Josie Flohr - Stanford in Berlin
Minor: German Studies
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: Here I am on my third day in Berlin bonding with my cohort in front of the Berliner Dom
Questions and Answers with Josie
Why did you choose to study abroad in Berlin?
I chose to study in Berlin on a whim. I knew I wanted to study abroad and the Stanford in Berlin program had spots available. It ended up being the best academic, professional, and personal choice I have ever made.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Berlin?
Honestly, I expected my time in Berlin to be a break from the intensity of Stanford academics. I expected to spend my time focusing on aspects of life outside of school, immersing myself in culture. However, my time in Berlin with Stanford was the most academically challenging quarter I have experienced. I say this because the courses were unlike anything I have ever experienced. The courses did not end in the classroom, every night my cohort had a cultural event to attend. This was both amazing and allowed me to really experience Berlin, but also meant that the classroom was the entire city, and courses lasted from 9am-9pm. I loved my time in Berlin, and found the Stanford I had been looking for in Germany, but I wish I had somewhat overwhelming adventure I was about to embark on.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Berlin?
My German improved to a degree I did not expect. I went from being able to have very very basic discussion to paragraph level conversation, learning slang, and navigating a new city in a language I had only begun learning 10 weeks earlier.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned that I am completely capable. I learned that I am I more than just a student. I learned that my determination( or stubbornness) is both my friend and foe. I learned that no matter how well I plan, I cannot plan for everything. There is something about being across the world from everyone you know that teaches you how little you are in the world, but how much power over your own life you are capable of.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
COVID. I think this will be a common response to this question. I was studying in Berlin when my cohort of 13 was called in for a meeting, and we were informed that we needed to leave the country ASAP. We were to move out, get on the first flight possible. However, I was having the time of my life in Berlin, I had just gotten my footing, and knew the last thing I wanted was to leave. I had a meeting with Wolf and Karen of the Stanford in Berlin team, and we sat down to plan how I would be able to stay despite the pandemic. This ended up being a life changing meeting. I stayed in Berlin for 18 months. During this time I completed three separate internships, took Ph.D. level courses at Humboldt University, continued to improve my German, and made amazing friends. These 18 months were not without their challenges, however the Stanford in Berlin team was there for me every step of the way. This included how to find an apartment, enrolling in another university, and meeting other students in the city. This abrupt change in my life and my plans was the most challenging experience I have had, but also the most rewarding.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
I would have to say the speed at which life moves. I am from a small beach town, where we walk everywhere, and slowly sip coffee. In Berlin, I felt that I was constantly anxiously rushing from place to place. I would be so stressed to go grocery shopping, simply because the speed at which the checker moved was overwhelming. Yet, I learned to adjust. I learned to have my U-Bahn ticket stamped, and that running between buses was normal. I learned that maybe the way of life I was comfortable with was not necessarily the best way.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Berlin?
My favorite part of everyday life was getting my morning coffee every day at the same coffee shop in Kreuzberg, and then taking the S-bahn to class. Each day I felt a little more comfortable and could understand more of the surrounding city. I was able to walk more confidently to where I needed to be, have longer conversations, and look at a map less. My favorite part was noticing the little changes in myself every morning.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Berlin?
Crying while watching the opera La traviata. I am not a music person, and most certainly not an opera person. Yet Stanford in Berlin offered a German opera course during the quarter I was studying abroad, and I thought the course seemed interesting. One aspect of the course was that we were able to attend a few operas at the famous opera houses of Berlin. I went from viewing opera as an antiquated art, to embracing the pure beauty and emotion of this cultural experience. I will carry my unexpected love and appreciation for Opera for the rest of my life.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Chaotic, amazing, overwhelming, exciting, and joyful
What was your favorite food you had in Berlin?
A teller at Sahara Sudanese food
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
Uniqlo heat wear clothes ( just so you know berlin is cold in the winter)
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Berlin?
A small post punk band called Aerger :)