Elizabeth RIDER FS2014-15, MIT | to Germany
This January I was given the incredible chance to travel abroad for the first time. After realizing that I would not be able to take German IV at MIT, my professor informed me of a program that I could cross-register for at Wellesley. It was a three-week class with Wellesley students in Berlin, where we learned about the culture and history of the city as well as the language used by its inhabitants. It sounded perfect finally a chance to visit the country whose language I’d spent years studying. The only drawback: a scholarship student at MIT, I wouldn’t be able to afford the ticket to Berlin, let alone the housing or tuition fees. It is only with the Fung Scholarship that I was allowed to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.
Oftentimes we like to think that travelling is fun, easy, or luxurious. At times, my trip was some of those things. At Boston’s airport I was called aside and my boarding pass was thrown away to be replaced by a new one my first international flight was to be firstclass. At other times, it was far less glamorous. Getting lost in the rain looking for the right Strassenbahn stop, getting frustrated when locals couldn’t understand your German, and dealing with shyness in two languages. Nearly every day of our stay, it rained. At one point, the wind was so terrible that a warning was sent out our professor called us telling us to stay inside until the storm ended. We went to museum after museum, and exhausted from standing and translating for hours, we’d slump down and fall asleep on the train rides home. I remember feeling awful at first, like everyone else knew each other and had their friends, while I was lonely, fighting jetlag in a new city. I soon learned to open up, to ask questions, and get to know my classmates. I sought common ground and found that not only were we not so different, we even had mutual friends in common. Though Wellesley and MIT are only a couple of towns away, it often seemed like they were as different as could be. As it turns out, neither Wellesley girls nor Germans are that much different from us. I’m amazed at how close I felt to my roommate and fellow classmates by the end of the class whereas normally, I would have tended to remain guarded and shy. I hope to maintain that sense of openness here in the states, that I may treat strangers with warmth and respect, that they might not remain strangers, that they may even become friends.
What really made the trip great were the people I met. I went into this class without knowing anything about Wellesley. During our stay, we got to know each other as well as two alums who’d been living in Berlin for years and lead quite interesting lives. The first, Jane, was an expatriate after graduating from Wellesley with a degree in English, she moved to West Berlin to teach. After meeting the man she would eventually marry, she decided to stay. This was the year the wall was built. She worked with students from both East and West Berlin and travelled back and forth to carry information to their families. The second, Kathrin, was younger. She was born in West Germany and studied astrophysics at Wellesley before returning to her home country to study law. Now, she works for the European Union and will next be posted in Botswana. It was amazing to meet someone so successful who also shared my interests: the intersection of science policy and international relations is a field that I hope to pursue. Speaking with her over dinner only reinforced my desire to study language, law, and science, and use what I learn to help people all over the world.
To conclude, I could go on and on about what I saw in Berlin. I learned about communication and the power of compromise as well as the importance of being sincere and dedicated. I was inspired by the people I met there and the city itself, which has gone through so many iterations of change and now seeks to use efficiency and innovation to build a better future for its people.