Stanford in Berlin, Winter & Spring 2017-18
Major: International Relations
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: One of the best parts of living in Berlin is that you can literally see and touch its history. It's not uncommon to find pieces of the Berliner Mauer, like this one in Potsdam Platz, throughout the city!
Why did you choose to study abroad in Berlin?
I have always wanted to learn German language, and I have always been fascinated by points of historical intersection. Berlin was a natural choice. With its divided history, the city was for years the literal and symbolic embodiment of both Eastern and Western ideologies. The legacies of both division and unification are still felt on the streets of Berlin today. I am grateful to have experienced these historic legacies for myself while also learning and improving my German.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Berlin?
Berlin was my third BOSP program and my second overseas campus. As I started the program, I expected that it would be the easiest for me: the easiest adaptation, the easiest language, and the easiest lifestyle. I learned very quickly that this was not at all the case. Adjusting to life in Berlin was challenging, and it wasn't until my second quarter that I started to feel really comfortable in the city. However, I believe that I value my experience more precisely because it was so challenging. If it had been easy, I couldn't have appreciated as much as I do now.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Berlin?
Berlin has such a rich and complicated history. One of the greatest benefits to studying in Berlin is that the city itself becomes the classroom. Almost every street or building has its own complex story, and when you can see and touch the history you have otherwise only read about, it becomes more of a personal experience.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned that I am more spontaneous than I thought. As much as I like to plan, some of my best experiences in Berlin happened when I made a last-minute decision or just went with the moment. It's important to let yourself be surprised sometimes!
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
I've always loved learning languages, and I've always wanted to learn German specifically. But once I got to Berlin, I had a hard time finding the confidence to speak outside of the classroom. I was really worried about my pronunciation, and Germans are known for switching to English the moment they hear a mistake. Eventually, my desire to improve my speaking overcame my hesitation, and I learned to be persistent. I found that most people appreciated the fact that I was trying more than they were bothered by my mistakes.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
I really struggled with the closed-door policy. It's a German practice to keep all of the doors in the house closed at all times, unless they are actively being walked through. I have always understood a closed door to mean a desire for privacy, but in Germany, this is not the case. It took longer for me to get to know my homestay family because of it.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Berlin?
My favorite part of everyday life in Berlin is the coffee! The cafes in Berlin are affordable and great places to sip espresso while reading the news or catching up with friends. The only thing better than the coffee is the endless array of cakes and pastries that come with it.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Berlin?
I knew it would be difficult for my family to visit me in Berlin even though I stayed for two quarters. Because of this, I was really moved when my host-mom from my previous BOSP campus came to visit me in Berlin. It meant so much to me that she made the trek when my own family couldn't, and it felt great to play host for the weekend.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Espresso, U-bahn, falafel, friends, strawberries.
What was your favorite food you had in Berlin?
I absolutely loved the fresh and local produce! Berlin is a very healthy and environmentally friendly city, so it is really easy to find affordable local produce, like strawberries and asparagus. When they're in season, you can find them everywhere at markets or roadside stands. I definitely recommend trying the seasonal menus!
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
I packed a lot of pictures of my family and friends. The time difference was harder to adjust to than I expected, so having some pictures nearby helped when I was homesick. Once I settled in, they also helped me remember to call home regularly!
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Berlin?
It's not a band or music that I discovered, but rather a place in Berlin that held special meaning. One of my favorite musical artists recorded 3 of his most famous albums while living in Berlin in the 1970s. I realized one day that my favorite cafe was next door to his former flat, and that I had been walking past it for weeks. So many artists have called Berlin their home at some point in their lives--it's wonderful to feel like even something as simple as the walk to an afternoon espresso can become a shared experience.
Every Stanford undergraduate should give serious consideration to studying overseas.
Regardless of the academic path you choose, you will be enriched by time spent in another country. Achieving cultural literacy and gaining substantive understanding of other perspectives in the world will deepen your awareness of yourself, your educational goals, and your own society. Nearly one-half of each graduating class studies abroad through one of Stanford's overseas programs.
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