Keith Jeffcoat, a sophomore at North County High School in Anne Arundel County, is just the kind of American student the folks who build Mercedes-Benz automobiles were looking for last year when they organized an essay contest.
He knows very little about Germany, the country where the cars are made, but he wrote an essay contest judges liked. So he -- with 49 other contest winners from the United States and Canada -- will get a free, three-week tour of the land of Wagner, Beethoven, Goethe, and bratwurst and beer this summer.
Daimler-Benz, the automotive and aerospace giant based in Stuttgart, sponsored the contest in hopes of improving Germany's image.
Keith, 16, said he became interested in Germany and its people while studying contemporary European history at school.
In his essay, he wondered if young Germans are like American youths. He asked what classes they take, how they relieve tension from school, what careers they hope to pursue and what their traditions and values are.
Keith, who hopes to become an architect, said he is particularly interested in "the architecture and the old buildings" there.
The students, 45 from the United States and five from Canada, are to start their trip June 18 in Washington, where they will meet with their hometown congressman and talk about the political history of Germany before taking off.
They will tour a castle in Heidelberg, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and Daimler-Benz Group's high-tech automotive and aerospace facilities in Stuttgart. They also will visit the seaports of Hamburg and Bremen and the Bavarian city of Munich.
The contest organizers chose schools for the contest at random from some 2,000, including 35 in Maryland, that applied. North County was the only Maryland high school selected.
The schools chose their winners based on answers to five essay questions about why the student wanted to go to Germany.
Keith said he plans to share his experiences and pictures with classmates and neighbors.
"I'll probably take, like, 20 rolls of film with me," he said. "I'm taking pictures of everything I see."