Alma Andino Frydman
Alma Andino Frydman (she/her) - Stanford in Berlin
Minor: German Studies
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: Me post-Litkovska runway show at Berlin Fashion Week! The Ukrainian designer dedicated her collection to the victims of the war. It was beyond moving.
Why did you choose to study in Berlin?
To be entirely honest, I barely even considered Berlin as an option when deciding where to study abroad. I had only heard about the colder culture, colder weather, and extremely tragic history I, as a Jew, would need to face. It just seemed like a hard place, one which would force me to grow, but I was not sure I was ready. Ultimately, my best friend’s description of the city convinced me to push myself. She urged that the creative, expressive, young energy of the city would give me a life I’d never experienced. The combination of facing history, soaking in culture, and deep personal growth made the decision easy.
What were your expectations before you went and how did they change once you were in Berlin?
My biggest apprehension about studying in Germany was the unavoidableness of my presence in the city as a Jew, directly living in the city where the Holocaust was planned. I thought it was going to be impossible - brutal - to always be confronted with reminders of the war. While I expected anti-semitism to be a regular part of life - as it often is in the US - I was surprised by the level of education and dialogue in my conversations with Germans. They spoke so openly about the past, with such a sensitivity and knowledge base I was entirely and pleasantly surprised by. It was a massive learning experience for my Jewish identity, and I could never have expected to feel the safest in the world as a Jew in Berlin. Also, I did not expect how intense and all-encompassing Berlin. There is always something to do, always a concert to attend, a museum or art showing to see, a person to meet. It can become quite overwhelming, and the Stanford cohort was such a grounding force in navigating the city.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Berlin?
I had never expected myself to learn a new language in college, but the accelerated German class this quarter allowed me to get to a proficient level (full conversation with native speaker) in only three months. The language opens up access to study of the European Union’s economic and political functioning that I seriously lacked coming from the US. We learned about the influence that economically powerful countries like Germany have on the industry and geopolitical trends in Europe. I learned an immense amount about varying European positions on the war in Ukraine. It is an extremely unique opportunity, to learn about European and global politics in a city that has been a center for political evolution for centuries.
What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?
There is no way I can encapsulate this in 100 words, but lets try. I learned that I am a creative person, even if I am not an artist (yet). I love having my beliefs and assumptions challenged, even if it makes me squirm in the moment. I reconsidered what was important to me in city routine, connection to nature, and engagement with culture. Being around young, diverse people is so vital to me and meeting strangers on my BOSP program made life vibrant. I reckoned with my boundaries and comfort within romantic relationships, among a culture of alternative family structures and non-monogamy in Berlin dating. I learned that I have power to make connections whenever, wherever, if I put my mind to it and release others’ judgments of me. I learned that history is alive, and my responsibility to my Jewish lineage was to live and thrive in Berlin, as an act of resistance and hope.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while abroad and what did you learn from it?
The most challenging element of living in Berlin, especially in the Winter, was how closed off the city became. People stay inside, bundle themselves in many layers, and feel much colder, less open to new connections when the sun shines for four hours per day. The cold grayness induces a type of hibernation. Coming from a Latin background, I am very accustomed to talking to strangers, small talk in coffee shops, making friends in line etc. The social norms in German culture are a bit less accepting, which was quite difficult to face when trying to meet new friends in the city.This shock forced me to become even more communicative when I felt I “clicked” with someone new. I became really good at initiating connections, even when it was uncomfortable. I realized that once you stretch yourself out to them, Berliners are the most loyal, ride-or-die friends I’ve met!
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Germans are extremely punctual, tidy, organized, and norm-abiding. Again, as an Argentinian, this was a major cultural difference for me! I had to issue many an apology for lateness, or noise on a Sunday morning, or my disorganized spice rack in my homestay.There was an adjustment period, but it's fascinating to understand cultural norms you didn't even realize you lived within.
What was your favorite part of everyday life?
My favorite part of everyday life in Berlin was the exposure to art and diverse self-expression in every corner of the city. I would get on the U-Bahn on a Tuesday morning and sit next to a woman in neon green leather pants, a hand painted vintage handbag, draped in chains, reading Dostoevsky. I would walk down the street and see a beautiful mural of the Turkish immigrant community in Kreuzberg, or hear jazz-electronic bands playing in the streets. You will learn expressive styles and political and social expression you could never even imagine.People in Berlin come here to be creative, and that creative energy is unavoidable. It's beyond inspiring to be in a place that values expression, art, fashion, music, and creating new visions of the world.
What was the most memorable experience you had while in Berlin?
There were too many unbelievably memorable days in Berlin, but I would have to say that a favorite day was going to a German Punk experimental jazz concert with all of my friends, and going dancing afterwards. The entire cohort came together to hear weird, crazy music in this smokey industrial brick-wall bar, covered in neon lights and stickers, dancing our hearts out in awe of the place we were in. I remember we had a discussion about political progressiveness with some strangers we met at the concert, and ended up dancing techno with them until the sun came up. It is an experience I will never forget. There were those rare, magical sunlit days of walking along the Spree, marveling at the Ishdar Gates in the Pergammon, watching films at the Berlinale and eating incredible Thai food all together, with never a lull in conversation. The Berlin BOSP program attracts some of the coolest people on Stanford campus, so you're in for an absence of boredom.
What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?
Thrilling, diverse, creative, ugly, and metamorphosis.
What was your favorite food?
Way too easy. Döner supremacy, all day, every day. I will die on this hill. ALSO! Vietnamese food in Berlin is unmatched.
What was the most valuable item you took on the program?
Either my laptop (financially most valuable) or my multiple journals. I poured my entire mind into these travel journals, noting each surprise, lesson, adventure, mistake in those pages. If I can give one huge piece of advice, it is to write everything down!
What was your favorite music/band you discovered in Berlin?
Berlin is famously known as the techno capital of the globe. If you haven’t heard of techno music, it is an experimental electronic dance music originating in Detroit in the 1970s. The techno scene in Berlin is so quintessential, it is likely to receive UNESCO World Heritage Status in the city! Rave culture is invigorating, intense, and all about freedom and expression and individuality. Techno culture is closely tied to activism in Berlin and it is constantly changing with new artists and musical waves. My favorite DJs I discovered in Berlin are LoveFoxy, Sedef Adasi, Norman Nodge, and Marcel Dettman. Also, don’t knock German pop till you try it… JEREMIAS is my absolute favorite indie pop band!