Natalie Beesinger, 16, of Lakebay, will spend her junior year in a German high school as one of 250 students chosen out of 3,000 applicants to receive the 2016 Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship (CBYX). She will join a host family of five in Herzogenrath, a town of 50,000 bordering the Netherlands, at the end of July.
Natalie has lived in Lakebay for 10 years. She attended Evergreen Elementary and Key Peninsula Middle School and just finished her sophomore year at Peninsula High School.
CBYX was founded in 1983 to strengthen ties between Germany and the United States through citizen-level diplomacy, sending students to each other's country. It's jointly funded by the two governments, and in the U.S. is administered by the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. More than 24,000 students have participated in the CBYX program since its creation.
"When she presented last year, it was, 'No, we're not sending you away,'" her mother, Alisha Beesinger, said. "But it's a scholarship; you have to apply. You have to show them you're committed, and we were a lot more on board with that."
"My parents lived in Germany for three years when I was born because my dad was in the Army, and I want to see it," Natalie said, adding that their stories of traveling in Europe inspired her.
"She did all of this on her own," Alisha said. "She put together her whole packet, essays, transcript, teacher and counselor recommendations."
The Beesingers were invited to a parent interview a month after Natalie submitted her application. "They let us ask a million questions. We had a bunch of what-if scenarios and just found what the thing would look like as a whole,” Alisha said.
Then came Natalie's turn. "It started with a panel interview, which was really scary," she said. "On the other side of the table there were five or six judges and they would take turns asking questions. Later, they had all of us at a table to do a group exercise type of thing to see how we worked with people."
Previous scholarship winners conducted the interviews. Natalie said one alumna told the group, "It's really a big deal for me to be on this board, and it's a really big deal just to get an interview."
"It was stressful waiting. I couldn't sleep," Natalie said. "I'd go over and over it again. I'd pick one thing and say, 'This is why they're going to reject me.' After I found out, I had to lay down for a while."
The group has already heard advice from students who recently returned: Have no expectations. It's exhausting. Don't think you'll pass all your classes. One girl said she celebrated when she finally wrote an essay in German.
"They really stress that they are going over there as ambassadors," Alisha said. "They're going to be held to a high standard. There's a chance she might be the only American student those kids ever come in contact with."
Natalie has been teaching herself German since December and said she plans to travel in Germany as much as she can. "I've looked at a couple of the colleges there, and they have some really good programs, and they're mostly free," she said. "So I'm checking out places that I may end up going" to pursue a degree in computer science, she said. "I'm still kind of figuring myself out."
"We know how life flies by so fast," Alisha said. "We know once she's out of high school, it's just going to click: It's going to be college, it's going to be a job, it's going to be a family. So if she can take a year to go to Germany and it's paid for, it's an amazing opportunity. I told her, after this there will always be 'before Germany and after Germany.'"
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