Taking on Germany Gap Year with Prestigious CBYX Scholarship: GH alumna Aishna Dhungel

Aishna Dhungel, Class of 2019, shares her experiences and opinions on taking on a gap year


Courtesy of Aishna Dhungel

Aishna stands second from the top right, with other Class of 2019-2020 CBYX Scholars who are pursuing a gap year in high school or between high school and college

Uma Bhat, Managing Editor

Aishna Dhungel (‘19) graduated from Green Hope last year with a fully padded resume, but instead of moving into an empty dorm room, she moved into a castle perched beside the shores of the famous German Rhine River — for free. However, Dhungel isn’t in Germany to frolic in Berlin or gorge on chocolate; she’s a member of the U.S. State Department’s prestigious year-long Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program (CBYX), and during the span of the next ten months, she’ll be studying abroad in Deutschland, living with a host family as she learns more about both the German language and herself. 

“My experience with CBYX [thus far] has been incredible,” Dhungel stated from her new room, situated comfortably across the Atlantic. She recently moved into her host family’s house in Lübbecke after spending four weeks living in a Bad Laasphe castle for a language camp. “Some specific great moments were Freitags in Bad Laasphe, where we went to a local cover band concert and got to dance with other Germans. We also got to go on an egg trading adventure, mini-golf on concrete, walk miles to go swimming, and stargaze.” 

Dhungel first heard about CBYX program after taking language classes in middle school, explaining that while people might have expected her to prepare extensively for an early graduation before her German gap year, she was actually able to acquire enough credits because of a multitude of NCVPS classes she took during middle school; she had taken German I, II, and III out of an interest for German, with no initial interest in graduating early. “Finishing senior year requirements like Civics/Econ and English was a bit more complicated,” Dhungel elaborated. “I had been working with Student Services and they were aware of the CBYX application. Together, we made the decision for me to drop two junior electives for the senior requirements so that if I got the scholarship, I would be able to go. With this planning, I was able to graduate early and accept the CBYX scholarship with no problems.” 

At Green Hope, the concept of a gap year is common knowledge, but students taking a gap year themselves is relatively unheard of. Most students pursue a four-year degree after graduating high school, often “learning for the sake of grades and not personal enjoyment,” according to junior Luna Hou (NC Honors Chorus & Governor’s School), one student who has experienced the phenomenon of school-wide academic competitiveness. As a result, many studies have proven that there is a “mental health crisis” plaguing college campuses across the nation, seen by the flood of undergraduates seeking counseling services (Quartz). 

Most students pursue a four-year degree after graduating high school, often “learning for the sake of grades and not personal enjoyment”

— Luna Hou

Dhungel, on the other hand, has seen firsthand the refreshing nature of hitting the pause button. “Especially after going to a high school like Green Hope, it has been amazing to take a step back and remember who I am. Although that might sound like a cheesy line in a movie, I think I have learned more about myself in the past 7 weeks I’ve been in Germany, than the 3 years in high school. The pressure and expectations that come from the trivial end goal of a ‘good college’ have such a large impact on your life that you begin to forget what is important to you. In a gap year, there is no GPA or test scores that have to be kept up with. There is no need to join organizations or programs for the sake of your resume. This freedom is a scary and wonderful thing because everything you do is a direct reflection of yourself … there will never be a time in your life when you are better able to adjust and adapt to whatever you throw yourself info.” 

Research has repeatedly proven that taking a gap year can allow students making the transition from high school to college, to, as Dhungel said, “take a step back” and acquire skills such as “independence, resilience, confidence, and focus” (Quartz). In a study by Temple University Ph.D. student Nina Hoe, it was concluded that students who take gap years were more likely to stay on track in college and score better academically, with added benefits of showing higher job satisfaction rates and higher levels of motivation. 

“A gap year’s benefits and drawbacks are very dependent on the individual and the use of the year,” Dhungel said, expressing her opinion on the value of a gap year. “For some, a benefit could be the chance to travel the world and learn new languages — aka me. For others, it could be an opportunity to connect with family or take time to prioritize your health. Every gap year has benefits that align with the intention of the gap year, and they all allow people the opportunity to learn and grow in a nontraditional environment with self-set expectations.” 

While she made clear that homesickness and missing out on hometown events were hard times for her, and that there was a negative stigma concerning gap years, she states that college applications were arguably the most difficult part of her situation — “a lot of basic parts of my application require more communication because I am not continuing my education in a similar manner to a lot of people… some scholarships also do not allow the applicants to be returning from a gap year.” 

Still, Dhungel strongly believes that the CBYX program will benefit her in the future. “It will give me some language proficiency, cultural knowledge, and will help me grow into a person that can handle difficult and uncomfortable situations with ease. The skills I learn during this year will set me apart from those who stay in their comfort zone,” she affirmed. “I wanted to attempt learning a third language for fluency instead of a grade, learn about a new culture, and wanted to authentically get to know German people, not just a watered-down tourist version.” 

For those interested in applying to CBYX in the future, Dhungel’s advice is to “be yourself and submit your application on time”. The applicants for CBYX for the 2020-2021 year are currently open, and to those who are hesitant: “College, high school, and whatever else will be waiting for you when you come back, so why not just go?”  

College, high school, and whatever else will be waiting for you when you come back, so why not just go? ”

— Aishna Dhungel

If interested in studying abroad or taking a gap year, please contact your counselors for more information. Deciding whether to study abroad is a very personal choice and requires lots of thought.