A decision Annie Seaman made in 2008 as a seventh-grader at Hereford Middle School has changed the course of her life. Chinese classes were being offered that year for the first time in Baltimore County schools and Annie signed up.
She continued to study Chinese all through high school, including Advanced Placement courses. This summer, as Annie and her fellow graduates from Hereford High School prepare to leave for college, she'll simply pack a few suitcases. She can't take things such as lamps, pillows or a bedspread. Her college is more than 7,400 miles away.
Annie is headed to China where she'll attend New York University Shanghai. The campus is located in China's most densely populated city of more than 24 million people.
"I didn't really tell my friends I was applying to go to school in China until I got accepted," she said. "I got into other colleges, too, but there was no question where I wanted to go."
Her parents, Susan and Mark Seaman, were not surprised by her choice.
Susan Balducci Seaman, a 1981 Hereford graduate, traveled internationally for work when she was younger, including visits to China. She often told stories of her travels to Annie, her sister, Sophie and brother, Josh.
"I think she caught the travel bug very young. They grew up knowing the world is really much smaller than you think," Susan Seaman said. "As soon as I heard about this program in Shanghai, I knew it was the perfect one for Annie. And, she'll make her mark over there, just like she did at Hereford."
Annie is an honor roll student who was on the student council all four years and its president in her senior year. She was also president of the For Our Troops Club and was inducted into the National Chinese Honor Society.
"She epitomizes everything we could wish for in a globally competitive student," said Brian Schiffer, Baltimore County schools' Director of Social Sciences, Fine Arts and World Languages. "We've seen various success stories and they just don't get any better than this."
After Annie sent in her college application, she had an interview via Skype. At the end of April, she and her mother went to New York University in New York for an accepted students' weekend.
There are 300 students in her freshman class – 150 Chinese students and the remainder from across the globe. She met 85 of the 150 non-Chinese students that weekend.
"Annie is a model student who pays attention to details and is so positive in class. I'll miss her in my classes," said Meagan Wilson, Hereford's Chinese teacher for the past two years who sent New York University a letter of recommendation for Annie. "She'll get so much out of being abroad."
This isn't Annie's first trip to China. She and her family participated in a Chinese exchange program organized by the county school system during her freshman year. The four-month exchange featured Chinese students staying with local families for two months, then Baltimore County students staying in China with those same exchange students and their families.
The Seaman family hosted Chinese student Christina, who is a year older than Annie. She lived with the Seaman family in Upperco and went to Hereford with Annie in the spring of 2011.
Annie said Christina loved to ride the school bus and became a big fan of pizza while here.
Christina spoke English, but Annie practiced Chinese with Christina whenever she could.
"Chinese is definitely a hard language, but I always loved going to Chinese class," Annie said.
She said they studied Mandarin, a dialect in which each character is a word.
Annie, three teachers and 26 students then spent two months in the town of Xi'an, China, going to school and taking trips to see cultural and tourist attractions in Beijing and Shanghai.
"It was an amazing trip," Annie recalled. "It was so completely different from anything I'd ever seen. Some people there had never seen a foreigner before."
She went to school with Christina three days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a two-hour lunch break.
Christina's parents didn't speak any English. "We did a lot of hand gestures," Annie said. "I always ate whatever food they gave me, except for chicken feet. I just couldn't do that."
Annie leaves on Aug. 13 and doesn't plan on coming home until school is out for three weeks in February for the Chinese New Year.
"I've grown up liking to try new things," she said. "So this is just another new thing in my life. I'm excited and ready to go."