Back to SummaryMolly Field - Student Profile
As a psychology major, I am naturally drawn to the underlying reasons for why people think and act as they do, and in Germany, a country with complex and, at times, painful history, the behavior and attitudes of the people are deeply influenced by the events of both the distant and recent past. I knew going into my time in Berlin that I would have to develop background knowledge of German culture in order to truly understand the people I would be interacting with every day, but I did not fully realize how instrumental my courses at the Stanford center would be in fostering this process.
Although my classes in Berlin were both captivating and challenging, the hallmarks of all my favorite Stanford courses, the best part about them was that they provided me with ways to better understand the people around me. My language class, for example, helped me appreciate how important being aware of world news is to people in Berlin. I was often assigned short presentations on German-language news stories, assignments that were very useful for engaging with Berliners because their daily conversations frequently revolved around current events. However, beyond simply making it clear that Germans value this awareness, my language class also gave me the opportunity to experience the world from the perspective of people with a culture very different from my own, something difficult to do within the bounds of the “Stanford Bubble” back on campus.
While my language class showed me how Germans relate to current events, my theater class allowed me to see how Germany’s past intersects with the present. I went to a performance every week where I not only experienced re-imagined versions of classic, German productions but also witnessed Berliners’ reactions to each piece. Through these productions, I was given an inside look at German history, politics, music, and humor, but what’s more, I saw how Germans today are reconciling their current triumphs and struggles with the actions of past generations. Rather than ignoring the darker side of their history, Berliners use theater to explore new interpretations of the past and possibilities for resolution, both of which are important for progress, especially in Germany.
In much the same way, my Berlin vor Ort class exposed me to Germany’s history, taking me to a different part of the city every week, most of which I never would have visited on my own much less been able to appreciate. Among other things, I discovered memorials to little known WWII resistance movements, the grand palace of the last emperor of Germany, and the former center for the Nazi’s euthanasia program. Visiting sites such as these helped round out my understanding of both the parts of history Germany is proud of as well as its darker moments. I saw that although Berlin continually reinvents itself, it has not forgotten the people who threatened to bring it ruin or the heroes who sacrificed to help the city thrive as it does today. Berliners embrace both the good and the bad parts of history in hopes of creating the possibility for a more promising future.
My last class in Berlin, a medical ethics course, focused more on the sinister aspects of German history, examining the human rights violations perpetrated during Hitler’s reign. Together we traveled to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and Nuremberg, the site of the annual Nazi party meetings and the post-war trials, in order to get a better sense of the scope of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. However, rather than simply condemning the behavior of all Germans, we also studied resistance to the Nazis and were challenged to consider whether Man is essentially good or evil. Through this course, I became aware of my own prejudices toward the German people, and my mind was opened to new ways of understanding the events of the past as well as Germany’s present and future struggles.
Even though most of my time with Germans was spent outside the confines of the classroom, my courses at the Stanford center were vital to processing these encounters. They provided information and experiences that were truly valuable in my everyday interactions, giving me resources for developing my own understanding of the German people. The Germany I know is a country where people are very aware of their place in the world, where they embrace their history despite its imperfections, and most of all where they are continually striving to grow and learn from the successes and failures of their predecessors. I believe we could all stand to follow the example set by the German people over the last fifty years as they have redefined their values and ideals, and I know I will be forever changed by my short time as a student of their culture.