essays, pictures and recommendations. The process also included interviews, not only with Beesinger but also with her parents, Alisha and Jeremy.
“We know how fast everything happens, and we just felt that if she got an opportunity like this we wanted her to have an opportunity to go,” Alisha said. “In the end, we really felt like she’s going to be in good hands.”
The process also allowed Beesinger’s parents to ask questions about the host family, emergency procedures and details about the school she would be attending.
Beesinger will be staying in Herzogenrath, near the German border with the Netherlands, and will be living with a host family with three children of their own.
“It’s going to be interesting because I only have my younger brother, who’s 9,” Beesinger said. “It’s going to be weird living with another family.”
We know how fast everything happens and we just felt that if she got an opportunity like this we wanted her to have an opportunity to go. In the end we really felt like she’s going to be in good hands.
The school she will be attending is Gymnasium of Herzogenrath, which Alisha said was chosen by the host family, who have had other exchange students attend the school.
“She’ll be in a full immersion German school,” Alisha Beesinger said. “It’s a German school she’s going to.”
A significant challenge Beesinger anticipates will be the language barrier, since she does not speak German, though she has been teaching herself since winning the scholarship. Alisha said the program begins with several weeks of a language “boot camp” before beginning school.
“We’re hoping she can pick it up quick and get it down,” she said, adding that the host parents do speak English.
“When I first looked into study abroad programs, the language difference really scared me, but I think Germany was always my end game,” Beesinger said. “I always wanted to end up there.”
Part of the draw to Germany for Beesinger is having previously lived in the country when her father was stationed there with the military when she was a baby.
“She hears all these stories of the things we’ve done over there but she doesn’t have any memories,” Alisha said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why this program in particular was appealing to her. There’s some ties there so I think this will be fun for her. And her dad and I know where she’s going so we know what’s in store for her.”
I think we’re all kind of nervous. It’s going to be strange to be gone for a year and then come back and try to reconnect with everyone. I’m really lucky to get into the program but at the same time I know how hard I worked for it. I worked, definitely, for it.
Another significant challenge anticipated by the family will be the distance: Beesinger leaves on July 31 and won’t return home until June 23 next year — plus visits from family and friends are discouraged by the program.
“It’ll be a lot of Skype and emails but we’re really excited for her,” Alisha said. “It’ll be one year out of her life that she gets to do something that most people don’t get to do … I think it’ll be something pivotal in her life.”
Beesinger is excited for her trip, but also nervous for her 11 months away in a different country.
“I think we’re all kind of nervous. It’s going to be strange to be gone for a year and then come back and try to reconnect with everyone,” she said. “I’m really lucky to get into the program but at the same time I know how hard I worked for it. I worked, definitely, for it.”