Sister Cities


Courtesy of Addy Christensen

All 20 Sister Cities students at the Aspen Town Hall.

Imagine. One day you’re minding your own business walking around Aspen with some friends. You hear your phone buzz and see notifications flash across the screen. You do a double take as the screen unlocks and there’s a single email that catches your undivided attention. Holding your breath, you open the email. You have been selected by Aspen Sister Cities to explore a whole new country with kids in your school you barely know and a couple of teachers, for two entire weeks. You don’t speak the language, have never tried the food, and you’ll be staying with complete strangers.
On top of everything else, your decision must be confirmed in only a matter of days. Your friends walk ahead, and notice your feet have slowed automatically, as if they too are considering the options. Do you go or not?
You’re scared, no you’re terrified. Anxiety shoots through your body and your stomach feels like it’s doing literal somersaults. You honestly didn’t think you would get a spot on the trip after hastily turning in your application and rushing through your interview. None of your friends got accepted, so you feel like you’d be alone and there is a no-technology policy. You think about how hard it might be to not call your parents or friends if you miss them and tell them everything about the trip.
Despite the fear you’re feeling, a burst of excitement rattles in your body. You think that this trip could be an amazing opportunity to see more of the world and gain new perspectives. Through the experience, you would see things you’ve only read about, try different cuisines, learn a new language, and maybe even hop on a train to Italy for the weekend. But most importantly, you would meet new people and create relationships that could last a lifetime. You decide to go with feelings of nervousness, excitement, and absolutely no idea of the incredible impact the trip will have on you.

The yearly Aspen Sister Cities high school exchange to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany took place in late March, the week before and of spring break. This is the first year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 that Sister Cities has been able to run its high school exchange.

10 students from Aspen High School traveled to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany on March 20th for a 2-week exchange program where they would learn about German culture, language, and much more. The 10 Aspen students ranged from grades 9-12 and were selected to stay with another 10 students from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and their families.

Throughout the trip, each student got to experience many opportunities. As a group the students traveled to places like Munich, students were able to attend school with their exchange partners, and individually spent time with their host families on the weekend. Many even traveled to Austria or Italy, both only a 45-minute drive from the German ski town. AHS senior Kiara Gonzalez had an amazing time with her German student, Berta Noguera. She was able to explore the towns of Garmisch and Grainua, see the beautiful Linderhof Castle, and grow closer to many people along the way.

“A highlight of Germany for me was being able to go on one last exciting trip before I leave for college and connecting with people not only from another culture but who were also at a different point in their lives compared to me. I learned that going through new experiences and being around unknown people is not as bad as it sounds and it’s amazing how fast you can form close relationships through these experiences with these people,” Gonzalez said.

The Sister Cities exchange much like Gonzalz’s experience, allowed students to step out of their comfort zones and do things that scared them. Everyone surprised themselves with how much they grew in this way in just over a month.

Suleyma Garcia-Olmedo was the second AHS senior on the trip and one of four upperclassmen. Like Gonzalez, she was surprised at how fast students formed friendships and how everyone in the group wanted to be together.

“This trip was a very valuable experience because of everyone’s attention to make every moment the best possible. No one was ever left behind and we spent so much time together in the past month. I definitely will remember the hard work and positive energy each and every one of the kids gave me throughout the trip,” Garcia-Olmedo said.

The Aspen to Garmisch-Partenkirchen Sister Cities exchange has gone on for over 50 years. Activities, teachers, and students have all changed throughout the years, yet the mission of these trips has always stayed the same; to promote peace, share ideas, and create relationships that last. The Aspen and German students got to experience this opportunity together and so they were the ones who determined how it impacted them. Talking to Gonzelz and Garcia-Olmedo as well as sophomore Julia Diaz, inclusion, friendship, and kindness were common themes of the trip.

“I made so many new friends and became so close with people in such a little amount of time. I know the connections we made will last a lifetime,” Diaz stated.

Spending time with everyone was an important aspect of the Aspen-Garmisch exchange. Yet, spending time with host families impacted the Aspen students as well. Oliver Kelly, a freshman at AHS loved staying and being with his host student, Thomas Schober. Kelly went to the Linderhof Palace in Ettal, Germany which is about 30 minutes away from Garmisch.

“I saw a guidebook for the Linderhof castle in Portuguese, and I read a few pages and chuckled a little to myself. I thought it was cool to see the pamphlet translated into my native language. Andrea, my host mom saw me pick it up, and without my knowing, she bought it and had Thomas bring it to me when he came to visit us. I hadn’t expected it and such a gesture gave me so much joy,” Kelly reminisced.

Kelly’s story is a testament to the goal of Aspen Sister Cities trips; love and friendship are possible with anyone and everyone. This trip gave everyone the opportunity to see that this mission is possible, that if we are kind the world can become a better place.

“I learned so much about myself, and how much I love the peaceful calm of a simple activity in a beautiful place. To me, a trip like this had immeasurable value. I gained so many friends and saw so much beauty. It was tremendously special,” Kelly said.