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Note: This was part of a book about German American history, traditions, festivals and recipes that Penfield Books of Iowa City published in 2013. Published here with the writer’s permission.
By Mary Sharp
Christoph Trappe was sixteen years old when he left Düsseldorf, Germany, in 1995 and moved half a world away to go to high school in Iowa City, Iowa.
He’s now 35, a U.S. citizen, and one of the top young professionals in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
When Christoph arrived in the United States, he was a foreign exchange student at Iowa City West High School. He played football there two years and was recruited to continue playing at the University of Iowa, where he was a scholarship player for four years, graduating with a degree in journalism in 2001.
Christoph worked for daily newspapers in Muscatine, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and then for a video training company. He became a U.S. citizen in 2008 and is now vice president of communications and innovation for United Way of East Central Iowa in Cedar Rapids.
He also married Rachel Ott, and their daughter Sophie is now five.
Which has to count as quite a story in anyone’s book.
Christoph is a big guy and started getting interested in American football when he was thirteen and playing club games in Germany, where he met some U.S. football players, including former Iowa Hawkeyes. Then he saw Joe Montana and the 49ers play a pre-season NFL game in Berlin.
“I was hooked,” he says.
While lifting weights at Rheinstadion (Rhine Stadium), he became interested in how one man always seemed to be telling stories. Christoph found out the man was a journalist and thought that might be something he’d like to do, too.
So his thinking became two-pronged. If he wanted to play football, he needed to move to the United States. If he went to the United States, he needed to learn English. There were two ways to do that, his teacher in Duisburg told him: Study English vocabulary really hard or move to the United States.
So moving to the United States made sense, and Christoph began investigating becoming a foreign exchange student.
It took a while, but he remembers the day he got the phone call telling him that Tony and Chris Forcucci in Iowa City would be his host family. At that exact moment, he says, he was wearing an Iowa Hawkeyes’ shirt given to him by former Hawk linebacker John Hartlieb.
The Forcuccis told Christoph they lived just down the street from Kinnick Stadium, where the Hawkeyes play their home games.
It took a year to make all the arrangements. He went through an orientation where the U.S.-bound students were encouraged to smile a lot–“to show your teeth”–in a country where, Christoph says, he found most people “very friendly.”
Was it hard to make the decision to leave Germany and live abroad?
“Not really,” Christoph says. “I would have kicked myself all my life had I not taken the opportunity.
“When I put on that (Hawkeye) uniform and went on the field, I thought, ‘I’m on a Division I football team.’ How does that not outrank being at home, joining the military for two years, and then trying to get back in that groove? Here, I might make it to the NFL, I might not. But, at the very least, I’m going to get an education. So there really wasn’t anything negative that you could foresee.
“These are the things you have to think about–what’s important in your life? What kind of advice would you give your best friend if they had to make the same decision?”
How about majoring in journalism when English is your second language?
Again, not a problem.
“I didn’t go into journalism for the writing,” Christoph says. “I’m not a ‘writer,’ not a journalist, not even a reporter, though I’ve worked as one. I’m a story teller, a community builder.”
That said, the path to U.S. citizenship was “a lot of work,” he adds. “It takes a long time, it’s complicated, it’s expensive.”
But, again, it was a clear-cut choice.
“You live here. This is where your life is. Why wouldn’t you do it?”
This was first published in 2013 and reposted in 2019 with a podcast.