The reason I’m in Germany in the first place is because I received a scholarship from the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst (or German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD). In case you don’t know what that means, it’s basically like a Fulbright, except instead of being supported by the American taxpayers, my research is being funded by the Germans. So, you’re welcome, American friends. I settled for a less prestigious program just for you 😉
The DAAD is headquartered in Bonn (the old capital city of West Germany), which really isn’t that big of a city, so our scholarship group’s orientation was held in the nearby city of Köln (Cologne, in English). The group is made up of grantees from Canada and the USA, and there were about 120 of us. That’s a lot of people, and I definitely didn’t get to meet everyone, but everyone I did meet was lovely.
If my Plan II education prepared me for anything, it was this weekend. I was able to have conversations with Classics scholars and engineers alike, asking them about their research and answering their questions about mine. We found common bonds: hometowns in the US, grievances with the German system, love of Köln’s signature beer, Kölsch.
I really enjoyed my time with the other Stipendiaten. It was clear that everyone there (whether they were undergrad students, master’s students, PhD candidates, or people like me who are just along for the ride) was brilliant and passionate about what they do. I had an awesome discussion with a recent Stanford grad studying in Münster about the impact that studying the liberal arts has had on our life decisions, and the fact that being in Germany for a year is going to give us a lot of perspective about what we really want to do in the future. I was able to commiserate about the bureaucracy involved in attending school in Germany, hear about other people’s host cities, and swap travel stories. It was totally weird to be speaking English, with Americans, in the middle of Germany, but it was awesome to be able to interact with so many different people.
The world is a small place, and the more you travel, the more you realize that fact. I met a guy who got his Master’s from UW-Madison, where I will be in a year, who offered me some advice about finding housing. I also met someone from Kutztown, PA, within hailing distance from where I was born and grew up, and (finally!) the only other grantee from Dresden!! We were very relieved to find each other… it’s lonely all the way over here in the east!
Throughout the weekend, we had several informational sessions that educated us about different facets of the program and life in Germany. We heard a general summary of the DAAD’s programming and objectives, and we learned about the landscape of higher education and research in Germany. The DAAD staff members tried to answer our questions about funding, bureaucracy, etc. as patiently as possible. We also heard presentations from two Stipendiaten in their second year, offering some insight about what it’s like to live abroad and study in Germany.
As part of the program, we also got to take a guided tour of Köln together. I’m interspersing pictures throughout the post so you can see some of what I got to see. I had wanted to take a German tour, but alas, an English one was available and I went for it. It paid off, because our tour guide was highly amusing.
Köln is directly on the Rhine River and was once part of the Roman empire. That fact really informs a lot of the history of the city. It’s crazy how regional differences define German cities so much, but it’s true; the country has only been united as “Germany” since 1871, and each little kingdom or principality had already spent hundreds of years developing its own customs, cuisine, language….
The most famous landmark in Köln is the cathedral, the Kölner Dom. It has an incredibly complicated history–because of a string of political and religious events, it was completed in the 19th century (many thanks to Napoleon), about 500 years after its foundation was laid. It is said to house relics of the 3 wise men. It is unbelievably large, incredibly intricate, and absolutely beautiful.