2018-05-09 / Local News

East sophomore earns spot in prestigious Germany program

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

AGE: 16

FAMILY: Parents Marcia and Larry; brother Sandy

SYNAGOGUE: Cong. M’kor Shalom

HOMETOWN: Cherry Hill

FAVORITE MUSIC: Jazz

HOBBIES: Travel, photography, volunteering with M’kor Shalom and Cherry Hill’s Junior Police Academy

During the week before Passover, sixteen-year-old Matty Liebman was waiting for news about two very different overseas travel opportunities.

It was just days before his long-anticipated M’kor Shalom confirmation trip to Israel, but Matty’s participation in the trip was far from certain. He had fractured his foot playing basketball in gym class on March 23 -- the very day that the group was to be honored during Shabbat services. Unable to walk on his broken foot, he hobbled up to the bima on crutches to receive a traveler’s prayer with his class. 

Still, there was no time to worry about whether or not he would be able to go to Israel. The next morning Matty would be interviewing for a coveted spot with a prestigious study program in Germany.

Less than a week later -- on the same day he learned that his injury would prevent him from going to Israel -- Matty found out he was selected as one of 44 American students chosen to participate in an international study-abroad trip in Germany.

“Of course he was devastated and upset about Israel, but as we’ve been saying: when one door closes, another one opens up,” said Marcia Liebman, Matty’s mother. “We are very proud of Matty and excited for him. This award is a wonderful opportunity and it will provide a rich and immersive cultural experience that will impact him in so many ways.”

Matty agreed. “I really wanted to experience another culture,” he said. “I know some of the language and I’ll be able to apply it in a way I wouldn’t be able to do here.”

That is definitely the point of the American Association of Teachers of German study trip, now in its 58 th year and made possible through a grant from the Federal Republic of Germany. Every year, some 20,000 American high school students take a national qualifying exam. Sophomores, juniors and seniors who score in the top 10 percent are invited to interview for the trip.

In truth, Matty has been preparing for this moment since he took the German test last year as a ninth-grader and discovered, to his surprise, that he had a real aptitude for German -- a language no one in his family speaks and that he only started studying that school year.

 “I had scored the highest in South Jersey for that level,” he said. “I didn’t really know I was that far ahead until got my score back.”

With the study abroad program as the carrot, Matty decided to really apply himself. Since last summer, he noted, he has been using a free App called “Duolingo” every night to reinforce his learning. At the time of his interview with the Voice in early April, he had used it for 310 days straight.

The work paid off as Matty aced the exam, scoring a 97 percent before the curve was applied. Next, to prepare for the interview, he met afterschool with his own German teacher Herr Andrew Graff to practice.

Matty wasn’t nervous during the interview. 

“They were really nice and asked me questions both in German and English and I had a conversation with them,” he said. “I felt like I did the best I could.”

His best turned out to be impressive. Frau Angela Bacher, one of the teachers that interviewed and recommended him for the award, wrote: “I speak for everyone on the committee when I tell you that we were truly blown away by both your ability and willingness to communicate to us in German.”

The only award winner in South Jersey, Matty will be traveling to Germany on June 20 to meet up with the program in Southern Germany. The students will be staying with host families and attending gymnasium (high school) with a host brother or sister for two weeks of classes as well as for excursions to nearby cities, museums, castles and monuments. While the students are expected to take regular classes with their host sibling, they will also receive individualized German lessons. Their last week will be spent in Berlin with 450 students from around the world.

While the prognosis looks good that his leg will be fully healed by the trip, Matty is looking forward to getting word about his host family. According to the AATG website, effort is made to match students with host siblings with similar interest. Matty noted his passion for music (he has played trumpet since elementary school and recently taught himself French horn), and building with LEGOs. He also likes to travel and is an avid photographer. Sunday mornings are spent at M’kor where he is a Madrikh or classroom helper.

When Matty returns from Germany he will be busy as he was accepted into MEDacademy at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. And the family is looking into other opportunities for future Israel trips.

So yes, one door closed, but many others are wide open.

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