Sixteen-year-old Kara Palmer grew up speaking English with her twin sister and parents, but soon she will be speaking German with her new family.
The Salem High School sophomore has been accepted to spend next school year in Germany as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, and is being sponsored by the Glenvar Rotary Club.
She doesn’t know yet which German town she will be living in, but is excited about her opportunities. It will be the longest time she has been away from her mother, Amy Palmer of Salem; twin sister Kate; father Richard Palmer of Roanoke; and grandparents Imogene and Paul Parker of Roanoke.
“I think it will be a great experience, especially to see if what our teacher tells us about cultural experiences is the way it is,” Kara said, referring to her high school German class taught by Dawn Gomez. This is Kara’s first year studying German, after two years of Spanish and one at Andrew Lewis Middle School. She is currently doing an additional intensive study of German language on her own.
Kara is also looking forward to “gaining something from the year of classes and making new friends. It would be great to come back and tell stories.” She is anticipating German food. She and Kate appreciate eating at the Eidelweis restaurant in Greenville, Va., with their step-grandparents.
Frau Gomez sent in a letter of recommendation to Rotary International’s ESSEX (Eastern States Student Exchange) program on her behalf. Kara found out she had been accepted on March 18 at the Rotary District 7570 Conference which she attended with members of Interact – which is the Rotary organization for high school students – from other areas of Virginia and Tennessee at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs.
While at the conference, Kara got to meet the current exchange students for this district and learn from them what might be expected of her in Germany. The students include Salem High School exchange student Alberte “Al” Krabbe from Denmark, Carlos from Peru, Juliette from France and Vinicus from Brazil.
Among other advice, the international students told Kara to be prepared to give 10-minute talks with pictures of her home and family for Rotary Clubs in Germany, and to get herself a navy blue blazer on which to wear exchange pins she will collect as they have done. “People love to see pictures of your family and pets and where you live,” Juliette advised.
She will also give talks to the Glenvar Rotary Club and others after she returns.
Al is currently staying with Salem Rotarian Jim Laub and his family; the other students are visiting in homes of Rotarians in parts of the Rotary district that stretches from East Tennessee to Front Royal, Va. Al is a strong believer in the power of the Rotary exchange program. As she told Rotarians at the district conference, “If everyone became an exchange student there would be no war.”
At the district conference, Kara and Al also helped other Interact students put together “Arise Against Hunger,” a project that prepares thousands of meals for poverty-stricken people in other parts of the world.
In addition to missing her twin, Kara’s main concern about going to school abroad for an academic year was whether she could complete all the necessary classes, including International Baccalaureate courses for Salem High School. “I am taking two classes over the summer – probably English and Government or U.S. History, maybe online – and doubling up my senior year,” she said.
Her academic year abroad will run from the second week in August to the second week of June 2018. Expenses for the year are borne by the student’s family and the Rotary Club or clubs in Germany who will host Kara.
Here in Salem, Kara loves to draw and sketch with charcoal pencils, spend time with friends, play cards and take pictures for her photography class at SHS. She is a member of the German Club at school and the Zenith art program sponsored by the Salem Art Center. She and Kate are helping to make props for the center’s “Meeks Manor,” a new local haunted house that will be open the week of Halloween.
Meanwhile, twin Kate plays trumpet in the SHS marching band. Both of them and their mother enjoy science fiction and dressed up for the recent MystiCon convention. Kara was a very convincing Cheshire Cat.
Amy Palmer is a respiratory therapist at LewisGale Medical Center. The family also includes a dog, Sammie, and cats Baby Cakes and Roar. The latter is Kara’s kitty.
Theirs is a close family, and the decision for Kara to apply to be an exchange student was a whole family decision, Amy said. Kara was encouraged by their neighbor, Will Powers, who is president-elect of the Glenvar Rotary Club.
It is the first time that the Glenvar club has sponsored an exchange student to go abroad. Seventeen years ago the Powers’ family and two other Glenvar Rotary families hosted Daniela Mardones Poblete, a student from Chile who is now an attorney, wife and mother in her home country.