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 Back to SummaryShilpa Sarkar - Student Advisor Profile

photo of Shilpa Sarkar
Stanford in Berlin -

MAJOR: Product Design



ACADEMIC INTERESTS: design thinking, art, outdoor education and leadership, psychology

I remember being pretty skeptical about going to Berlin the night before I left. My roommate was packing up for Oxford, and we were asking each other if we were doing the right thing by going abroad, especially to places where temperatures regularly went below freezing in the coming months. Sure, I was confident I was going to have a fun time, but I had I known what I was in for my excitement would have been out of this world.

Berlin is the hidden gem of European cities. She is not pretentious, glamorous, or self-important. Rather, in classic German fashion, she is brutally honest and wonderfully self-confident in her strengths as well as scars. She is known for her history, and yet stubbornly insists on reinventing herself continuously. She is old and new at the same time, a well-kept secret of modern day Europe.

So what does all this metaphor translate to in terms of day-to-day life? It means I can take public transportation any day, any time, even late, and feel safe. It means Berliners are always punctual and strict about time, but will also brunch on Sundays until three in the afternoon. It means that behind a rusty door of a plain, sign-less warehouse is one of the most popular international clubs. It means there is always something to do, whether it’s going to a museum, a bar, a thrift store, pickup soccer, or dancing until nine in the morning. The Bing family generously subsidizes most cultural experiences in Berlin, and my only regret it that I did not have more time to take advantage of these opportunities. I was able to take a class on Berlin’s experimental music scene, and the “homework” was attending experimental performance art of our choice around the city. Just walk through the city and you are sure to stumble upon something interesting, like a Bansky graffiti piece or a lounge decorated in upside down furniture. Within the city, each neighborhood has its own personality and quirky charms, a motley family that ultimately balances each other in the best way. Across the board, Berlin is generally kind to students’ wallets (though the Euro is not to the dollar). There are young people everywhere, from artists to businessmen, travelers, DJs, students. They will recognize your terrible German accent, hide a smile, and then gladly talk to you in English. The underground music scene is as varied as Berliners themselves, and rivaled only perhaps by the corresponding nightlife.

My favorite part of my Berlin experience, however, was discovering all these things with some amazing fellow Stanford students. The greatest aspect of going abroad, wherever that may be, is getting the chance to step out of the familiar bubble of Stanford. You are not with all your friends, draw-mates, bikes and classroom buildings. Experiencing a new world together creates incredible friendships and I was profoundly lucky with the group of students I met in Berlin. We all came from different parts of Stanford, but we got along amazingly and were pretty much inseparable the entire quarter. We may not see each other as much day-to-day back on campus, but the friendships are still as strong as ever.

Berlin felt like uncharted territory, and I woke up to each day as an explorer, ready for the next new experience. Sometimes other foreign destinations have a lot of hype and expectations and a “this is what you do here” list. They can feel old even before the plane lands. Berlin does have amazing sites to see and things to try, but you get to decide what is a “must do” and what isn’t. It becomes yours to discover the minute you arrive, and will stay with you long after you leave.


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