Semester abroad makes Germany feel like home


Maggie Duggan, ’17, stands on top of the Loreley, a fabled cliff south of Koblenz, Germany. The Loreley is a siren who lures sailors into the rocks. Duggan is studying abroad in Cologne, Germany.

This week marks the official halfway point of my time abroad. Just last week, I toured the country of Italy, visiting Venice, Florence and Rome. The week before, I spent time in Berlin, Germany: before that various other cities in Germany and a spontaneous weekend in Amsterdam. In the next two months of my stay I plan to travel even more. Since arriving at the Pittsburgh airport at nine in the morning on Aug. 26, 2015, I cannot even count the amount of train stations, airports, bus stops and subway platforms I have crossed. With such a large amount of travel time, one has the opportunity to think, a lot. My flight back to Cologne from Rome proved no different. As I pressed my face against the glass, I watched the lights of Italy twinkle below and the moon rise over the horizon greeting us with its golden gaze, and began to reflect over my journey thus far.

Throughout my last day in Rome, at the end of my week long trip discovering Italy with a friend, I remember repeatedly telling her how I couldn’t wait to “go home”. Home being Cologne, Germany, a city I’ve lived in for a little over two months.

It is not like me to describe a place as home very often. I have my real home – as in my humble abode in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as in Allegheny College and now Cologne.

To me, a home is a place where I feel absolutely and 100 percent comfortable with my surroundings and navigating through them. I feel as though I have gotten to that point here, and it is a peaceful feeling. I am no longer a tourist (which I abhor only because I like to sink my teeth into whatever culture I am experiencing), and I feel completely situated. As I say this, I have to start thinking about coming home in a few weeks.

When I first met my host family, I remember crying to my mom about how quiet they were. Germans are quiet people and that was something that was difficult for me, a louder, vivacious person, to adapt to. I was not sure how to handle myself. But my mother, being the amazing person that she is, reassured me over the phone that sometimes it is the quietest ones who make the most lasting impressions and stick with us through thick and thin.

It took me a couple of weeks to chip away at getting to know my host family, and I do not regret it for a second. I quickly found that family life in Germany is uncannily similar to the United States, and because of this, my walls also slowly began to break down. Although they have three kids around mine and my brothers’ ages, my host parents treat me like I am an adult and give me more freedom than I am used to. They let me make my experience with them be the experience that I make it and I am thankful for that. Such a quantity of personal freedom, which can be overwhelming at times, challenged and commanded me to be an extrovert in more ways than I already am.

Over the course of my two relatively short months here, I have visited three foreign countries, gotten lost in seven different cities, integrated myself into a brand new culture, enhanced my linguistic skills and met countless new people. I saw the Roman Colosseum both in person and from the window of an airplane, woke up with a view of the Alps in front of me, learned polite Dutch phrases from a Hollander, met Michaelangelo’s David, stayed the night in a deconsecrated convent and had the editor-in-chief of German Vogue tell me that my outfit was chic. I sat in a class of 20-something other students, all from almost every other corner of the Earth and we learned not only the German language and culture together, but about each other and about the world in which we live. Every day, I learn more than I ever could in a college classroom.

I am integrating myself into a global community and I am learning how to trust myself in a manner that allows me to affirm who I am as a person while simultaneously living open-mindedly in the presence of other cultures. I have never felt so equally confident in and unsure of myself all at once, and never in my life have I put so much trust or faith in the woman I am.

The first weekend of my four month long stay in Germany, my program embarked on an excursion to the Loreley, a cliff south of the city of Koblenz in the romantic Rhine. I stood at the top of a mountain, surrounded by greenery while my eyes drank in the pale blue sky and the water below. The wind wove its way between my fingers, clasping my hands in assurance that I am in the right place and that adventure awaits. I tasted the potential and the opportunity this new land had to offer me, attempting to satiate a serious, insatiable case of wanderlust. I inhaled deeply, embracing the peaceful silence, and remembered why I am here. German is a part of who I am, and every day being here feels more real. I feel more German. In the end, there really is not a place I would rather be.

As we descended over the city of Cologne, I peered out the window to my right. The Kölner Dom, lit up in all of its majestic, gothic glory, shone like a beacon in the crisp clear autumn night.

I’m home.