Himani

About Himani

Junior

Aerospace Engineering & Computational Mathematics

Himani – Study Abroad
Major: Aerospace Engineering and Computational Mathematics
Hometown: Acton, Massachusetts Campus Involvement: Writing Center Tutor, Avion Staff Reporter, Honors Student, Open Mic Club President
Why I chose Embry-Riddle: I was fairly set on wanting to study Aerospace Engineering as an undergraduate, and Embry-Riddle does have the best undergraduate AE program. Plus, a little adventure being miles and miles away from home is always fun.

Just hanging round Berlin.

I liked to hop on the U-Bahn and just ride around the city, hopping off whenever I got curious. I had gone up to Bernauer Strasse where the Berlin Wall Memorial marked one of the most common crossing points for those attempting to escape to the West, had ridden around on the Ring Bahn, watching the city flash by the train windows, had gone to Prinzessinengarten, a community garden with little stalls and make-shift seating arrangements for an afternoon of reading or conversing with friends. The train stations were numerous; regardless of where one was in the city, a train station or bus location could be found. The train stations themselves could be interesting. The script on the signage often gave a clue to when the station had been set up or most heavily used.

Waiting for a bus with my fellow travelers. The public transport in Berlin is efficient and convenient.

Waiting for a bus. The public transport in Berlin is efficient and convenient.

Old school world war era station signs.

Old school world war era station signs.

Wandering Berlin, living in Berlin, immersing myself in Berlin. That was the true reason for and the true wonder of studying abroad. Living in Berlin with just a handful of fellow students affords the particular opportunity of immersing oneself in an utterly unknown environment with the safety net of other students with just as little familiarity with the locale. The lack of familiarity was the most exciting factor, though.

Berlin is a fascinating city. Large but lacking the glossy veneer of places like London or Paris or New York, Berlin is raw and graffiti-covered and beautiful. A turbulent not-so-distant past, a thriving arts scene, a heavy Turkish influence (kebaps are their fast food – A+). One of the most interesting afternoons I spent was at the Turkish Market on Maybachufer in Neukolln, a double corridor of stalls selling everything from bolts of fabric to fresh produce to odds and ends from goodness knows where. Another afternoon was spent on a walking tour of the street art in Berlin.

Lucy by El Bocho, a Berlin street artist whose characters crop up all around the city.

Lucy by El Bocho, a Berlin street artist whose characters crop up all around the city.

A man juggling in a crowd listening to some live music at the Turkish Market.

A man juggling in a crowd listening to some live music at the Turkish Market.

In my time there, I developed rather a penchant for good cafes. Coffee culture is thriving in Berlin. Five Elephant, tucked away a block from Gorlitzer Park, a slightly unlikely location, had one of the best cappuccinos I have ever had and some hazelnut cake so good the sparrows were trying to nab it. Cuccuma, just two blocks from our residence in Mittenwalder Strasse, became a sort of local haunt; the warm-toned, hazy atmosphere, good coffee, and free wifi made it the perfect place to get some homework done, grab some breakfast, or just read.

At Five Elephant. Yum!

At Five Elephant. Yum!

My knee and tea at Cuccuma, all worn leather and warm wood.

My knee and tea at Cuccuma, all worn leather and warm wood.

By the end of the month, Berlin had started to feel more comfortable, just a little bit more familiar than when I had set foot off a connecting flight from Zurich. I won’t hit you with the cliché, but don’t for a minute underestimate how much being in an entirely new environment can affect you. For me…well, let’s say I would jump at an opportunity to live in Berlin again.

Living and Learning Abroad

Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburger Tor

At this point, we were all a little lost. Humanities class for the day had involved a walking tour of Berlin that ended at Brandenburger Tor. None of us were sure how to get from there to the Embry-Riddle WorldWide campus, a few rooms in a building. The instructions the tour guide gave us weren’t much help, either, considering we had been in the city for less than a week. After several wrong transfers and too much walking around stations, we arrived at Electrical Engineering I…significantly late. Dr. Demirkiran, the professor for EE335, was flexible, understanding. We all went for lunch and then proceeded to spend approximately six hours in class, covering content until it was clear no more content would enter our brains. This was not how college worked on main campus, but I was not complaining. It was a lot more interesting this way.

In one day, we had learned about Berlin the city and some of its major landmarks and the U-bahn and S-bahn. We learned that the route from Kurfürstenstrasse passed through “the stripper district” (a la experience and the tour guide), so we should go to class via Nollendorfplatz instead. We learned some basic circuit-y goodness and that Dr. Demirkiran may have some of the best anecdotes in existence.

Summer abroad was definitely better than any regular semester, and I’m not just saying that because the classes are pass/fail (though that is certainly a plus). Studying abroad is a lot more than just cramming information into our occasionally receptive heads.

The humanities class, Memory and Memorialization, taught by Dr. Silverman, met every morning at various locations, primarily in Berlin but also, for the few days we were there, in Paris. The day of the walking tour, day two of the official start of classes, we met at Hakescher Markt, a slightly touristy hub of restaurants and stores near Museumsinsel (Museum Island).

