Charis Ramsing will watch her former Wilde Lake High classmates return to school next week, having already told them she's transferring elsewhere for a year.
The rising junior from Columbia doesn't begin classes at her new school until next month, and while her Wilde Lake friends are packing lunches and boarding school buses, she'll be packing suitcases for a long flight.
Ramsing is transferring to the Institut de L'Agdal, a private French school in Rabat, Morocco, for her junior year as a recipient of a scholarship from the State Department's Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad program.
She won one of 65 scholarships awarded by through YES, a program authorized by Congress after the Sept. 11 terror attacks to improve relations between the United States and countries with sizable Muslim populations.
The program was originally created for foreign high school students to study in the U.S. but in 2007 was expanded to allow U.S. students to travel abroad. According to YES officials, other countries in the program that students have visited include Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman and South Africa.
Ramsing's friends have long lamented her impending departure, and she knows she'll also leave behind spots on the Wilde Lake High marching band, the indoor/outdoor track team and soccer team. She said she's already checked — her new school offers neither band nor sports.
But that's OK. Ramsing, who will begin classes Sept. 11, says she is eager to see her new school, which is part of the International Baccalaureate system and enrolls about 100 students.
It's a change from Wilde Lake High, which has an enrollment of more than 1,200.
"Band camp started [recently], so it was a bit tough seeing my friends go back to band camp and soccer tryouts," said Ramsing, who will depart for her new school Aug. 31. "There are definitely risks I will have to take and things I will have to give up, but it will definitely be worth it."
"She is a tremendously caring young adult. It really stands out when you watch her interact with friends and teachers," said Wilde Lake biology teacher Brittany Franckowiak, who recommended Ramsing for the scholarship. "She's very inquisitive. She's always asking insightful questions and is interested in deepening her understanding of things, and that's encouraging to see."
YES officials said Ramsing will attend the French-speaking school as a youth ambassador in her host country.
"I'm excited for this upcoming year to learn about Moroccan culture and represent the United States as well as Howard County," she said.
Susan Pittman, spokesperson for the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, said those chosen for the program "are personable young adults, ready to immerse themselves in these cultures. They know that there is no better opportunity to learn about a country than to live in it."
This won't be the first time Ramsing has lived overseas. Both her parents have been involved in international work since before she was born. The family moved to Uganda when Ramsing was in sixth grade.
Her father, Nick Ramsing, is an international business and development consultant. Her mother, Becky Ramsing, is a dietitian who works with women in Afghanistan.
Ramsing said assimilating into Ugandan culture was initially challenging, yet she became so immersed and made so many friends that she found it difficult to readjust to life in the U.S. This summer, she returned to Uganda for a missions trip.
"I decided I wanted to do something internationally focused," she said. "My freshman year, I really started liking biology, and I was sure I was going to go to Cornell and study agriculture or science. But then this year I really started getting more involved in the international community, and I got really excited about living abroad and maybe studying abroad."
She said the YES program selected her for Morocco, in part, because she has taken French courses in school. Ramsing doesn't speak fluent French, but said she's been brushing up this summer. She said she'll rely on her ability to move past language barriers and forge friendships, something she did while living in Uganda.
Ramsing said she heard about YES after she and her family hosted an exchange student from Nigeria last year. Upon applying she learned she was among 120 finalists in February, and after three days of interviews in Washington, D.C., in March, she discovered in April that she had won the scholarship.
Ramsing said she hopes to someday follow in her parents' footsteps in serving the global community.
"I'm going to come back hopefully fluent in French and conversational Arabic," she said, "and I am hoping to someday go to a school and major in government and international relations."