Senior Hayden Sampson spent her junior year as an exchange student


Courtesy of Hayden Sampson

Standing next to her host dad and sister last fall, senior Hayden Sampson arrived in Hamburg, Germany, to begin her 12 month exchange student program. After visiting Berlin, Hayden plans to study there for college. “Berlin is overall my favorite place in the entire world because I fit in there perfectly,” Sampon said. “There’s just so many opportunities there to pursue anyone’s goals or dreams. I love the people and atmosphere of the city and all the history it includes.”

After finding out about a scholarship opportunity to be an exchange student in Germany, senior Hayden Sampson applied, got accepted and spent the year in Hamburg, Germany.

When Hayden was in eighth grade, she met a friend whose son had participated in the Youth For Understanding Program. She told her parents she wanted to try it, and their support made her decision easy.

“My mom was overall my biggest supporter through the long process,” Hayden said. “She was definitely the proudest compared to everyone else in my family. When other people would ask why I was doing it, she always backed me up on my decision.”

Although Hayden did not know any German going into it, she picked up on the language and is now fluent.

“I kinda had this mentality that I could either sink or swim and sinking would be horrible so I needed to learn German,” Hayden said. “The first three months were the hardest, I would just sit in class every day and not know what was going on. But, then, right after Christmas but before New Year’s, something just clicked. And then, I just got it and from there it just kept building up.”

Despite the fact that Hayden’s sister, freshman Kenzi Sampson, was at first upset to hear her sister’s plan of being an exchange student, Kenzi was eventually excited for Hayden to have a life-changing experience.

“Not having her for a whole year seemed impossible, but I FaceTimed her every morning before school,” Kenzi said. “And I had my host brother Moritz [Riss], so he was like a replacement for the year, he was my best friend.”

For Hayden, living across the globe was not as difficult as she was anticipating.

“There were obviously many times I missed my family, but not as much as I expected,” Hayden said. “Clearly Christmas and Thanksgiving were a little harder compared to other days, but overall I only missed them when I wasn’t getting along with my host family.”

I learned more about myself and who I want to be through the interactions with other people and experiences I would have never done without that opportunity.”

— senior Hayden Sampson

Through her outgoing personality, Hayden quickly found friends.

“When you are put in a situation where you need to make friends or your life will be boring for a year, you end up adjusting and finding characteristics about yourself that you never knew you had when it comes to meeting new people,” Hayden said. “Now, I can adapt to change. I am really good at conversational skills and dealing with conflict, as well as discovering the real person rather than just the person everyone else sees. “

According to Hayden’s best friend from Germany, Kira Meineke, it did not take long for the two to best friends.

“From an outsider’s perspective it seemed like she made a lot of friends pretty fast because everyone was interested in the ‘American girl’,” Meineke said. “As time went on she grew closer with some people, like me, and made deeper friendships.”

Hayden is not only grateful for the opportunity of being immersed in the German language and culture but for the life-changing lessons she learned.

“I learned more about myself and who I want to be through the interactions with other people and experiences I would have never done without that opportunity,” Hayden said. “I don’t regret going to Germany one bit. I would not change anything for the world, it was the best decision I have ever made in my life and I would go back in a heartbeat.”

Hayden urges anyone thinking about being an exchange student to participate.

“Being an exchange student will absolutely change your life. It makes paths for your future that will not only make you more successful, but also open to the idea of change and meeting new people who will continue to influence your life each and everyday,” Hayden said. “It will be one of the hardest experiences of your life, and everyday is a roller coaster, but I promise every struggle you may have or awkward experience only builds you as a person.”

Hayden hopes to attend college in Germany next fall.

“If I didn’t go to Germany for an exchange year, there’s no way I would be going to college there. I wouldn’t even be considering it.  Also, I wouldn’t have the knowledge and the cultural background I have now. It made me open up and learn more about people, about how there is more out there right now in the world, than just West County,” Hayden said.

According to Hayden, it takes longer to establish friendships with Germans, but once you have those friendships, they are going to be there for forever.

“It made me realize that my American friendships compared to my friendships in Germany, it’s not that the ones in Germany are better but they are just a lot stronger,” Hayden said. “I can go to them for absolutely everything, they aren’t going to judge me, they are going to be there for me 100 percent and that’s something that I don’t have here and I don’t think I’ll ever have here.”