BLUEFIELD — Theo Schell arrived from the German state of Bavaria in August 2018. He was one of just 75 students chosen to participate in an exchange student program between Germany and the United States.
Schell's year-long stay in the United States is part of the Congress/Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), a program established by Congress and the German parliament and administered here by the U.S. State Department.
Theo, 20, and his fellow students arrived in New York City on August 7, 2018, to attend a three-day seminar before being dispatched to their various new homes. His host family, John and Betsy Feuchtenberger welcomed him to their home in Bluefield.
"I am originally from a more rural area, so I am more comfortable in Bluefield than I was in New York City," Schell said.
Schell spent autumn 2018 studying Electrical Engineering at Bluefield State College. He was a top runner on the BSC cross country team and already had a college degree in electrical engineering in Bavaria because he started college at 17 years old.
Bavaria, which is one of Germany’s 16 states, has a different educational system and children are tracked early for whether they are academically inclined or more vocational oriented. Even then, students basically must qualify to go to college, attending a special school for one year to get the highest secondary diploma. It is a competitive system.
"I was homesick, maybe for the first few weeks," Schell said. "There was a lot to adjust to but I was not very busy. Once I had so much to do, I love it."
Through the CBYX, Schell was also required to work 40 hours of community service. He did ten hours of the service by serving as an usher at a NASCAR race in Bristol, Tenn. The rest of his community service, he did with the Union Mission in Bluefield.
"It is important to give something back to the community," Schell said. "I went to the Bluefield Union Mission every Wednesday and helped there to sort clothes, cooking and packing lunch packets."
The purpose of his visit to the United States was to continue his studies by becoming more familiar with the American higher education system as well as develop a better understanding of the political system.
In 2019, Theo began an ongoing electrical engineering internship with AMR PEMCO. He will intern with them until he leaves for Bavaria in summer 2019.
Two weeks into the new year of 2019, Schell was chosen as one of 23 interns for Senator Joe Manchin. As an intern in Washington D.C., he did casework, phone calls and mail. He noted that a lot of the information the office received from Manchin's constituents involved veterans affairs.
"I also gave a lot of tours of the capitol where I was able to see a few famous politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell," Schell said.
Schell spent seven weeks in Washington D.C. before returning to W.Va. to work in the capital city, Charleston with Mercer County Delegate, John Shott, the chair of the Judiciary committee.
Schell has enjoyed all of his experiences, political and the like, but said he enjoyed working as an intern in Charleston because he was able to be closer to the political process.
"In Charleston, I was able to spend the whole time with my delegate, participating in floor sessions," Schell said. "I could ask him anything in the political process."
In addition to studying at Bluefield State College, running on the cross country team, becoming a full-time political intern, volunteer work and an electrical engineering intern, Schell has brought his love of bee-keeping to his hosts.
Schell has been bee-keeping since he was twelve years old at his family's home in Bavaria. Now, he has cultivated a few hives with his host family, John and Betsy Feuchtenberger.
The hive is Betsy's project alongside Theo. He has become a member of Mercer County Beekeepers Association during his time in the U.S.
Students are encouraged to travel while they are here. After traveling the east coast in the last year, he plans to head west this summer. His tentative plans are to see the U.S. from Chicago to Yellowstone.
When Schell goes back to Bavaria, he will continue his education and beekeeping. He will take many experiences and lessons back with him as well.
"This whole year was about going out of my comfort zone," Schell said. "I have had a lot of fun, learned a lot and met a lot of friends along the way."
— Contact Emily Rice at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice