I couldn’t sleep. It was the night before my first trip to Germany and I had no idea what to expect. Thoughts flooded my mind as I frantically fought against the rising fear that I had forgotten to pack some crucial article of clothing or essential toiletry item. Getting up one final time, I wandered into my living room, half-asleep, and checked again to make sure my luggage was in place, as if it would run away if I left it alone too long. With a sigh of relief, I surveyed the area and knew that everything was set for departure- except the clock. Quickly, I settled back into the comfort of my bed, closed my eyes and let dreams take place of memory. I did it. All the months of effort, planning and discussion were finally realized at this moment. But nothing could fully prepare me for the adventure ahead. Nor could the fact I had left my soap and shampoo on the counter instead of my bag…
I first learned about the Transatlantic Outreach Program through a friend who had been involved in it previously. Basically the TOP program is a strategic partnership between the German government and several important German corporations including Siemens, Robert Bosch Stiftung, and Deutsche Bank which is run by the Goethe-Institut in Washington DC. The goal of the TOP program is to gather teachers from around the United States and Canada and to take them to Germany for two week educational tours, focusing on German history, culture and contemporary politics as well. Not only would the chance to go on such an endeavor be exciting enough, but the organization offers to cover the entire cost of the trip- That’s right- everything. If selected, the first two days we would travel to the Institut itself for orientation and then we would depart for Germany and spend the rest of the two weeks taking in multiple cities and topics of interest in German life.
When I first applied to TOP, I assumed my odds of getting an opportunity to travel to Germany would be somewhat low. After all, I’ve only taught for five years now and the process for getting selected was quite arduous: several short essay questions, one longer piece of writing, lesson plans, letters of recommendation and qualifications were all taken into account. So once I learned I was selected I was ecstatic beyond belief! This would be the opportunity of a lifetime- especially for me considering that I had never even been out of the United States before (save Canada, which really doesn’t count when you live in Detroit). And here I was, laying down in my bed, pretending to sleep all the while ticking down the minutes until I would be up in the air and out into the great beyond.
And just like that, time blurs- alarm rings wake up clean up speed to the airport kiss girlfriend goodbye exchange money wait for the flight final bathroom break board the plane check the time clenched stomach at liftoff soar through the air and after hours of flying, landing, layovers and train rides I finally reached Washington DC, ready to begin my adventure.
Navigating a major city like Washington DC can be tough- luckily our group leader, Wood Powell, took out the guesswork with his directions on exactly where to go and what to do once we first arrived. After I got my bags and found my way to the hotel, a miracle in itself, I was told that the rooms would not be ready for another hour, but luckily I spotted other group members stuck in the same situation so we quickly took time to introduce ourselves.
Our group was 17 members total, and aside from reading a blurb about each teacher in the bio, I had no idea what to expect. Luckily everyone got along right away which was a huge relief. Though we hailed from all parts of the country (and Canada), everyone taught social studies in some form and there were representatives for every age of students. The majority of us were also younger, and ALL of us were young in spirit, which was exciting knowing that we in for a great time when we toured the country.
Included below is a description of the different members of our crew- the Sweet 16:
Wood: Great leader, fun, flexible, driven- super insightful into the ins and outs of modern Germany.
Jan: Wood’s assistant and newest member of the TOP team. Warm, insightful and very familiar with Germany life based on her experience with the language and living in the country.
Norma: Such a fun and friendly person, every time we shared a moment it was a privilege for me.
Amber: Adventurous but responsible- really got the most out of her time on the trip and always was up for something new. Can’t forget when we got lost with Rob riding around Regensburg!
Ruth: Curious and involved in every group activity, always greeted you with a warm hello and wasn’t afraid to brave the streets of Germany on her own when she wanted to.
Jake: Expert at attempted German and always full of knowledge and humor- a wonderful ally on our journey. Quite an earful (pun intended).
Liz: Kind and fun, always friendly and ready for adventure. Privilege to have someone with her knowledge and experience on the team.
Trisha: Sweet T is the life of the party and isn’t afraid to have fun. It was a privilege to share so many laughs and moments together. True ninja. Never met someone who was able to disappear, fall asleep, or pop in at any moment.
Rob Powers: Needs two names to describe this awesome man among men. Incredible humor and the best Kostanza “leave-them-laughing” routine I’ve ever seen. Enemy of bees.
Scott: Nicest person of all time? Yep. On his own awesome path and I am glad to be a part of it.
Eric: Its funny how great friendships can form anywhere. It’s also funny that someone can drink beer with Sprite mixed in. Friend for years to come and excellent rapper and amateur photographer.
Robin: Robin is great not just because she is from Canada, but also because she is incredibly friendly, fun and apparently a professional volleyball player and moose enthusiast.
Johanna: Amazing person- kind, funny, willing to roll with the group yet very responsible. One of the most put-together people I have met and always brought life and laughter to the group. Christine Webb: Life-twin? One of my inspirations for writing again! Incredibly classy and a blast to hang out with. I have no idea how she is able to do twice what I can in the same span of a day but I am glad we got to spend a lot of time and laughs together on this trip. Great at wearing hats and might be related to Michael Jackson.
Shaw: Hilarious. I think we shared a joke every day of the trip. Great personality and fun to be around, always happy and full of great ideas.
Lauren: The sweetest, most positive person on the trip- we shared a lot of laughs and seat assignments throughout. Always shared a fun idea, a laugh, or a kind word. Queen of group games.
With introductions aside, our first night we got to know each other better and later on, several of us hit the town at a famous bar called Churchkeys in DC.
The Goethe Institut was a wonderful experience for our group throughout. DC provided a fun and relaxed atmosphere to get to know everyone in the group and lay the groundwork for our trip. There we learned the basics of modern Germany and its current issues regarding immigration- the main topic for our trip. But as great as it was, everyone was itching to go abroad, and by Saturday evening, we couldn’t wait to get out off of the ground and into the sky…
The TOP 6 group- ready to depart for Germany!