MARICOPA — Abigail Poland has a natural gift of learning a language.
Within two years of learning German, a language she had always been interested in because of her family roots, Poland won the gold medal at the National German Exam. Not only that, she won a trip, funded by the German government, to go to Germany and stay with a host family for three weeks.
This is the first time a Maricopa High School student has been awarded the trip, giving Poland an experience of a lifetime.
For over 50 years, the German Foreign Office and its Pedagogical Exchange Service have provided the American Association of Teachers of German/PAD Study Trip Awards, a three- to four-week trip to Germany in the summer following the exam, according to the AATG website.
To be eligible, students must score in the 90th percentile or higher in the exam while maintaining a minimum of a B average.
In German I and German II, Poland was a national gold medalist, which means that she was in the top 10% among total test takers in the nation. From there, she wrote a letter in German to her potential host family and answered questions in both English and German about what the experience would mean to her. After the application process, she became one of the 44 students in the nation to win the trip.
“I can hardly believe that I was there,” Poland said.
However, to MHS German teacher McKay Jones, it was no surprise that Poland won the trip.
“She’s always been an outstanding student. Not just motivated but excited and enthusiastic, and that’s the key to life,” Jones said.
The German program has existed at MHS for four years and students have taken the test in previous years, even winning gold medals. However, Poland was the first one to win the trip.
Her trip consisted of sightseeing, meeting peers from around the nation and noticing cultural differences that gave her a closer understanding of the language itself.
“People in Germany are more real, and it’s interesting to see how it’s reflected in the language because the language is more straightforward, and it’s the opposite with English,” Poland said. “The German stereotype is that people don’t have any feelings or are mean, but they’re blunt and honest and it can come across to us as rude when that’s just how they are.”
One of her most memorable moments was visiting the home where her grandmother, or Oma as she calls her, lived before immigrating to the U.S. at age 16. Her host family was kind enough to drive her to the town, which was about two hours away from her host city.
Poland stayed in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, near Frankfurt.
“I didn’t enjoy everything, I’ll be honest,” Poland said. “There were times where I was like, this isn’t fun, and I’m not having a good time. But it was still amazing to experience it.”
Although MHS currently does not offer German III, Poland is planning to continue learning the language. She ultimately wants to go back to Germany and said that she would like to utilize her skills in the future.
“German opened a door for a whole new world,” she said.