Our guide, Tarek (in the white shirt) gives us a brief rundown of the history of Berlin.

Our guide, Tarek (in the white shirt) gives us a brief rundown of the history of Berlin.

With the focus on memory, the class involved a lot of museums, monuments, and memorials. We visited Topography of Terror, an open-air museum about WWII and Berlin. The interior part of the exhibition is housed in the old SS headquarters, and a portion of the Wall extends along the street adjacent to the exterior exhibit.

Topography of Terror

Topography of Terror

The Jewish Museum was an architectural marvel that discussed the culture and history of the Jews not only through its exhibits but also through its experiential and immersive design. The Stolpersteine, one of the most peculiar and interesting methods of memory we studied, involved small brass plaques integrated into the cobblestoned sidewalks in front of the last known residences of various victims of the Nazis. The Stolpersteine were placed around Berlin by an artist, not the government or some organization dedicated to remembering something.

The name was apt: Stumbling Stones. These plaques were scattered throughout Berlin.

Stolpersteine                                     The name was apt: Stumbling Stones. These plaques were scattered throughout Berlin.

By visiting so many museums and memorials and walking all around Berlin, we really immersed ourselves in the city. We thought about the city not through the lens of a tourist looking for the flashy, glitzy, and beautiful but as people who, for a short time, had to live and learn within a new culture.

Electrical Engineering I, in contrast to Humanities, met in a classroom every afternoon. We usually spent several hours a day covering content. However, Dr. Demirkiran always interspersed the material with anecdotes. When we arrived or stayed late enough for hunger to take over, he joined us on our quest for food among the variety of options (falafel, kebap, sushi) just off Nollendorfplatz station. Despite the limited amount of time available, Dr. Demirkiran successfully covered the entirety of the necessary material for EE335.

After class, Dr. Demirkiran sometimes took us to cool places around Berlin just for kicks. Perhaps one of the best parts of studying abroad is the more casual interaction with the professors. We got to know our professors as people outside of the classroom setting, which not only made approaching them with questions easier but also made the experience a lot more fun.

Two of my classmates (Michael and Franck) and I at Schloss Charlottenburg...trying to decipher Dr. Demirkiran's photo instructions.

Two of my classmates (Michael and Franck) and I at Schloss Charlottenburg…trying to decipher Dr. Demirkiran’s photo instructions.

Chloe Mora looking for animals in the Berlin Zoo.

Chloe Mora looking for animals in the Berlin Zoo.

Studying abroad is not the typical learning experience. The classes are structured differently. Humanities was an immersive learning experience, which was a lot of fun and a lot more meaningful than a few texts and some theoretical discussions. Electrical Engineering lasted for several hours, as opposed to many more one hour classes. I actually found the different helpful and more enjoyable; drawing connections between concepts was easier, and less time was wasted reviewing previous lectures.

Both classes assigned homework and had assessments, but they were few and void of busy work. Humanities had readings assigned to accompany the sites visited during the class and asked us to think critically of the places we visited and their impact on the process of remembering via questions posted on the discussion board and two papers. Electrical Engineering had homework every few days, practice problems that tested the concepts covered in the preceding lessons and that we handed in electronically. A final exam consisting of an in-class and take-home element assessed our comprehension of the course.

Studying abroad did involve actual studying. However, the class formats were quite different from the usual semester formats, interaction with professors was more relaxed, and learning involved a lot more than just academic content.

Why Take Classes Abroad When You Can Take Them On Campus?

(why take classes on campus when you can take them abroad???)

I remember going into college wanting really badly to study abroad and being fairly certain it wouldn’t happen. I’m an engineering major; everyone said it was impossible/unwise/expensive/impossible.

Well, darling, I can tell you for sure it’s possible. I did it.

I woke up one morning and said to myself, I want to do the EE summer study abroad, walked into the Study Abroad office, and by afternoon, had started my application. A touch of spontaneity never hurt anybody.

So why did I (and why should you) do a summer study abroad? Here are five reasons from before and after my experience.

  1. It fit neatly into my plan.

Okay, so that spontaneity was…modified spontaneity. I had been eyeing the summer study abroad featuring electrical engineering for a few months. It fit nicely in my plan of required courses and helped me complete my EE and humanities requirements. Plus, being a summer semester meant it would take some of the load off of my regular (fairly packed) semesters on campus.

  1. The classes have a different learning format.

Class is still class. However, both EE and humanities were configured differently from a class in a regular semester on campus. Humanities met all around Berlin, meaning the classroom was the city. Classes consisted of tours of the city and its memorial sites and discussions of the sites and the assigned readings. EE met in a classroom in the Berlin WorldWide campus. Since there were fewer classes than even a summer semester on campus, class often ran for several hours. However, content was interspersed with breaks. I, for one, preferred having large chunks of information at once over a shorter semester; it helped when trying to connect and retain concepts. In both classes, assignments were designed with the “abroad” nature of the course in mind: they did not serve as “busy work” but as a means for the students to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts in the course.

