By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)
May 13 marked a significant day in the academic year for students at T.C. Williams, as 331 seniors finalized their college choices on what the school refers to as Decision Day.
But for senior Frederick Delawie, things will go a little differently this fall. Instead of packing his bags and heading to a college dorm, he will travel to Germany to spend 10 months living, working and learning in what will be an extra year of high school.
Delawie was awarded a place on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program, a scholarship funded jointly by the U.S. and German legislatures and founded in 1983. He is the first T.C. student to receive the award, which places students with a host family and in the 10th grade of a German high school while offering excursions and immersion in the country’s culture. No previous experience speaking or learning German is required.
He does not yet know where he will be placed, and may not know until just before he leaves, but said he feels prepared thanks to the four years of German classes at T.C. Before departing, the program offers a four-week immersion program in Richmond, and Delawie said the idea of being right in the midst of another country and another language made him want to apply.
“I’ve been taking German for four years at T.C., but you can’t learn a language well in two periods a week,” he said. “They did a lot of work at T.C., and my German teachers are wonderful there. It’s been a great experience, but I wanted to really learn.”
Under the program, students are intentionally not assigned to major urban centers like Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt, where many English speakers live. Delawie said instead, students are typically assigned to rural areas, where English is not so widely spoken.
The thought of living with a host family might un-nerve some people, but Delawie said after hearing about other students’ positive experiences, he is not worried.
“I’m less nervous about it because I’ve heard about the experiences that people have had,” he said. “Almost everyone they had come talk to us, they all talked about how they were able to immerse themselves into the program and how they were able to build very strong relationships with their families. One person who did it in 2003 still goes back to visit his host family every year. I’m nervous, but I’m also very excited.”
Traveling is somewhat restricted under the terms of students’ visas, although those in the program are encouraged to go on vacation with their host families and be a part of everyday life as much as possible.
“They really want us to become a part of the communities, and it would be nice to see all of the country and all of Europe, but it’s an extremely generous scholarship as they’re paying for everything, like flights and the immersion program,” Delawie said. “In part we’re also there to promote America to the rural community, as they only know about America through Hollywood, and that’s not always our best side.”
Delawie will take part in classes but won’t be formally assessed, as the 11th and 12th grade German students are in the midst of studying for exams for their International Baccalaureate qualifications.
Delawie said it was somewhat strange to see his classmates at T.C. finalizing their college choices for next year, knowing that he has another year of high school ahead of him. But he said the experience will be worth it.
“It’ll be different, but I don’t think it’ll be worse in any way, and I definitely think the experience will be very valuable,” he said. “I was actually deciding whether or not I wanted to apply for this, and my mother said something like, ‘You have the rest of your life for college and work, but you don’t have the rest of your life to live in Germany.’”
Delawie already has a place guaranteed at the University of Maryland after he returns home, where he hopes to study aerospace engineering and international relations. He said the work of NASA particularly interests him, especially its interactions with other countries’ aerospace agencies and the work they do together.
Delawie’s teachers believe he is perfectly placed to take advantage of what promises to be an exciting 10 months.
“As one of my best students, Fred is a motivated language learner,” said T.C. French and German teacher Adam Levine in a statement. “He is a risk-taker who isn’t afraid to experiment with the grammar structures and vocabulary of a new language. He always works at applying the material learned in class to real-life situations.
“He also gets along well with others and has no problem adjusting to challenges. At this point in his life, I feel that he is ready to go over to Germany to put his language skills to use in an authentic setting.”