Retracing steps

Posted by PennStateGrassroots on July 22, 2010 

It's been a really long time since my last post. I mean, really long. My apologies. And this one is not directly related to advocacy for Penn State. But it does relate to Penn State's study abroad program (in which I was a participant as a Penn State undergrad) and to a new relationship between the Penn State Alumni Association and the alumni association at the University of Köln (Cologne), Germany.

Here's the story.

Way back in 1974, as a Penn State undergraduate, I was an exchange student at the University of Köln. With about eight or ten other Penn State students, I lived in a student village in a Köln suburb called Efferen and rode a streetcar several miles to a classroom building on campus, where we took all our classes together in a small seminar room.

We didn't study with other University students, but our classes were taught in German by full-time University of Köln professors: German language, German literature, sociology, and political science. It was a challenging but terrific experience, and the exchange rates being favorable at the time, we had money to travel on weekends and soak up lots of German culture first-hand as well.

Though some memories of the experience have faded, I'll never forget the University faculty members who taught us and the students I studied with. Also, I've never forgotten the look of that seminar room and the distinctive, open stairwell I trudged up so many times. But I’ve often wondered if I could find the building again.

blog post photo

Alan Janesch, in the University of Köln building in which he studied as an exchange student in 1974

On a recent vacation trip to Germany, I had an opportunity to try. In advance, I contacted Carolin Bausum, the enthusiastic, self-assured, super-helpful director of the University of Köln’s alumni office. She obviously had done hours of research related to my query and took several hours out of her day when we arrived in Köln, taking us from building to building.

It was unbelievable to me how much time and effort she was putting into the quest. “Dad,” my son said to me later, “it was like you were her boss.” Later in the day, after I mentioned almost by chance the name of a faculty member who’d been involved in the exchange program, I could see some kind of connection being made inside Carolin’s head, and she took us to meet her boss. They chatted briefly and he gave us directions to a building he thought might be the one.

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Alan Janesch with Carolin Bausum, director of the University of Köln 's alumni office

Bingo. I recognized the stairwell right away and my son Nik obligingly took photos of me inside the building and with Carolin outside the building. I had a lot of fun that day and now I have a new colleague in Germany. We're staying in touch, and if Carolin ever comes to Penn State, I'll be glad to walk her all over this campus.

-- Alan Janesch, director, Penn State Grassroots Network

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