East High students tackle international citizen diplomacy

July 16—CHEYENNE — Two East High School students in Cheyenne will soon embark on international citizen diplomacy and immerse themselves in German culture for a year abroad.

Rising sophomore Alix Johnson and first graduate Jonathan Christensen were among 250 American high school students who received the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship for the 2022-23 school year. The bilateral program was established in 1983 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of German colonization in North America, and is funded by the US Congress and the German Bundestag.

CIEE grants program manager Katie Pfohl is part of the nonprofit study abroad organization that organizes the trips, and she pointed out that such people-to-people diplomacy plays an important role in the maintenance of relations abroad, even if the German and American friendship remains strong. She said Germany is a major European economy and the United States is a major player on the world stage, so strengthening relations is vital.

“Both countries have their official diplomats who do diplomacy on a larger scale, but there’s something to be said for getting to know someone personally from another country and developing those relationships,” she told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “And often their relationships are lifelong, so it’s a way to learn the truth about other countries and break stereotypes.”

The students will live with a host family for a year, after a month of language lessons starting next month. Pfohl said having such deep and close interaction with residents for an extended period of time can be life changing.

She participated in a study abroad program as a student and considers her guests in Germany as members of her own family. “You learn so much more than you ever could as a tourist or visitor,” she said.

Although more than 26,000 German and American students have participated, the two East High students are part of a small cohort that has come from Wyoming over the years. Thirteen state students have received the scholarship since 2013 and 23 families have hosted a German participant.

Cultural immersion

The two local participants said in separate interviews this week that they were delighted to experience German cultural immersion.

Johnson is 15 and this will be her first time leaving the United States. She wants to immerse herself in learning a new language and way of life, which will likely happen when she lives in Regensburg and attends St. Mary’s Catholic School. She thinks she will go home more open-minded.

“It’s just good for Germans to come here and for Americans to go, so we can all learn about each other’s culture and open people’s eyes,” she said.

That sentiment was echoed by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange welcome event last month in Washington, DC. He spoke at a conference where students reflect on their overseas experience, where Johnson and Christensen will go in a year.

Blinken said the work done by CBYX fellows in Germany is how the United States finds new partners to solve common problems, and it helps them learn skills and see the world through people’s eyes. with different stories and perspectives. He said cultivating this relationship was paramount as Germany is one of the nation’s closest allies.

“Having that trust is more critical than ever to the work we’re trying to do around the world to support democracy, to try to protect peace or make it necessary,” he said in his speech, ” to try to advance our own people’s security, prosperity, opportunity, and shared progress in the world.” {/span}

Russia’s Ukrainian War

Blinken noted that the two allied countries “stand together against the aggression that we are currently witnessing from Russia in Ukraine.”

Christensen spoke about his own concerns about the invasion of Ukraine and its potential impact on his trip.

He said he doesn’t fear his daily life will be interrupted, as the war in Ukraine is hundreds of miles from where he is going in Germany. However, he expects to see war refugees entering Germany. He couldn’t imagine being displaced or facing the repercussions of a massive ground invasion.

“Every day there are still thousands of people who are displaced from their homes and who may never have the opportunity to return,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in the United States knows what it is, because we’ve never dealt with anything like this on this scale.”

Christensen thinks the program creed of serving as a diplomat is important in Germany and, indeed, in any country. He said that relations developed abroad can help defuse unstable situations, such as in Ukraine. He said if you have a bad dialogue with another country, you cannot hope to prevent violence.

As the world becomes increasingly connected, he said students can travel the world to break cultural stereotypes by showing who they really are.

He completed his first year of German lessons at East this school year. He aims to be a world traveler who understands the culture and nuances of his host countries. The full scholarship he gets gives him the privilege of not worrying about the associated expenses.

“I live in a world of 8 billion people, and it’s kind of sad and scary for me at the same time, that I’ll most likely only meet a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of them,” said he declared.

Jasmine Hall is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle state government reporter. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter @jasminerhphotos and on Instagram @jhrose25.

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