Justin-Casimir Braun - Stanford in Berlin and Krupp Internship Program
Minor: Political Science & CS
College year while abroad: 2019-2020
About the photo: This picture was taken just a few days ago in August 2020. I took it just 5 minutes away from my Krupp internship at the Spree river. There are some great parks along the river, right in the center of town, where I often go with my friends for a beer after work. Of course, I also have my bike with me (when I took the picture, I just returned from a weekend-long bikeride-camping trip).
Questions and Answers with Justin-Casimir
Why did you choose to study abroad in Berlin?
I am a German citizen. So, I have actually been asked why I would go on a "study abroad" to Germany a bunch of times. For me, it was a no-brainer, really. As much as I love Stanford, I was always jealous of my German friends and the very different university experience they have. The Berlin program allowed me to bring those two parts of my life together -- in a way, I really got to eat the cake and keep it.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Berlin?
I grew up in a little town just outside of Berlin, so I still have a lot of friends in town. I knew good places to eat, interesting protest movements to join, and how to divide trash properly (there are LOADS of trash-related rules in Germany). What I did not know was how much time CS107 would take. So rather than hanging out in the park with my friends all day, I actually spent quite a few days (and nights) trying to get my heap allocator to work. The upshot: Do not take a hard SCPD class while abroad.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Berlin?
As part of my major in International Relations, I specialize in European studies. Berlin – its history deeply intertwined with that of the rest of the continent – was the perfect place to develop a deeper understanding of political issues from the Euro-crisis in the 2010s to the more recent refugee crisis. BOSP Berlin has great lecturers and it was fascinating to switch between inside and outside perspectives, being a German student at an American university in Berlin. In addition, I could attend some courses at the local university. The differences in style and content between the Stanford program and these courses was enlightening, and I highly recommend everybody whose German allows them to to enroll at the Berlin universities.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
This may sound sort of obvious, but I really did learn that I don't have to chose between being a Stanford student or a Berlin local. While these worlds are very different (my German friends were a little surprised when I told them that my Berlin university is a fancy villa in a posh neighborhood), they don't exclude one another.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
On a BING trip, we met a Romanian presidential candidate. In his presentation to us, he made it clear that he would suspend key limits on the power of the presidency, were he to win the election. As a student of recent EU history, this made me really uncomfortable (democratic backsliding in Poland and Hungary is a huge problem). But since he had invited us, taking issue with his remarks would have been fairly offensive.
In the end, I asked a few critical questions and was happy to see that he was handsomly defeated in the general election.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Sticking to my commitments. At Stanford, often "Let's grab dinner sometime" is a polite way of saying that one is in fact not at all that interested in dining together anytime soon. This can be annoying, but it is also relaxing. I had to relearn with my German friends that when we set something up, it would actually take place.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Berlin?
Cycling. At Stanford, many students cycle from their dorms to their class rooms. The same is true for Berlin. Except that students' dorms (or more commonly shared flats) are often 10+ miles away from the university. I really enjoyed cycling to school everyday. It's a great way to see parts of the city you don't normally see when riding the subway. It's also a great way to wake up when it's raining and you have a 10 a.m. class.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Berlin?
As part of our BING trip to Romania, we went to the very top of the Romanian parliament -- an absolutely gargantuan building towering over Bucarest. At times you can't even see the top, if the day is hazy. It was strange to see that the building was "too big" for parliament -- many rooms were left unoccupied and staffers were smoking in the disused stairwells (it took what felt like hours to climb to the top). But once we got to the terrace overlooking the city, the view was epic!
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
political, fun, instructive, rewarding, gratifying
What was your favorite food you had in Berlin?
Halloumi-Makali with peanut sauce. I am really not a fan of German food, but fortunately, Berlin's food scene has been reshaped by waves of immigration. There is a Sudanese place (called Sahara), which has become famous for its trademark peanut sauce. Berliners will ride their bicycles for many miles to get to one of their places -- it's absolutely delicious.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
My tent. While Berlin is a fairly big city, it is surrounded by a lot of nothingness (also known as the state of Brandenburg). Here you will find forests and lakes, with nobody to bother you besides the occasional deer or wild boar. It's great camping and a really welcome respite from the busy city life.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Berlin?