1 in 3000: Leo Polidori

For his entire junior year, Leo Polidori (12) studied in Germany as part of a government scholarship program. Polidori shared what it was like to immerse himself in a different culture.

Flying to a new country with a one-way ticket, unfamiliar with the language that will greet you upon landing, is what some would call their greatest fear.

But not Leo Polidori (12), who, in his sophomore year at TPHS, was accepted into a government scholarship program to go halfway across the world by himself for 10 months and spend his junior year in Germany.

The joint German and U.S. government-funded program, Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange, had protocols for this experience; Polidori could not leave the country at any point during his time abroad, and his parents were not be allowed to visit him. Now in Germany, he had to find something to fill the void left by family and friends back home.

Over the course of the 10 months he was there, Polidori made friends he will keep in touch with for a lifetime and a second family he can visit. This, along with learning a new language, brought him closer to the German community.

“As time went on, I really did start to see [my host family] as family, and it was extremely hard to say goodbye to them at the end,” Polidori said. “They [played] such a big part in helping [me] through the hard times and willingly took me into their family to show me every aspect of German life.”

During his time abroad, Polidori disenrolled from TPHS, and attended a school in Germany. Germany has three types of secondary schools. “Gymnasium” is the highest and most difficult out of the three, which is the one Polidori attended.

“German school was very different from American school in the sense that it was more focused on academics rather than school spirit, and they really put an emphasis on learning other languages, like most schools in Europe do,” Polidori said.

German schooling systems also prepare students during the last two years of high school for a major test called the “Abitur,” which Polidori said determines how good a university a student can get into.

Polidori enjoyed spending time with his host family and experiencing German traditions, such as the Oktoberfest carnival, the Christmas markets and various German holidays.

“My favorite part of being in Germany was their culture — how much they did, what I learned and what I got to be a part of,” he said. In addition to new customs, Polidori also learned about a different social culture.

“[Germans] just mean what they say and don’t filter it, but once you get to know them, they are nice,” Polidori said.

While a far leap from the typical junior experience at TPHS, to Polidori, a year abroad is a part of his family heritage. His sister studied in China during college and his mother in Switzerland. Polidori, however, feels the most connected to his grandmother, who also studied in Germany early on in her life.

“I would totally recommend this experience to incoming high schoolers,” Polidori said. “I got to meet … [Representatives] Scott Peters’ and Diane Fiensteins’ interns. I also got to meet people from the German Parliament.”

Adapting to a new environment in a new country for a long period of time can change someone as a person. Polidori believes he has grown drastically from this experience and greatly matured.

“This experience broadened my perspective of the world and challenged me in so many different ways that I had to learn how to deal with and overcome” Polidori said.

Studying abroad for his junior year of high school is no ordinary experience. Leaving behind his life in California, Polidori embarked on the journey alone, but he gained much: an understanding of a different culture, a new language, meaningful friendships and the experience of a lifetime.

Photo by Anna Opalsky/Falconer

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