Angel Pan - Stanford in Berlin
Major: Computer Science
College year while abroad: Sophmore
About the photo: Most of the photos I take are of other people and scenery so I couldn't actually find a photo with me in it. This photo was taken in my homestay. It's a photo of the view I had sitting at the glass table in my bedroom, where I would typically eat my meals or do my work. Even though this photo was taken on the first day, it often reminds me of the wonderful times I had in Berlin and in my homestay.
Questions and Answers with Angel
Why did you choose to study abroad in Berlin?
Growing up in a homogeneous environment back home, I did not really get the chance to learn about different cultures, other from widely circulated stereotypes. As a result, I decided to spend a year abroad taking 4 quarters away from Stanford in Santiago, Berlin, Paris, and Kyoto, as a gateway into these new worlds of culture. Berlin is especially interesting because of the rich history that it has. Not only was Berlin a major component of the Cold War, Germany also played a major role in both World War I and World War II. I wanted to learn about the country's rich history that has had major impact on the global community, a new world of culture that has had major influence in shaping much of American culture, and the different, but valuable perspectives of the German people.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Berlin?
I did not really have many expectations going into Berlin. Honestly, I did not really know much about it, other than its role during the Cold War, but was open to learning more about it. Because I was coming from studying in Santiago, I kind of had an idea of what to expect. I understood that there would be a period of adjusting to cultural differences and just having an open mind and being open to different cultural practices would be helpful. I also expected that it would take some time to learn the language and that I should be proactive in making use of these opportunities.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Berlin?
The main difference between studying abroad and studying at Stanford, unsurprisingly, is the location. However, because you are in a different location, many of the courses will take advantage of this and take the students on trips around the city, taking the classroom outside. This is really cool because you can see for yourself the things that you are learning in the classroom. I remember studying Berlin Architecture in the classroom and then going to see the real buildings or the remnants of them during another class period. The Berlin program also offers some Engineering classes offered at Stanford, namely ENGR 40M (which I took) and ENGR 50, which are great opportunities for students to finish some graduation requirements while abroad.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
Studying abroad is a wonderful experience and I definitely learned a lot about myself. Exposing myself to so many different cultures definitely helped me develop a more open-minded and accepting attitude towards others. Being away from family and friends helped me to develop a sense independence and confidence is adult-ing. I learned that while I value connections with others, I also enjoy spending my days by myself on nature walks and museum visits. Finally, I realized the importance of good public transportation!
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
One of the most challenging experiences being in a new place and a new culture is that I was almost always outside of my comfort zone, whether that be because the way people did things was different and I didn't want to do anything offensive by mistake, or because I was not confident in my language speaking skills to interact with others. It is challenging feeling that you are living in a society where you do not belong, not necessarily because you are different but because you have not been there long enough to understand a lot of things. However, by exposing myself to this kind of environment, I forced myself to constantly grow. Putting myself in uncomfortable situations over and over again, helped to build my confidence and eventually what was once uncomfortable became comfortable.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Being in a new location can be tough so don't worry if it takes time to adjust to the new culture. I know for me, having an open mind made the process much smoother. In fact, I can't really think of any cultural adjustments that were particularly difficult. Germans are known for being punctual and organized so I became used to arriving places early and more frequently cleaning my room. One big adjustment is the use of cash. I had really been accustomed to using my credit card for everything since I get cash back. As a result, sometimes I would forget to bring cash out and wouldn't be able to pay for things. Several times, I would not realize I didn't bring enough cash until after I already ate my meal and was ready to pay. In those times, I had to ask someone to come help me out. Overall, if you keep your mind open, the cultural adjustments you have to make might turn out to be pretty minor.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Berlin?
My favorite part of everyday life in Berlin was really the independence. It felt nice to be away from campus and to be living on my own. I was living with a host family but I had the independence as if I was living on my own. I did not necessarily see Stanford people other than in class or if I planned to meet them. It was refreshing to be surrounded by people that did not know me and to learn about their culture. I enjoyed my free time going to museums and taking walks and cooking. I actually spent a lot of my time in Berlin cooking; it was a new form of independence for me and I enjoyed it.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Berlin?
My most memorable experiences in Berlin were with my host mom. Even though in the Berlin program it is more hands-off, since we are responsible for our own meals and laundry, we did end up spending quite a bit of time together. We went biking in the countryside, sipped on wine while overlooking the riverbank, and even to her good friend's daughter's 5th birthday. One of my most memorable experiences was spent eating with my host mom. I remember that she wanted to teach me how to eat properly since I was planning on doing the Krupp internship and may have formal dinners with my fellow colleagues. One night she made spaghetti for us so she could teach me how to eat it with a fork and spoon without slurping as I would normally do, using chopsticks. However, I was very busy that day and I couldn't make it back in time to eat with her before she had to go to her weekly meditation session. I remember coming home finding a note from her instructing me on how to eat the spaghetti complete with a spoon and fork on display, while the spaghetti noodles were twirled around the fork. I was very moved by this gesture. Even though she was busy and our schedules didn't line up, my host mom went out of her way to teach me this skill she thought would be useful when I came back as an intern.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
extraordinary, humbling, refreshing, introspective, ephemeral
What was your favorite food you had in Berlin?
Döner, by far is the best thing I had in Berlin, even though its originally from Turkey! Its cheap (~2-4 euros), delicious, and can be found almost anywhere. It's super convenient; I often stopped by a döner stand while waiting for the bus to get a quick meal in before the bus came.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
I would have to say my Charles Schwab debit card. Cash is the main form of currency in Berlin and most places do not accept credit cards or debit cards. However, you can find ATMs on almost every corner, which makes withdrawing cash really convenient. The benefit of having a Charles Schwab credit card is that they refund any ATM fees and usually have a better rate of exchange than currency exchange places. This makes it super convenient and economical to make purchases in Berlin!
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Berlin?
I did not end up listening to a lot of German music when I was in Berlin. It was more a period of music exploration for me in general and I happened to find a Chinese artist. Berlin is known for their electronic music though and their clubs have some of the best electronic music out there!/*-->*/