KINGSPORT — Come August, for two local teenagers it will be auf wiedersehen (goodbye) to Kingsport and hallo (hello) to Germany for the better part of a year.
Dobyns-Bennett High School early graduate Kaitlyn Ireson and rising junior Pia Winkler will spend 10 months in Germany starting in August in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. The program is funded by the United States and Germany and provides scholarship for 250 Americans, including 50 from the South, to attend the equivalent of high school in Germany and be youth ambassadors for the United States.
Pia and Kaitlyn said they are the first D-B students and possibly the first from the Kingsport area to participate in the program.
Both students did a pre-application online, including short essays, and then flew to Atlanta for semifinals that included interviews. They found out three weeks later both of them made it. Both are to attend gymnasium, which is the German university preparation high school, after they arrive and get settled with their sponsoring families.
They will go to Washington, D.C., on Aug. 2 and room with incoming German students going to American high schools and then leave on a flight for Germany. They will arrive back in the United States sometime in June 2019.
HOW DO YOU USE A WASCHMASCHINE (WASHING MACHINE)
Before going to their final destinations, the two will spend about a month in what Kaitlyn called a German castle, learning more about language and culture and practical things such as what teacher Jenna Engle said included learning “how to use a German washing machine.”
Engle, who has traveled to Germany in the past, said to use washing machines in Germany, you must know the approximate weight of your laundry and specify a water temperature.
“For me, it’s a lot about the experience,” Pia said, adding that she looks forward to “being put in a community that’s really different than anywhere I’ve lived before.”
Her father moved from Germany to the United States, where he met and married her mother. Also, her paternal grandparents live in Germany.
Pia has just completed 10th grade and will return to D-B her senior year, getting credit for her schooling in Germany. She said she is undecided on a major in college. She has had two of five levels of German at D-B. She will be with a host family in Peine in northern Germany.
Ireson hasn’t been assigned a town or host family yet.
“I want to have some experience in how the world works a little bit more and how the European countries are like together,” Kaitlyn said, adding that most countries in Europe are more like states in relation to America.
Kaitlyn is in 11th grade but graduated Saturday, a year early, from D-B. She plans to start college, likely at a German university in January 2020. She has had four of five levels of German at D-B, everything except Advanced Placement German.
“I want to be an environmental engineer,” Kaitlyn said, adding that she can earn a bachelor’s degree at a German school in about three years at a minimal tuition cost, then return to the United States to get a master’s degree.
WHAT ABOUT MONEY?
Speaking of money, Engle said the program covers all expenses, including three meals a day, except for getting a passport, toiletries and spending money. She said the students likely will get a German SIM card for their American cell phones and can use WiFi for much of their communications. The two already have been communicating with people in Germany on Instagram.
Kaitlyn said that in Europe it is recommended that exchange students get a bank account set up accessible via a card with a chip. Germany uses the Euro, standard across most of Europe except in the United Kingdom.
WHAT ABOUT TRAVEL IN AND OUTSIDE GERMANY?
Pia and Kaitlyn said the experience is not meant to be a tourist experience or extended vacation, but they said they may get to travel within Germany and to other European destinations such as London and Paris, either with their German school classmates on field trips or host families. However, they are not allowed under normal circumstances to travel back to the United States, and their parents cannot visit them until January.