A lifetime of experiences in one year

photo by Kim Cameron | Hannah Zagone wears her pin jacket. The pins are from other exchange students and places she went during her year abroad.
photo by Kim Cameron | Hannah Zagone wears her pin jacket. The pins are from other exchange students and places she went during her year abroad.

Zagone heads into senior year after returning from Germany

As Hannah Zagone began her last year of high school at West Grand, she says it is almost as if someone hit a pause button for her junior year. She understands everything her teachers are saying and knows everyone.

This is in direct contrast to Zagone’s junior year where she spent her academic year in Esens, a little town in Germany on the North Sea. She now speaks, reads and writes fluently in German and can navigate airports, navigate public transportation, and foreign cities by herself.

Many spend a lifetime to acquire the confidence and self-reliance Zagone achieved in one year.

“I just become more okay with myself,” said Zagone of her increased independence, self-confidence and maturity.

Few students have the opportunity for this amount of self-growth in a year and Zagone encourages other students to follow in her footsteps. Zagone traveled with the Rotary Youth Exchange and was sponsored by the Kremmling Rotary.

“I want more kids to take advantage of this opportunity. That is one of the things I learned from this experience, we need to get out more,” said Zagone who felt like nothing changed while she was gone. “People should not be scared of leaving for a year.”

Zagone is the first West Grand student in over a decade to spend a full year abroad since her own brother Christopher Zagone spent a year in Italy.

From her experience, Zagone also developed an appreciation of history and cultural differences.

“It was just so different, you can’t really compare it,” said Zagone who felt the German curriculum was more rigorous even with the shortened day from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The afternoon was dedicated to homework and was not structured around sports like in the United States. She had 13 classes on a block schedule and would have the classes once a week. She noted German students spend five years in high school and appreciated that during their 10th year they did two-week internships. Even though she was in her 11th year she was able to do a two-week internship with a dentist.

After her stay in Germany, showed an appreciation for the Germans ability to speak English and their acceptance of her as she learned the language. “I felt so welcome when I arrived there because they spoke English. It was comforting.”

She admits she is now more understanding of others who are learning a language and wishes more foreign languages were taught in American schools.

She was given fluency tests throughout the year to assure she was mastering German and would have been sent home if she wasn’t, but Zagone said she had a basic command of the language within three months. She was even able to confidently give directions in German before leaving.
She also has a new perspective of the United States. “I love our sports system. I love that we have sports in school.”

She has also broadened her perspectives on worldly issues. She compared Germany’s larger tax rate to the United States’ lower one, but also appreciated Germany’s efficiency and green energy efforts.

During her free time, she traveled with her host families and spent time with other Rotary exchange students, which could be a group of 20 or more. They spent time in Oldenburg, but her favorite city to spend the weekend in was Hamburg. In Hamburg, she was even confident enough to give directions to other tourists who believed her to be native German.

At the end of her stay, she spent two weeks on a European tour. Her group visited the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland. From her travels, Zagone believes, “Budapest is one of the most underrated cities in the world. It was so beautiful.” However, her favorite city was Venice.

“I just had to live in the moment and realize I could always go home, but I could only do this once.”

Zagone hopes her experience in Germany will set her apart for scholarships as she plans either to be a dental hygienist or international communications.

She thanks her parents, Shelly and Ted Zagone, for encouraging her to go to Germany, Larry Banman, the Kremmling Rotary, and Rotary International. She gives a special shout-out to her mom, “I couldn’t have done this without the enthusiasm of my mom,” she said.

“I thank them for this opportunity. I now realize anything is possible,” said Zagone.