Stanford in Berlin, Spring 2016-17
Major: Electrical Engineering
Minor: German Studies
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: Me in Kreuzberg, the hipster district of Berlin, standing in front of graffiti.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Berlin?
Berlin has always fascinated me because of its rich and unique history as well as the plethora of cultures and diversity of lifestyle encompassed within one city. I also was attracted by the strong engineering spirit in Germany and wanted to experience what top-notch engineering in Europe would be in comparison to Silicon Valley, with the Krupp Internship Program providing me with the opportunity to do an internship in Germany the summer after my study-abroad quarter.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Berlin?
Prior to going to Berlin, I had heard a lot about Berlin being a party city, about the integration of past history with the youth, "hip" spirit, and the overall multicultural diversity spread out over the sprawling metropolis. Since I come from a small town in northern California, I was prepared to challenge myself by living in a large city for the first time in my life and navigating my way through various challenges independently.
Berlin was indeed quite the epitome of diversity. From each district boasting its own unique feature-- Neukölln as the immigrant hub, Dahlem as the wealthy suburbs, Kreuzberg as the party go-to-- to Asian restaurants and Turkish döner stands lining the streets, Berlin was everything I imagined and more. However, I was quite impressed by the open discussion and repentance of the atrocities committed by the Third Reich during World War II, from the Holocaust Memorial to the Jewish Museum. The vast array of vegetarian options was also uplifting, as I had heard prior to going that Germany was the country of meat and potatoes and finding vegetarian food would be difficult. In any case, Berlin provided me with a well-rounded experience in a city where surprises always seemed to jump out at me from around the corner.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Berlin?
The Berlin study abroad program not only provides a list of very interesting classes to explore the opportunities in the city in deeper ways, it also has the Will Trip to a eastern European country as well as (for Spring Quarter students) a Krupp Internship trip to Essen, a city in West Germany. Both were very meaningful experiences that allowed me to appreciate different political and cultural situations in other German cities and European countries. The academic classes included a theater class and sports class, both of which had students go to events in Berlin throughout the quarter. Understanding German culture through personally experiencing Berlin has inspired me to pursue a minor or perhaps even a second major in German Studies.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I had always thought that I was a "techie" person who couldn't really appreciate the arts very much; thus, I was not very involved in the theater, music, or dance scene at Stanford. However, after challenging myself by taking the theater class in Berlin, I gradually found myself enjoying the viewing and analysis of the theatrical productions, prompting me to analyze art and architecture as well. By immersing myself in the arts in Berlin, I have discovered my "fuzzie" side and hope to continue developing it at Stanford.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
The most challenging experience I encountered while abroad was probably overcoming the cultural/ ethnical barrier in speaking and interacting in German with native speakers. Although I had taken a year and a half of German before going to Berlin, most people initially spoke to me in English, possibly because of my Asian appearance and poor accent. I was sort of disappointed by the fact that people spoke to me in English, but once I brought up the courage to insist on speaking in German and improving my German skills, I found that people more readily interacted with me in their native language. This allowed me to eventually speak German more fluently and with a better accent, thus further bolstering my confidence in my German-speaking ability.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
The biggest cultural adjustment in going to Berlin was probably becoming accustomed to the straightforward nature of Germans. Germans often do not sugarcoat their words and say what they think, which might offend people raised in the American culture of politeness and deference. However, as I soon came to realize, Germans do not harbor any evil intention in saying what they say; instead, it makes sense to them to correct any errors or differences in opinion as soon as possible to avoid further conflict. I definitely felt a little hurt at first to hear people speak firmly at me about my faults, but after adjusting I feel my interactions with other Germans are much more open and direct.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Berlin?
It was probably exploring the nooks and crannies of the city and anticipating the surprises that awaited around every corner-- a new exhibition in Mitte, a huge festival in Kreuzberg, or some street artists playing music or spray-painting on the sidewalks. I once found an entire rock-climbing facility situated right in the middle of the club scene in Kreuzberg! There are so many things and so much variety in Berlin that it is almost impossible to see enough of the city.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Berlin?
My most memorable experience at Berlin was the sport events that I attended through the sport class I took. Over the course of the quarter the class saw men's and women's soccer, basketball, and handball games. It was very interesting to see how German sports differed from American sports as well as to discover my new passion in handball, which I learned how to play at the local Free University.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Asian food, diversity, the arts, discovery, learning
What was your favorite food you had in Berlin?
Chinese food in general (but especially Lucky Star hot pot and anything at Shaniu's House of Noodles)
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
My Buddhist text that kept me oriented when I felt lost or astray or lonely, or just needed time to reflect or focus on my well-being
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Berlin?
A song I encountered by chance at the gym and immediately fell in love with: "Geiles Leben" by Glasperlenspiel.
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.
© Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305.