A Gap Year in Germany: How One Creek Alumna Found Her Passion in Medicine


Courtesy of Leah Byrne

Creek alumna Audrey Dow (right) and fellow CBYX participants Leah Byrne (center) and Jaden Leatherman (left) visit the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Participants in the program are sometimes able to travel around Europe on weekends, despite the fact that most of the participants’ time is spent in Germany learning and interning. “We traveled all around Europe [and] I went to Berlin, which was far away from where I was in the South, Croatia, Italy, Greece, and Serbia, so a lot of [different] places,” Dow said.

Emily Gleason, Features Editor

It was her first time living away from her parents for more than a few weeks, and 2021 Creek alumna Audrey Dow, 19, wasn’t even living in the same country as them. She was 5000 miles away in Germany. 

Dow applied and was accepted to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship program, which is run through the US State Department and the German Bundestag, after she graduated.

Although Dow was supposed to live with two different host families, she ended up living with five as she attended German classes, a local high school, interned at a hospital, a private practice plastic surgery clinic, and worked at a restaurant throughout the year. 

Along the way, Dow found a passion she has decided to pursue. 

“I was always interested in the medical field [and] that’s why I chose those internships,” Dow said. “[The internships] really helped me know that I can handle blood [and] patients, and it helped me get excited. Now, I’m super passionate about [medicine].”

While Dow interned at the hospital she learned what it would be like to work as a Certified Nursing Assistant, which provides patients with basic living and healthcare needs under the direction of a Registered Nurse. At the private plastic surgery clinic, she was able to scrub in in surgeries to help take notes and assess vitals for patients. 

Fort Collins native Leah Byrne, 19, also attended the CBYX program and interned at a dental office as a dental hygienist and shadowed a dentist. She also worked in accounting and business management for an American brewery company, worked as an apprentice for a German brewing company, and became a student teacher at a German school teaching students with disabilities.

Since prior German language skills are not required to be accepted in the program, all participants must attend two months of language classes together before staying with different host families all over the country while they attend local high schools and intern. 

“I think [the classes were] really valuable for [the] transition to the culture because you’re in Germany, learning from Germans, but you’re still surrounded by other 18 year old Americans that are in the same position that you are,” Byrne said. 

It is a requirement of the program for everyone to have already graduated from high school the year prior to attending the program. 

Both Dow and Byrne have family members who took gap years, and each decided to take a gap year to think more about what she would like to pursue after high school.

“[In] second grade I remember telling one of my teachers that I was going to be an exchange student to Germany after high school which [was] so random and specific,” Byrne said. “I can’t even believe that it actually worked out.” 

Now, Dow will be a freshman at the University of Denver and plans on becoming a physician assistant. She is currently taking EMT classes and aims to be licensed by January. Byrne will be a freshman at Oregon State University where she plans on studying neuroscience, and she would like to eventually go into research for people with neurological and physical disabilities. 

The CBYX scholarship program has three different programs that offer high school students and young professionals a chance to study or work abroad and recent high school graduates a chance to explore different vocational opportunities. 

“You’re an adult in this program, so they want you to have independence with choosing [internships],” Dow said. “It’s the first time being your own person.”

 After her time in Germany, Dow feels prepared to go to college. 

“Now that I went away for a year, I know I can do it,” Dow said. “So I don’t feel bad about staying close to home. I might have been a little disappointed last year.”