Alex Young


Stanford in Berlin, Spring 2017-18
Major: Chemical Engineering
Minor: German Studies
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This was perhaps the most touristy thing I did in my time abroad - and was also one of the best weekends. We went to Munich in traditional Bavarian garb and attended Springfest, which is a lead-up event to Oktoberfest. The beer halls were one of the most fun environments I've ever been in.


Why did you choose to study abroad in Berlin?

I chose Berlin in large part because of my Jewish heritage. Both of my grandfather's parents were born in Germany and fled the Nazis, so I grew up with a very negative perception of Germany. As I got older, I started hearing about German engineering, the country's clean energy revolution, and Berlin's open and international culture. I realized that I had an extremely narrow view of what Germany was. I wanted to experience the country for myself, in part to honor and bear witness to the tragedy that affected my family so closely, and in part to move forward in my relationship with it, and to experience it for what it is now. I also wanted to see how Germany and Germans dealt with their past, and how that manifested itself in everyday life.

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Berlin?

I honestly didn't come in with that many expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by my host mother's warmness, as I had been told Germans can be a bit cold. I was also surprised by how beautiful the Stanford Villa is, and by the strong relationships I was able to build with the staff at the Villa. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the amazing weather, but I'm told that our spring quarter was warmer than usual.

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Berlin?

I essentially completed my German Studies minor in Berlin, and was able to do so through immersive and authentically German courses. My German also improved quite a bit, and I was able to complete my language requirement in two quarters as opposed to three. I also did an independent study with the faculty in residence, who was an incredible mentor. Through this, I was able to explore a topic in my own field of study that related directly to Berlin. It was also a great opportunity to work closely with a professor who was freed from most of his on-campus responsibilities and could focus in on my work.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

I learned a lot about myself while studying abroad. I had never lived in a big city before Berlin, and I never imagined I would. Through living there, however, I realized I love the connectedness of the big city. There is always something happening and someone to go with. I would find live music on my walks home, make friends with the other people in line for clubs, and people-watch on the U-Bahn. There was never a dull moment, and it made me realize why people love urban life. I also used Berlin as an opportunity to learn about myself stylistically. I shaved my head while there, and started dressing differently. It was a really nice opportunity to try out a new style without fear of judgment because very few people I knew were there and nothing is really crazy in Berlin.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

The most difficult time for me abroad was my best friend's 21st birthday. She was back on campus celebrating with all our friends, and with the time zones it was difficult to find a good time to talk. I felt really far from my friends and family that day, and questioned what I was doing going off on my own in such a big way. But I eventually got in touch with her and when we talked it was as if there was no distance between us at all, and I realized that I wasn't abandoning home by being in Berlin for 6 months, and I wouldn't be abandoning home even if I followed through with my plans to move to Berlin permanently. Home is not a static place, and adding Berlin to the list of places I call home takes nothing away from my home in Austin (TX) or my home in California.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

German directness was a bit startling at first, although I had been warned about it before arriving. The best example is the German response to “wie geht’s?”, the equivalent of “what’s up?” or “how’s it going?” Often this question is met with a sigh, and a long explanation of the day’s events. Germans also don’t tend to offer praise as freely, which took a bit of getting used to. When a German says something is okay, it’s considered a compliment. Overall, though, I wouldn’t say Berlin was a culture shock for me. It’s a very international city, and doesn’t have as much German character as a place like Munich or Dresden.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Berlin?

My favorite part of everyday life was finding new restaurants and coffee shops to try. Berlin has so many different types of food, and most of it is “gut und günstig” (good and cheap). Some of the coffee shops became favorite work spots, and I also loved going to those and chatting with the waiters in German. Our favorite late-night café was open until midnight, and when we worked there until closing, the owner would occasionally give us the day’s leftover bread and fruit. I also loved popping into random shops that caught my eye and just wandering through. There is so much good vintage and second-hand shopping in Berlin, and I always loved to see the little trinkets people sold second-hand.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Berlin?

One of my most memorable days in Berlin was when we all went to Schlachtensee. Almost the entire program went and it was absolutely beautiful out. We sat and talked and met some great Berliners, went swimming, learned new beer sports, and watched the sun set. It was toward the beginning of the quarter, so I got to know people from the program a lot better, and I fell super in love with Berlin. It was the first time I started to settle in and feel at home in the city.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Independent, dynamic, delicious, cheap, adventurous

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Berlin?

Tutti Island Falloumi! Falafel and halloumi in a pita smothered in hummus and some other delicious sauces that I never learned the names of. And it's only $3.50! Berlin, you are arm aber sexy (the unofficial motto of the city, poor but sexy).

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

My baby blanket! It's always nice to have a piece of home when you're so far away.

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Berlin?

The Dawlins! They're an awesome girl band who I saw rocking out at Mauer Park one Sunday. Definitely check them out.