An ongoing series of reports, articles, and news items about the Arlington
Sister City Association's programs and activities, plus news from its Sister Cities

                   November 5, 2018
To Aachen with Love: Summer of Adventures with New German Friends

Editor's Note: Twenty-one students and two chaperones from Arlington went to Aachen, Germany in July for the outbound segment of the 2018 Arlington-Aachen High School Exchange. In this article trip leader Cecilia Allen and student Michael Farmer share their experiences. In 2019, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first group of Arlington high school students traveling on the exchange trip to Aachen. The application materials for Arlington high school students considering participating in the July 2019 trip are available HERE

Impressions of a Trip Leader

by Cecilia Allen

This past July, two Arlington Public Schools teachers led 21 Arlington teens on a cultural exchange to Aachen, Germany as part of the Arlington Sister City Association High School Exchange programs.  This exchange trip began  with a scavenger hunt in the city center of Aachen among Roman ruins, and included visits to the RWTH (Aachen's Technical University), the Charlemagne museum, and the impressive Aachen Cathedral.

In 2018 Aachen celebrated 40 years of the Aachen Cathedral as a World Heritage site.

As representatives of Arlington, we were warmly welcomed to Aachen in the Rathaus, which serves as the City Hall of Aachen.  There was a reception to thank our students for taking the time to serve as ambassadors of both communities and a tour of the magnificent hall which has welcomed many dignitaries over the years. 

Welcome reception at the City Hall of Aachen

Due to Aachen's proximity to Belgium and the Netherlands,the group had ample opportunities to explore the region, which included touring the caves in Maastricht, taking a bike trip to Belgium and a hike to the Dreil√§nderpunkt, where the three countries meet.

Students were housed with German peers in a family setting and learned much about the local traditions and shared interests that both communities share. Many of the friendships that were forged will continue to blossom over the years.

Arlington teens and their hosts touching the border of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands: the Dreiländerpunkt

German students joined their American counterparts after their school year ended and came along for the tours to Maastricht, Cologne, Bonn and Berlin. In Bonn, we toured the Haus der Geschichte, a museum with an impressive exhibit about World War II that helped the American students understand not only World War II but subsequent decades of Germany history up to to the present. Later, after we had traveled by train across Germany to Berlin, students had another chance to experience history first-hand by touring the Berlin Wall by bike and visiting Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.

Arlington and Aachen students resting at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

By the end of the trip, the Arlington students had developed confidence as travelers and had acquired a new appreciation of Germany and the European Union while bonding with their German friends. Although the goodbyes were difficult, we knew we had something to look forward to as we will be welcoming our German friends in Arlington for the inbound segment of the exchange in October. The world that we live in today is much smaller and kinder, thanks in part to opportunities such as these that allow young people to reflect on who they are as world citizens and provide the chance to bridge cultural gaps and forge a better world through friendship.
Impressions of an Arlington Teen

by Michael Farmer

This past July I participated in the outbound portion of the Arlington-Aachen high school exchange. This trip to Germany was among the most interesting and enjoyable experiences of my life. Throughout it I gained countless insights into how German and American culture differ, intersect, and overlap. 

Group picture from the day trip to Maastricht

This journey offered me numerous opportunities to experience the world in ways I couldn't have in Arlington. For example, living with a family from a foreign country that I had never met before was an intimidating prospect at first, but my time with them proved to be one of the best aspects of the exchange. The trip also offered me the chance to make new friends and connections. To my surprise I became extremely close friends with students from both the Arlington and Aachen groups. In fact, by the end of the trip, every American had become good friends with at least one other German student aside from their host.

Michael Farmer performing with a band of street performers in Maastricht

Every day of the program was filled with fun and challenging activities like the Kletterwald climbing course, the bike ride to Belgium, and the garden maze, as well as interesting and informative activities like our tour of the Aachen Cathedral, the visit to RWTH Aachen University, and the underground cave tour in Maastricht. These are only a small number of the highlights.

Michael and his friend George enjoying their first evening in Berlin

Although the scheduled activities were extremely enjoy able, some of the most memorable moments of my trip were entirely unexpected and unplanned. Just spending time with the group and learning about the small idiosyncrasies and details of Aachen was very entertaining. I came across so many friendly strangers that were all as eager to talk with me about myself and my country as I was to talk to them about themselves and their country. For me these strangers-turned-friends were possibly the most valuable component of my exchange program. By the end of it I was not prepared to  leave, but was comforted knowing that I would see my new German friends again in a few months when they visit Arlington.

Cecilia Allen teaches at H-B Woodl awn Secondary Program in Arlington.

Michael Farmer is a junior at Wakefield High School in Arlington.

The Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA) is a nonprofit organization established in 1993. ASCA works to enhance and promote Arlington's international profile and foster productive exchanges in education, commerce, culture, and the arts.