When Rose LaBay starts her senior year in the fall, it will be in a country she’s never been to, surrounded by people speaking a language she doesn’t know.
And she could not be more excited.
The Pine Tree student will spend her senior year studying abroad in Bosnia, an Eastern European country. LaBay will be on a scholarship from the YES Abroad program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department.
LaBay wants to study international relations in college and pursue a career in that field. Her passion for that and Eastern European culture led her to the opportunity.
She also had help with the application process, she said. Her U.S. history teacher, Collin Robertson, guided her.
“He has done the most for me,” she said. “He’s been such a great supporter, and he wrote my recommendation for me. I really hope that I can get a couple of Skype sessions in his government class.”
Roberston said he and LaBay bonded over talking about news and politics. Once she told him about the application to study abroad, he said he knew he had to help her.
“As teachers, we have a lot of jobs,” he said. “But one of the most important ones is making sure our students get to where they want to be in life. This is probably one of the greatest achievements in my teaching career thus far.”
Robertson said he will miss LaBay a lot, and she has been an important student in his career.
“She’s an amazing student,” he said. “She’s bright and incredibly well-rounded. She doesn’t just know what’s going on at Pine Tree High School; she knows what’s going on around the world. She really is made for international relations.”
In Bosnia, LaBay will attend an International Baccalaureate school. Those credits will transfer to Pine Tree, so she still will be able to graduate from her local school.
“I won’t be able to walk across the stage,” she said. “I won’t be back in time for any of the senior things, but the way I look at it, I get to do a couple more things that my friends don’t. It’s worth it in the end.”
LaBay said she still does not know the identity of the family she will be staying with, and while that frightens her, she said she also is excited.
The only word in the Bosnian language that LaBay knows how to say is “hello,” which she said is still a struggle.
“To think in a year, I’ll be coming back fluent in a language is surreal,” she said. “Everything is surreal about it.”
Before leaving the United States, LaBay will spend two days in Washington, D.C., at an orientation, she said. She will meet other students in the program and visit the Bosnian Embassy.
“I’m just excited to immerse myself in the culture,” she said. “It’s scary to be thrown into the deep end, but I want to do it. I think everything that is really worth it has a little fear behind it.”
Her tentative departure date is Aug. 19, she said, just a couple of days before her classmates start school Aug. 21.
“Even if I can’t walk across the stage or go to my prom, I get to spend a year abroad in a country that I know is going to teach me lifelong lessons,” she said. “That’s something that is irreplaceable.”
Written by Kristen Berton, photo by Michael Kavazos