Road to the Rhine: NKHS freshman wins trip to Germany
Sadie H... posts high score in state, top 10 percent out of 23,000 students in U.S.
BY MARGO SULLIVAN
Sadie H..., a freshman at North Kingstown High School, has become the first Rhode Islander in a decade to win a summer trip to Germany, according to the American Association of Teachers of German.
Sadie, 15, will travel overseas this summer and will attend a gymnasium, which is the German equivalent of a U.S. high school. During the trip she will live with a host family. On weekends, she will visit historic and cultural landmarks.
“I’m hoping to go to Rheinland Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate) where I was born,” she said. “I’d like to see Berlin. It’d be really cool to see the Black Forest where all the fairy tales come from.”
Sadie, daughter of Phil and Bonnie H..., was born in Germany while her father was stationed overseas. Her father is a professor at the Naval War College in Newport. The family moved to Jamestown three years ago. Before coming to the island, Sadie also lived stateside in Boston, Alabama and Alaska.
Sadie lived in Bitburg, Germany, near Luxembourg, until she was 3, but didn’t start learning to speak German until last summer. She was awarded a scholarship from the North Kingstown High School German Club to study at summer camp.
The scholarship is given to an eighth-grade student and was offered for the first time last year, according to Ruthann Baker, North Kingstown High German teacher.
“I was the only one who applied,” Sadie said. She had been studying Spanish at Lawn Avenue School, but when she heard about the summer program scholarship, she decided to go after it.
“I thought it would be great to learn German because I was born there, and my mom speaks German,” she said. (Her mother learned German while studying at Wake Forest College and traveled to Germany as an exchange student.)
Sadie won the German Club scholarship and traveled to Minnesota in July by herself – as an unaccompanied minor, her mother said. And although she could have opted for a weeklong camp, Sadie stayed in Minnesota for about a month. She was determined to learn enough German to pass the beginner’s test.
“This camp gave me the equivalent of German I,” she said, meaning she learned as much as a student who had completed one year of high school German. “I wanted to be able to pass the course and leave with more than (knowing how to say), ‘My name is Sadie. I speak German.’”
Sadie went right into the second level of German at North Kingstown High, and she has been able to handle the assignments.
“It was easy,” she said.
At camp, Sadie signed on for four weeks of near immersion in German language and culture. The camp was a miniature German village with German street signs and German architecture. Also, the campers could speak English to friends, but the counselors only spoke in German and would not answer any questions in English.
She and the other students literally had to sing for their supper, she said. The counselors would not let them eat until they sang “We are hungry” in German. Fortunately, she liked the food. They ate sausages, German pasta, salads and bread.
She also attended classes at the camp.
“We had three one-hour classes each day,” she said. Much of the instruction was conversational German, but the students also learned grammar.”
Sadie wrote a children’s book in German as one of her projects. “It was about a fish that got lost,” she said. She also helped produce a German video and a German podcast.
Sadie wants to consider a future career with the U.S. state department. Although she’s young to be thinking about college, she is sure about continuing with her German studies.
Sadie is among 44 students nationwide to win the all-expenses paid trip, funded by a grant from the Federal Republic of Germany.
“This program gives students the chance to experience Germany firsthand by living with a German family and attending school,” said Keith Cothrun, the executive director of the German teachers’ association. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The scholarship competition started in January with a test – the 2012 National German Exam for high school students. Some 23,000 students nationwide took the exam.
“I placed in the top 10 percent, so I was given a chance to apply for the scholarship to go to Germany,” Sadie said. Sadie’s test score was tops in Rhode Island in her category.
Then she was evaluated on her writing. She was asked to write a letter in German to a prospective host family. She also produced short essays, also in German.
“I had to write about myself,” she said. For example, one assignment called on her to spell out everything she hoped to gain from the summer study program abroad.
She also wrote an essay in English about German-American foreign relations, her mother said.
Finally, Sadie passed a one-on-one interview conducted all in German with Professor Norbert Hedderich, chairman of the University of Rhode Island’s foreign language department. He directs URI’s German summer school program and serves as president of the R.I. chapter of the German teachers’ association.
The interview lasted half an hour, she said. “We pretty much talked chitchat,” she said.
The details of her itinerary are to be announced, she said, but she will board a plane June 27 at Newark International Airport and will live in Germany for a month.