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Johnson teen ready for year in Germany on exchange program
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Sarah Kudyba, a rising junior at Johnson High School, demonstrates the Rosetta Stone phone app she uses to study German in Buford, Wednesday, July 18, 2018, in preparation for studying abroad in Germany for a year. - photo by David Barnes

Sarah Kudyba grew up with students much different than herself. Their native language wasn’t English and they weren’t from the United States.

Her family participated in foreign exchange programs, hosting different students from Germany, China and the Ukraine, to name a few, since 2009. Kudyba is trading places now as she heads to Germany for an entire school year as a foreign exchange student. She will stay in Porta Westfalica, west of Hanover.

“I always knew about exchange programs and I always thought it’d be cool to go somewhere and live life for a year,” said Kudyba, a rising 11th-grader at Johnson High School. “So I applied and I got selected as a semifinalist and went to an interview in Atlanta and then got a call that I was accepted.”

Kudyba was awarded the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship, which offers high school students the opportunity to live with a host family and attend high school in Germany for a year.

The selection process is competitive as only 250 students from five different regions in the United States are chosen for the co-sponsored U.S. Congress-German Bundestag program. The Council on International Educational Exchange chose the 50 students from the Southeast.

“We’re basically youth ambassadors (who) want to see what it’s like to live everyday life in Germany,” Kudyba said.

She wanted to go to Germany because of the German exchange students who have stayed with her family. She learned about the country and grew to like it. She also has family in nearby Austria, so she “thought that was cool,” too.

Kudyba has been learning to speak German by placing Post-it notes around the house, so she can communicate there. She will take 10th-grade classes in Germany to keep up with her high school curriculum. 

“A good thing about the program is that you don’t have to know German to apply to go to Germany,” Kudyba said. “I don’t know any German whatsoever and I got accepted. So yeah, it’s really a great opportunity.”

Her mother, Gigi Kudyba, wasn’t surprised her daughter wanted to travel abroad. She said she’s always had the urge to travel since the family visited her brother in Germany while he studied in France.

“The cultural exchanges help make our world a little smaller in terms of showing that we’re pretty much the same as far as humans,” Gigi said. “Even though our cultures are different, it’s good to appreciate each other’s cultures.”

Having hosted foreign exchange students themselves, Sarah and Gigi said the experience will help as Sarah becomes a foreign exchange student herself.

Sarah said she is open to other cultures and understands other “cultures aren’t wrong, but different.”

Gigi said hosting students has helped her daughter become more “aware of the differences in people,” which has helped her appreciate them and recognize similarities.

Sarah said she isn’t too nervous about traveling away from home for a year. She’s only worried she’ll miss everyone back home and wonders how the “culture shock” of suddenly being immersed in German culture will affect her.

“I’m ready to try the food that they have, because I know Germany’s got great food,” Sarah said. “And I‘m really excited just to see the school system, because I know it’s probably going to be very different from what we know.”

She’s ready to meet her host family, too. They have already contacted her through a texting app and have talked about traveling to other places with Sarah while she’s in Germany.

“I’m really excited for the experience and adventure I’ll go on with my host family and just being in Europe for a year,” Sarah said.