Michael Rabinovich

Michael Rabinovich - student profile | BOSPBERLINSA@LISTS.STANFORD.EDU

Stanford in Berlin, Spring 2012-13, Summer Internship 2013
Majors: Management Science and Engineering, German Studies
College year while abroad: Sophomore
Internship: Deutsche Bank

Questions and answers with Michael

Why did you choose to study abroad in Berlin?

I got my first taste of German culture in the summer of 2009, when my family and I spent three weeks traveling through Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. I immediately fell in love with the language; it was powerful, yet beautiful in a unique way. I was equally amazed by Germany's strong export economy, high standard of life and focus on environmental protection. Later in 2011, as I witnessed the massive debt crisis unfold in Europe, I knew that I wanted to delve deeper into the political and economic situation of Germany.

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

Before I even stepped onto my Air Berlin flight at JFK International Airport, I carried with me some misconceptions about Germany. I thought the people would be very serious and strict. I thought the trains would be mercilessly punctual and that the entire economy and people revolved around engineering companies like BMW and Volkswagen. What I quickly realized was that Berlin was a diverse city that represented more than 100 nationalities. I realized that my S-Bahn train wouldn’t always come on time and that artists, professors and bankers all coexisted alongside engineers in one of the most varied cities in the world. Berlin has a unique position at the confluence of East and West. Where else can someone find a former Stasi prison just 5 miles from KaDeWe, the symbol of capitalism in West Berlin?  Where does a Soviet liberation memorial stand just a few minutes away from Checkpoint Charlie? Berlin is a truly global and liberal capitol city. It is open to everyone who wants to come and make his or her mark on the world. It is open to the avant-garde and to new ways of doing things. And that is definitely far beyond the expectations I had for the “arm aber sexy” city of Berlin. 

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

Studying in Berlin gave me an opportunity to see first-hand things that I only read in textbooks and heard from professors. Stanford in Berlin’s focus on using the city of Berlin as a classroom provided me with the knowledge and experience I needed to truly understand Germany. In Professor Brückner’s class on European integration, I had the chance to see Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, speak about the European debt crisis and the future of Europe. In Professor Jander’s class on German history, I followed in the footsteps of political prisoners in their death march to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  These two excursions are just two of many experiences that made learning in Berlin very meaningful and personal.  

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

Through my time in Berlin and later Frankfurt, I learned what I was passionate about in my studies. Although I will definitely continue my MS&E major, focusing on my favorite subject of quantitative finance, I became inspired to change my minor in German Studies into a major. Studying abroad in Berlin was my first time living outside of California and it taught me the importance of knowing languages and studying important communication skills. In a highly globalized world, employers value people who not only have the technical skills they need, but also the communication skills to speak with other team members around the world. I finally learned that I need a perfect balance of “techie” and “fuzzy” in my future studies and professional ambitions.

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

As part of the Krupp internship program, I was tasked with finding an apartment or “WG” for the summer. During my quarter abroad, I had to write my e-mails and personal statements in German, as well as make calls to locals in Frankfurt asking about apartment availability. As expected, I received many rejections and I thought I wouldn’t be able to find a place where I could practice my German. I asked several of the instructors at the Berlin Center to help me with phone conversations and e-mail writing. With their help, I was finally able to find an amazing apartment with other Germans. I learned that asking for help is not something to be afraid of. I also learned that despite many rejections, all I needed was one successful call which motivated me to be persistent.  The task of finding an apartment after I graduate from Stanford now seems easy by comparison! 

How was your experience living with local families?

Living with a host mother in Berlin gave me a very good local perspective on the major issues affecting Germany. Although students in the Berlin program don’t have meals with their families, the conversations I had with my host mother were invaluable in improving my German and hearing amazing stories about themes such as the fall of the Berlin Wall from someone who was there when it happened.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Coming from a car culture in Southern California, it was a huge change for me to live without the independence of having a car. Commute times in Berlin were much longer than at home so I had to learn how to plan out my day far in advance. By the second week, however, using the amazing public transportation system in Berlin became second nature. With all the free time sitting on the U-Bahn, I read more books and newspapers than I ever had in my life. Rather than driving, I was also able to listen to music and do some homework.

