ALPENA - Alpena High School seniors Brandon Borke and Mandee Henkel, were selected to receive full scholarships to study abroad in Germany through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program. The U.S. State Department funded the exchange program in order to motivate high school students to fully immerse themselves in the German culture by living with a host family for a year.
"The program started in 1983 with an agreement between the U.S. Congress and German parliament as a way to get young people to better understand each other," Judy Cooper, AHS German instructor, said.
According to Cooper, the first AHS students applied for the scholarship in 2000, but Borke and Henkel represent the 17th and 18th student recipients from AHS.
"Some students go during their junior or senior year, or after they graduate, but it opens doors for all of them and has a major impact on their future," she said. "As far as I know, we've got more recipients than other schools in the state, which speaks volumes about the people in our community. I'm always thrilled that we have students who win this."
The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship is an all-expenses paid study abroad year-long process for an entire year experience, but Cooper said all AHS students had a successful year abroad and only returned for medical reasons.
"Otherwise none of them came back early. It's an adventure, but it is a challenge that they have all been able to meet," she said.
Borke and Henkel started the application process in February, but received information that they were chosen for the study abroad program last week.
"We applied online and wrote five essays about family relationships, traveling, and our personality. There was a lot of basic information that also explained what we would do if we got homesick and information about our medical history," Borke said.
After filling out the online application and finding two teacher recommendations, the next step in the process was an at-home interview from the district's YFU USA representative.
"I was a little bit nervous because it was for a major scholarship, but I went in with high hopes. I was confident that I did a decent job with the interview and that I had well written essays," Borke said.
Henkel agreed and said the interviewing process was stressful and a drawn-out process.
"I was scared because a lot of people were applying for the scholarship from our district, but going to Germany was something I've always wanted to do," Henkel said.
The scholarship recipients will meet in Washington in late July to meet with government officials, where they will have receive an orientation to the program. Then, the students will travel to Germany and spend four weeks with their first host family where they will learn a crash course of the German language and culture.
Then, the students will meet their second host family and stay with them for the remainder of their time in Germany. They also will attend school and meet with German government officials, and take part in cultural excursions.
This is Borke's first time traveling internationally; Henkel said she has before, but not on her own.
"I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm excited and independent. I don't think I'll have any trouble. I want to get to know how friends and family interact in Germany and learn more about the culture and language," Henkel said.
"I really want to expand my learning of cultures and language. I think this will be a great experience and I know it will help me later on in life," Borke said.
Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687.