A Little Trip to Köln

Authored By:

Zoe S.

About three weeks ago I got the chance to visit the beautiful city of Köln on a several-day trip with other high school students from CIEE. We stayed overnight in a hostel, and during the day we could explore the shops, museums, and cafes that Köln had to offer. At first, I thought Köln might be a bit like the other big cities I’ve been able to visit in Germany. 

The trip to Köln, however, was everything I wasn’t expecting. I’ve discovered the unexpected is a pretty common theme for this exchange year. Living in Germany is a bit like putting on your winter coat from last year and stuffing your hands in your pockets to see what you left from last winter. Es ist immer wieder eine Überraschung (It is always a surprise)! Sometimes you find twenty bucks and that library card you thought you’d lost, sometimes you find a chewed-up piece of gum. 

The Deutsche Bahn is my own personal chewed-up piece of gum.

The trip to Köln, on the other hand, held many pleasant and unexpected surprises for me!

The first surprise was that I did not expect the architecture in Köln to be so inexplicably beautiful. It’s one thing to read “The Kölner Dom is the second highest church in the world”, and it’s another thing to be right there, standing at the bottom of the building. I had the kind of feeling you get when you gaze up at the night sky on a warm summer night, and you look at all the stars and realize the world you live in is so much more complex than you thought. Sometimes I think I’ve experienced so much and felt so much. That moment standing next to the Kölner Dom taught me I hadn’t even seen half of it. 

Another lovely surprise was getting to meet other exchange students from around the world who were also from Experiment. It was so nice to be able to meet people who have always had the same craving as you to see the world and experience more. It’s even more beautiful when they come from completely different backgrounds and perspectives. One of my roommates in Köln was an exchange student from Italy, and although we only spent 3 days together, I learned so much from her. We decided Deutsch was the best way for us to communicate. Although neither of us is fluent in Deutsch, it was such a thrill to be able to connect with someone and understand someone in a completely different language. She told me a lot of things about Italian culture, including the Italian word for “smoke bombs”, which is fumogeni.

Finally, one of the best surprises was being able to reconnect with American exchange students from my language camp in Bad Laasphe, which seems so far in the past now. Even though we only lived together for a month, some of my best friendships are with the people I met at Language Camp (shout out Room 39). There are incandescently perfect connections I am so lucky to have made here in Germany, and I know I will never forget the memories and experiences we’ve made together. 

My little trip to Köln was the perfect opening to the Fall season. The autumn months are growing colder by the day. It is so much colder here in Germany than I expected. Another Überraschung!

A couple of days ago I received a letter from my friend in the USA. She wrote me 11 letters if you can believe it or not, and it was really nice to hear about the little things that made her day, even if we’re so far apart. She reminded me it pays off once in a while to look around for the wonderful little things and be grateful I’m living the life I’d dreamed of for so long. It gave me a lot of encouragement to know that no matter how difficult a situation is, there is always something that you can appreciate. Writing this piece about Köln made me realize how much I took for granted during the trip.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which is just around the corner as I write this, I’m thankful to be alive and to be able to breathe the cool, fresh air when I step outside. 

Ciao ciao for now!