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

Sitting along the Spree river with my language partner and his friends, buying my groceries at a local bazaar, enjoying the day in Mauer Park, seeing Angela Merkel speak at the Europa conference, visiting the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. All of these activities are part of the amazing diverse everyday life in Berlin – there is no truly “typical” day. 

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

The most memorable moment in Berlin was my trip to Treptower Park, the largest Soviet liberation memorial in Germany. I visited the park on May 9th, Victory Day for the Soviet Union. Since my grandfather fought for the side of the Soviet Union in World War II and his battalion was one of the first to enter Berlin, it was an amazing moment for me to step on the same ground as him and relive and appreciate his memories. There were thousands of other Russian immigrants there paying their respects – a beautiful show of reconciliation after a devastating war.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Diverse, Daring, Delightful, Determined and Döner

What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Berlin?

If I could recommend one thing to future Berlin students – take as much German as possible before coming! The two years of German class that I brought with me to Berlin were invaluable in giving me the opportunity to experience Germany on a much deeper level. I wish I even took more German classes before coming because the more German you have, the more activities you can take part in. For example, I was able to audit a Financial Math class at the Freie Universität, take part in a running class and meet people through my language partner that wouldn’t otherwise be able to speak to me.

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?

My biggest piece of advice for future students would be to stay in Berlin on the weekends. I was very tempted to travel to another European country ever weekend because you are so close to everything (and my two trips were definitely worth taking). But unlike other cities in Germany, there are always hundreds of festivals, concerts and markets in Berlin on the weekends. Since you spend most of your weekdays at the Stanford villa, the weekends are the only time you have to spend entire days in the city meeting German people and exploring the parks, memorials and hidden neighborhoods of the city. Everyone I know, including myself, wished we had just one more weekend to see something in Berlin. 

How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals?

I thought my quarter abroad in Berlin combined with finishing my minor in German Studies would mean the end of my “German” years. However, after meeting so many amazing people with whom I spoke German to in Berlin and learning about German business practices during my internship in Frankfurt, I realized that I couldn’t just stop taking German classes. With the guidance of some of my professors, I have now set my sights on majoring in German Studies alongside MS&E. I would have never expected myself to have an extra major in a “fuzzy” subject. But the advantages of knowing German and having a deep knowledge of its culture is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

What was your favorite food you had in Berlin?

One would think that Germany’s favorite national meal would consist of schnitzel, potatoes and a beer. Although partially true, I quickly realized that “döner”, a gyro pita sandwich brought to Germany by Turkish immigrants, is the true national food. If I had to choose one meal to subsist on for the rest of my life, it would probably be the döner at Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab, a food stall near Kreuzberg. Although I had to wait in hour-long lines sometimes for this always-popular spot, it was always worth it. The fact that the most popular food comes from an immigrant background was just another surprise for me, who didn’t expect such a multicultural and diverse city.

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

Before coming to Berlin, I bought an app for my iPhone called dict.cc for $5. This may seem like a lot of money for a simple app. However, Dict.cc is the most comprehensive English-German translation app and proved to be the most valuable item during my time in Germany. It translates the most complex and idiomatic expressions. I looked up almost all the words I didn’t know and then used the “My Vocabulary” feature to quiz myself later. Definitely easier than hauling a phrase book around!

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

Berlin is known as the music and clubbing capitol of the world, so naturally I quickly found my favorite new group – Klangkarussel.  They are a pair of electronic DJs from Austria and have funny song titles like “Ice Tea in a Can” and “Sun Dance”. All their songs are very uplifting and I would always listen to them while enjoying a Berlin spring day with my friends.