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 Back to SummaryAliya Deri - Student Profile

Stanford in Berlin, Spring 2011-12, Krupp Internship Program, Summer 2012
MAJOR: Computer Science
Internship: Research Intern at RWTH Aachen, Informatik-6

 

I grew up about an hour away from Stanford--45 minutes, if my dad is driving--so the experience of going to college was firmly within my comfort zone.  Sure, I was living “away from home,” but I was used to Stanford’s California vibe, I could predict the weather almost to the minute, and help was only an hour (or 45 minutes) away!  Fortunately, I was aware that staying so close to home was probably bad for my long-term goal of cutting the apron strings, and I therefore planned to leave Stanford with BOSP almost as soon as I received my college acceptance letter.  My love of learning new languages, my paternal grandparents’ original homes in Germany, and my hope to gain experience working abroad all contributed to my decision to participate in the Berlin program and the associated Krupp Internship Program during the spring and summer of my junior year.

My love of learning new languages, my paternal grandparents’ original homes in Germany, and my hope to gain experience working abroad all contributed to my decision to participate in the Berlin program and the associated Krupp Internship Program during the spring and summer of my junior year.

My first experience in Germany with the Berlin program was, simply put, outstanding.  Berlin is a city that defies every preconceived notion that an American may have about Germany.  Unlike many other European cities, Berlin rejects mere restoration in favor of revitalization, creating a living history that responds to both the glory and the pain of its past.  The Reichstag, the parliamentary building of the German government, had its iron dome replaced with a glass one to symbolize the desire for political transparency and cultural openness, while tourists freely sign their names on the colorfully painted remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall.  Berlin’s museums tout not only a collection of the usual European paintings but also incredible examples of art and history from the rest of the world.  What to do when you discover the Gates of Babylon?  The answer, to a few German archaeologists, was obviously to take the entire structure and reassemble it in Berlin--to the amazement of every visitor to the Pergamon Museum today.

My normally hug-happy Californian self initially felt a little alienated--until I realized that German cheer, unlike most Americans’, is as utterly genuine as it is sparing.  I found myself embracing the reliability and authenticity of a culture where promises are not made lightly, where a smile is never feigned, and where asking someone “Wie geht’s?” (“How are you?”) isn’t just a pro forma way of saying hi.

And Berlin’s multiculturalism extends far beyond Museum Island.  I got wise life advice from my favorite doener stand’s Turkish owner, used my Arabic to buy falafel, and befriended my host mother’s Sri Lankan running partner.  I talked about issues of race and immigration with my host family and German friends and discovered, beyond the sound bites about discrimination and neo-Nazis,that Germany that struggles with questions of diversity as profoundly as America does.  While neither I nor my German peers ever forgot about Germany’s terrible past--a past driven home by an intensely emotional trip to Auschwitz--I was able to experience a modern Germany that was tolerant and culturally dynamic.


Of course, many stereotypes hold a grain of truth, and I did discover that Germans on the whole were as disapproving of lateness, disorder, and excessive emotional displays as Americans think.  My normally hug-happy Californian self initially felt a little alienated--until I realized that German cheer, unlike most Americans’, is as utterly genuine as it is sparing.  I found myself embracing the reliability and authenticity of a culture where promises are not made lightly, where a smile is never feigned, and where asking someone “Wie geht’s?” (“How are you?”) isn’t just a pro forma way of saying hi.

I was very excited to have a position at a prestigious lab in one of Germany’s top universities, where I would be working on a subject that fascinated me: statistical machine translation of Arabic.  But I was also nervous about relocating to a new city, where I would have to figure out housing, food, and budgeting on my own.  

But, as incredible and eye-opening as my quarter in Berlin was, I must admit that it did not push my boundaries as radically as I had expected.  Much like on campus, Stanford took care of providing me with housing and an allowance for food.  Classes and group activities filled a good portion of my day, I could easily use the Stanford center’s kitchen, gym, and free printing, and it was possible for me to spend a lot of time with other Stanford students, speaking mostly in English. I am immensely grateful to the Berlin program for keeping its students safe, healthy, and cared for in an unfamiliar environment; however, I realized that the Krupp program’s appeal lies in offering the opportunity not only to work abroad, but also to be self-sufficient abroad.


During spring quarter, Krupp Internship Coordinator Wolf Junghanns worked closely with me to secure a research internship in computer science in Aachen, a city that borders Belgium and the Netherlands, seven hours away from Berlin by train.  I was very excited to have a position at a prestigious lab in one of Germany’s top universities, where I would be working on a subject that fascinated me: statistical machine translation of Arabic.  But I was also nervous about relocating to a new city, where I would have to figure out housing, food, and budgeting on my own.  

 

 

My overall transition to living in Aachen went remarkably smoothly.  With Wolf’s support, I successfully found a shared student apartment (with my online ad and interview done entirely in German), and my initial separation anxiety was soon supplanted by enthusiasm for my job and excitement to be exploring picturesque Aachen and an entirely new part of Germany.  Wolf’s check-ins over the summer and my contacts with other “Krupping” Stanford students meant that I had a support network, but I was otherwise entirely in charge.  The system clearly worked:  My summer months were filled with innumerable priceless moments, ranging from celebrating the Fourth of July with coworkers to screaming with my roommates during a televised Euro Cup match.  I learned to cook for one, to balance paying for rent and food with travel costs, and to make German friends at and outside of work.  I faced and overcame theoretical and practical challenges at work, traveled to five different countries and swam in two different seas, and fully experienced and integrated into German culture.  

 

 

My Krupp internship gave me so many resume-worthy skills, from new competence and experience in a field I’d like to pursue, to improved language skills, to a hands-on understanding of German and European issues.  But I recommend Krupp especially because of the skill I gained that cannot be put on a resume: the confidence to handle whatever life throws at me, no matter what continent I’m on. 

 

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