Sequoia Clark is a rising junior at Jamestown High School, where she has been a member of the school’s Model UN and the debate team, and where she and her partner placed fourth in states last year. When she’s not in school, she’s either teaching figure skating or giving haunted tours of Colonial Williamsburg.
Soon though, Clark will be saying "Auf Wiedersehen" to both Jamestown and Williamsburg as she prepares to head to Germany for the next year as the first Williamsburg student ever selected for the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program.
“I’d already taken two years of German at Jamestown, and I’d already looked into studying abroad in Germany in college, so when I saw this program, which would let me live and study in Germany as a high school student, I jumped for it immediately,” Clark said. “When I heard that I was one of the students selected, I was absolutely over the moon.”
The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange is a student exchange program co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the German Bundestag, where participating students spend a year in Germany attending school, living with a host family and attending a four-week language and cultural immersion camp. Clark was one of just 250 American high school students selected to participate in the program for the next school year.
“The U.S. Government is committed to a strong, collaborative partnership with Germany, and programs like the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange help secure that relationship for future generations,” said Marie Royce, an official with the U.S. Department of State regarding the program. "This program promotes a reciprocal understanding and effectively contributes not only to an understanding of the country but also the personal, human relationships between the U.S. and Germany."
Clark said that while the chance to live abroad and visit multiple German cities and historic sites — with the city of Hamburg and the remains of the Berlin Wall being two Clark is awaiting eagerly — is exciting, she’s most looking forward to the chance to “go native” and see how Germans live day-to-day life.
“I find German culture fascinating, love the language, and they have a long, complicated history that goes back hundreds of years. But I’m most looking forward to getting to see some of the differences between cultures,” Clark said. “You can learn about or study language or history, but the chance to live the life of a typical German teenager, to see things and live as they do, that’s a rare opportunity.”
If there’s one thing Clark said she’s sad about, it’s that she won’t return to Jamestown — between an early college program and her year in Germany, she’ll graduate high school there before returning to the U.S. to attend Bard College at Simon's Rock in Massachusetts, where she hopes to study international affairs. Clark’s time at Jamestown, along with the support of her parents, played a major role in her getting this opportunity. Clark said the school’s German teacher, Mark Schreiber, played a integral role in supporting her passion for German language and culture.
“Herr Schreiber did so much to not only teach the language, but to encourage a love for it, as well as German culture and history,” she said. “It sometimes seems like the German language doesn’t get as much support from the schools compared to other languages, but Schreiber really went above and beyond.”
Clark said she is both nervous and excited, and hopes other Williamsburg students look to study abroad themselves.
“It’s a great opportunity, one I’m very excited for, very lucky to have thanks to my parents and my teachers,” Clark said. “For anyone else here in Williamsburg who is open to new opportunities and wants to see the world, I hope they consider something like this. There’s a whole world out there waiting for us.”
Jamestown Principal Howard Townsend IV said the school couldn’t be prouder to see Clark studying in Germany, wishing her all the best in both Germany and wherever she goes next.
“She is a wonderful young lady who will be an excellent ambassador for our school and the W-JCC community, and her participation in the summer exchange program will allow her to make real-world connections to all that she is learning as part of her German studies,” Townsend said. “We wish her safe travels, and we look forward to hearing about her incredible adventure, and we’re happy Jamestown got to be a part of that journey.”
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email email@example.com, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.