Back to SummaryAndy Whitmore - Student Profile
Going abroad was never really part of the plan. I came to Stanford completely ignorant of the Bing overseas programs, and when on campus allowed all of the publicity and hype to slide to a dull buzz at the back of my head. Even when my advisor insisted that it would be an invaluable experience, I simply nodded, smiled and silently dismissed the idea. I declared late, and in engineering. I just didn’t have the time, I justified to myself. Plus, Stanford was great! I could always travel after. I only had four short years to enjoy school. Needless to say, I changed my mind. The summer before my junior year I was on a family vacation when I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. She had just returned from not only a quarter abroad, but an internship as well, a full six months in Berlin. We talked for a long time. Her passion and excitement about her experiences were contagious and the gravity of the opportunity finally hit me; I decided that I needed to go abroad.
Before I knew it, I had re-arranged my last six quarters into five with the inclusion of German 1, completed the overseas application and in spring was on a plane to Berlin. Outside of the one discussion with my friend and my single German language course, I knew nothing about the country or people. I of course had learned the history: the World Wars, the Nazis, the Wall, but modern Germany? Its people and culture? I was completely ignorant. If you had asked me a year before where I would study abroad if I had to choose, Berlin wouldn’t have made the list. I was uninformed and Germany simply doesn’t have the romantic, idealized aura that comes with some of the other classic European destinations such as Madrid, Florence or Paris. Looking back, however, I wouldn’t trade my experience in Berlin for three months anywhere else.
Berlin is utterly unique. It is a vibrant, raw, young and thriving city with an incredibly dynamic history. It does not pretend or force an image, nor does it attempt to imitate. Instead, it allows the fantastic variety of people, cultures and lifestyles found within the city to thrive and define its intricate identity. My time there was a series of adventures. All of my classes at one point or another, two of them on a regular basis, took me out into the city. We didn’t just read and discuss, we explored and experienced. Through class, program and personal excursions I was able to go to museums and memorials, an opera, play and symphony. I visited a concentration camp and saw my first live European soccer match. I even put my own skills to the test with a soccer class from the local University. On hot days later in the quarter, friends and I headed out to a beautiful local lake to swim, read and relax. We also, of course, took advantage of Berlin’s internationally renowned nightlife, its clubs and bars, as well as the awesome beer. As part of the Berlin program, students are also taken on a several day Will trip which changes every quarter. We had the good fortune of going to Dubrovnik (if you haven’t heard of it, look it up, it’s gorgeous), where we met local Croats, discussed EU policy, ate fantastic food and swam in the icy, but stunningly beautiful Adriatic.
You cannot, of course, spend all of your time exploring. For those other times, the Berlin program offers the unique experience of having two home bases to fall back on. The first is your home stay. My host mother was a kind elementary school teacher who lived alone, hosted brunch every Sunday for her son’s family, and bumped floor-shaking techno when she graded her students’ work. Though I did not spend an immense amount of time there, her cheerful “Hallo!” and my cozy second floor bedroom were always a welcome escape. The second so to say home base of the Berlin program is the Stanford Villa. Yes, there’s a Villa, and yes, it’s awesome. The 1912 architectural masterpiece is the central location for all classes in the program. It also is a fantastic place to study, socialize, relax and cook with other Stanford students. I utilized the quiet hammocks in the top floor computer cluster to do my readings, blew off steam smashing the punching bag in the small gym located downstairs and spent hours fooling around outside on the full size basketball court with friends.
Now, my adventures did not end in Berlin. Like my friend, I opted to stick around in Germany another three months to take part in the Krupp internship program. I write this profile now not from the depths of Green library or the confines of a Stanford dorm room, but from the flat I share with two Germans and a Chilean in Dresden, Germany. My internship is at the Leibniz-Institut für ökologische Raumentwicklung, an independent research institution that focuses on environmental issues. Since I’ve been in Dresden, I’ve been welcomed into the Institute with a wonderful amount of warmth and kindness. I play soccer every Tuesday with a bunch of the researchers, have breakfast every other Friday with my boss and several other colleagues and next week will compete as the 4th man on a 4x3km relay team from our institute. Dresden has been the perfect location for the second half of my overseas experience.
Located two hours south of Berlin, the capitol of Saxony and victim of the 1945 fire bombings has a wealth of cultural, artistic and natural gems to offer. I’ve hiked among the towering sandstone pillars of the Sächsische Schweiz national park, watched movies in the giant outdoor theater on the Elbe river and have admired the literal treasure trove contained in the Green Vault. The extra time has been absolutely invaluable to my overseas experience. Three months in Berlin went by in a flash and I would have been heartbroken if I had had to head home. Through the internship I have been able to completely step out on my own and immerse myself in German culture, experience the joys and struggles of living alone in a foreign country and have been able to engage and make friends with an exceptional range of fascinating people.
The people. Now this is where studying and working abroad really stands out from, say, traveling abroad after graduation. In addition to the wealth of resources and benefits that come with going abroad through a Stanford program, the opportunity to learn, explore and grow with fellow students is truly unsurpassed. The bonds that are created from the common strenuous, yet exciting and exhilarating circumstances found abroad have a unique strength and intensity and it is through these that one’s experiences and adventures are fully appreciated. Equally important are the friendships that one builds with non-Stanford students. Berlin is an extremely international city, filled with young people from all over the world. Some of my most meaningful conversations and friendships were with foreigners: Fernando, the young Brazilian doctor, Andrew, the crazy traveling Australian carpenter, Markus, the goth environmental researcher and my best friend Wei, the quiet, kind-hearted Chinese PhD student.
Reflecting back on my stubbornness to even consider studying abroad, I realize that my ‘well reasoned arguments’ were nothing more than convenient excuses. The fact is, staying at Stanford is comfortable and easy. It’s known. After a year or two you fall into a rhythm. Your friends are all there, there is always something interesting happening and there are always more classes to take. There are a million unknowns when going abroad, and if it isn’t already part of the plan, it’s hard to turn away from such a comfortable lifestyle. To be entirely honest, I was terrified of going abroad. But that’s exactly why I needed to go. Studying abroad is filled with countless adventures, stories and friends that will be remembered for the rest of one’s life, but being abroad is also very trying. Living in an entirely new culture halfway around the world can be very stressful and intimidating, and presents challenges a person would never encounter back on campus. These challenges, however, push you in unique, new ways and are an opportunity for immense personal growth.
At the end of summer there are always lingering regrets, opportunities missed, goals unfulfilled, and these will exist at the end of my summer as well. I will, however, no matter what, have the simple fact that I lived abroad for six months. It is an experience of which I am proud and which I will be able to take with me for the rest of my life. I wish then to end, finally, with a simple heartfelt piece of advice that stems from personal experience: Take the leap. You won’t regret it.