Caroline Aufgebauer speaks English, Spanish and Latin – and has a basic knowledge of German.
As a senior at Providence High School, she earned special recognition for her performance on the national Spanish exam. It’s not uncommon for students at Providence High to place nationally in language exams, but Caroline’s achievement is special.
When she was 2 years old, Aufgebauer was diagnosed with hearing loss, a disability that prevents her from hearing anything more than murmurs without help from her hearing aids.
Since her hearing isn’t 100 percent even with hearing aids, she relies on lip reading, body language and visual aids to learn new material. She uses pictures in workbooks to get insight to the topic being discussed, facial expressions to figure out the tone of the conversation and lip reading to decipher words as people talk. Some might call that a setback.
Caroline says she’s determined.
She was born in Hamburg, Germany, and moved to Miami when she was two years old. She came to Charlotte when she was eight.
A year before most children start preschool, Aufgebauer was in a Miami school, learning to speak -- in a classroom with other children who had disabilities.
She wasn’t aware she was any different from other kids. Then came first grade.
“I would say once I got to first grade, that was when I was first with people who didn’t have all of these problems,” she said. “That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have to work a little bit harder for this.’ And so I grew up with that determination to be just like everyone else.”
I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I don’t know exactly why I got hearing aids, but I tried to make something out of it and make it meaningful.
In Miami, she had been immersed in Spanish language and culture. So she wanted to try something new when it came time to choose a foreign language elective in middle school. German wasn’t an option, so she set her sights on French, hoping to continue studying it through high school, and pick up German when it became available.
Much to her dismay, Aufgebauer didn’t get her first choice, and was instead assigned to Spanish.
“Because I grew up in Miami, I was used to Spanish and I wanted something new,” Aufgebauer said. “So I was very upset. I begged them, ‘Please, take me out (of Spanish), I don’t want to be in here.’ Every year you choose whether or not you want to continue, and every year I thought, ‘Should I? It’s so hard.’ But then I just looked back, and I was like, ‘I didn’t just do all this hard work for nothing.’ So I always continued.”
In high school, she decided to also take Latin. Her national examination achievements are from the tests she took for Spanish and Latin. She also did well on the national Latin test. That makes Caroline trilingual.
She developed her own way of figuring things out.
“In our Spanish workbooks, there are usually pictures. If we’re learning about agriculture, there’s a picture of crops and then I know that is what it’s going to be about. I’ll notice things, like a furrow in the eyebrows, and I’ll be like, ‘Alright, this will be more of a negative-tone conversation,’ or I’ll notice when you’re more rigid, it’s also going to be a negative-tone conversation.”
Carmen Calvar, a Providence High School Spanish teacher who taught Aufgebauer for three years, said Aufgebauer consistently earned above average grades.
“She has been consistently an A student. It’s never dropped,” Calvar said. “And it’s not a little A, it’s not a low A, it is a good, solid, high grade A.”
Calvar said Aufgebauer’s attitude sets hear apart.
“Other students complain. They carry on about minor things,” Calvar said. “Then you have somebody who really has an issue, and never complains, never has anything but positivity to give. She is somebody that unless she tells you, you won’t know. She is resilient and she is strong. She is fabulous.”
Aufgebauer said it hasn’t always been easy.
“At first, I hated hearing aids,” she said. “I mean, I think any kid who gets something that’s not considered normal is gonna hate it. In middle school, I definitely tried to blend in. I didn’t tell anyone except my best friends. I tried to hide it and then if anyone asked about it, I would brush it off. At first I wasn’t very positive, but once you get into high school, you start not to care what other people think. I was just like, ‘If people don’t like me for my hearing aids, OK, so what.’ Now I’m more accepting toward it. I know it’s just a part of me.”
Outside the classroom, Aufgebauer enjoys learning about new cultures. During high school, she joined the Interact Club, where she worked with Mothering Across Continents to lead and manage Walk for Wisdom, a fundraising event that helps provide supplies for schools in South Sudan.
This fall Aufgebauer will attend UNC-Chapel Hill on a full-ride scholarship from Carolina Covenant. She plans to study either global health or biology, so she can work in a field where she can apply her love of health and humanitarianism. She said her dream career would be to work for the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I don’t know exactly why I got hearing aids, but I tried to make something out of it and make it meaningful,” Aufgebauer said. “Whenever something new comes up, like a new club or a new activity, I’m not as scared about it. I’m actually excited about it, because learning Spanish was something new for me, and I wasn’t really planning on it, but it ended up being one of the greatest things that happened to me.”
Sara Carson is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.