A single suitcase filled with as many clothes as a 50-pound limit would allow lay on the floor of 16-year-old Martha Blackley's bedroom.
Her suitcase doesn't hold just the clothes she needs for a small vacation across the Atlantic Ocean but necessities for a year abroad as a foreign exchange student.
Blackley, a junior at Providence High, received an acceptance letter from the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship Program for a free year at a German high school.
Her German II teacher, Linda Horvath, who has been teaching at Providence since 1991, sparked Blackley's interest in the scholarship program.
In October of Blackley's sophomore year, Horvath spoke to her classes about the CBYX's joint scholarship program between the United States and Germany. The recipients attend a German school and live with a German host family.
Blackley knew she wanted to apply, following in the footsteps of her siblings. Her two sisters, Charlotte and Pressly, are studying abroad this winter through their universities. Charlotte, who attends East Carolina University, will be studying in Italy, and Pressly, who attends N.C. State University, will be studying in Wales.
"My grandparents used to live in London, and a lot of exchange students have come through the family. When I heard Charlotte and Pressly were studying abroad, I didn't want to be left at home," said Blackley.
Six essays and five months later, Blackley received a congratulatory call from the coordinator at the Council on International Educational Exchange for CBYX on being one of 50 students chosen from the southeast United States.
Approximately 250 students from the U.S. receive the scholarship each year; 50 from five regions. CIEE is responsible for the Southeast region.
All 50 CIEE students met in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 4 for pre-departure orientation and icebreaker activities. Two days later they flew to Schloss Wittgenstein in Bad Laasphe, Germany, where they were immersed for three weeks in language and culture.
"I think waiting was the hardest part of this whole process. But once I got my host family, it all felt real," said Blackley. "I got a letter from my host mother, in all German, telling me not to forget to bring a rain jacket and solid shoes. ... I can't wait to live with them and experience their culture as well as show them mine."
Blackley will be living with the Thater family in Bonenburg, a city within the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. She will be bringing a scrapbook about North Carolina to show them what teenagers do for fun in Charlotte, and her favorite cookbook, so she can make the Thaters a traditional American Thanksgiving.
The Thater family includes four daughters, the youngest named Franzi, who lives at home full-time. Franzi is almost 15 and will be showing Blackley to all of her classes in the first few weeks.
"German school is much different than school in America," said Horvath. German students commonly take only three tests a year in each class and take many language classes.
"Franzi is taking German, English, Latin and French classes at the same time. There's no way I could add another language like Spanish onto German and English," said Blackley.
Though Blackley does not receive her school schedule until her arrival, there is much speculation about which class credits will transfer toward her senior year at Providence.
"I have had numerous meetings with my guidance counselor to get permission slips signed by her and the principal, Mrs. Harrill. I was told I will only be getting credit for German III since I will be speaking German the whole time I am living there," said Blackley.
That might be the only credit she receives throughout her year abroad. "CMS is promoting exchange programs, but when you get down to individual schools themselves, they won't give the students credits for their classes," said Horvath.