  1. The class size is small(er than usual).

That means you get to bond with your classmates and professors and learn loads more about them. Which is fun. It also means the professor can take the time to explain a concept more carefully if a student is struggling to grasp it. Which is super helpful.

 

  1. You actually will expand your perspective.

I’m sorry. I know. The ultimate cliché. But it’s true. Whether that’s learning to use public transport (not applicable to me personally), about different infrastructure systems (the intercity trains in Germany are pretty awesome), to say right, left, train, airport, and bye in a new language (recht, links, zug, flughafen, tschüss), or about local food favorites (kebaps, kebaps, kebaps). Those seem like small details, but truly, seeing different cultures creates a broader understanding of the many different approaches people have to life, which is a valuable understanding you will not gain in the classroom (or in Daytona Beach…because you’ve kind of already seen it and it’s still the States).

  1. YOU’RE ABROAD.

After class, you have a whole, exciting, unknown city to explore, which we all know is infinitely more exciting than endless heaps of homework and Daytona Beach (sorry, DB, but Berlin is way cooler).

Entschuldigung. Ich sprechen kein deutsch.

(Sorry. I speak no German.) — An American Abroad

They said Germans are cold and robotic. I wasn’t feeling it. We were talking about music and weather and cities and trains. Although, he did inform me that, had I been German, this conversation would not be taking place.

I was on a train to Hamburg for a day trip from Berlin, where I had been doing the Humanities and Engineering summer study abroad for the past month.

The program consisted of two and half courses: Electrical Engineering I and lab (EE) and a humanities course focused on memory and memorialization. EE was conducted at the Embry-Riddle Worldwide campus near Nollendorfplatz station and taught by Dr. Ilteris Demirkiran, while the humanities course, taught by Dr. Rachel Silverman, met up all around Berlin and, in the second week of class, took a trip to Paris to contrast memorialization in Paris to that in Berlin.

In total, we were twelve students: five girls, seven boys. Here, the whole group and Dr. Silverman are reflected in the panels of the central reflector in the Reichstag Dome.

In total, we were twelve students: five girls, seven boys. Here, the whole group and Dr. Silverman are reflected in the panels of the central mirror in the Reichstag Dome. The mirror illuminates the building below, where the Bundestag, the German Parliament, meets.

 

EE met Monday through Thursday in the afternoon. Dr. D front-loaded the EE classes so that the last week of the semester he could end class in an hour or two and take us to see some of the beautiful sights in Berlin. That did mean, however, that classes at first ran for four to five hours, though they were thankfully (and rather wonderfully) punctuated by Dr. D’s humorous, and occasionally life-lesson-y, anecdotes.

IMG_9731

Dr. Ilteris Demirkiran, our EE professor. Classes met in the afternoons Monday through Thursday and often ran for several hours since we were covering a semester’s worth of material in one month.

The humanities course, Memory and Memorialization, met mornings Monday through Thursday and consisted of touring through memorials, monuments, and sometimes museums (mostly of the Holocaust). Classes were preceded by related articles and readings and followed by assignments requiring us to formulate a question about memory, memorialization, the memorial of the day, and the related reading.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, constructed by the German government, was initially controversial because people were concerned it would mean an end to the conversation of how to properly remember past atrocities.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, constructed by the German government, was initially controversial because people were concerned it would mean an end to the conversation of how to properly remember past atrocities.

The Vel d’Hiv  memorial in Paris commemorated the Jews the mass deportation of the Jews from Paris in July 1942.

The Vel d’Hiv memorial in Paris commemorated the Jews the mass deportation of the Jews from Paris in July 1942.

The courses were good, and getting them done over the summer saves you some time to graduation. However, the  best part of study abroad is, of course, being abroad: seeing new cities, understanding other cultures, meeting new people, getting a little lost, and finding your way again. I found that Paris was very much the elegant, charming place I expected it to be, whereas Berlin was grittier, graffiti-covered and captivating in a risen-from-the-ashes sort of way.

Me with the glorious Eiffel Tower.

Me with the glorious Eiffel Tower.

The corner store on Mittenwalder Strasse, the street on which we lived for the month.

The corner store on Mittenwalder Strasse, the street on which we lived for the month.

Many chose to take the opportunity to see some of the other major European cities, such as Amsterdam, Prague, and London. Me? I wanted to get as full a sense of the local culture as I could, so I chose to immerse myself in Berlin and spent two weekends in the city. And then, I went to Hamburg.

As fields and towns and a massive wind turbine farm sped past, I chatted with my fellow Hamburg-bound train traveler. The Berliner listened to Macklemore and Lana del Rey along with other artists of whom I had never even heard. He did not own a car (and did not plan on owning one) because the bus and regional train system in Germany made getting to places outside Berlin without a car manageable. I explained how getting a car in the States was not only a matter of necessity if you wanted to go anywhere outside a major city but also a sort of cultural rite of passage. When a smattering of clouds threatened the sunlight, he warned me that “the clouds came with the city” of Hamburg. I felt grateful for the little umbrella sitting snugly in my backpack.

Hamburg was beautiful. Very different from Berlin, the river port city had several canals running straight through its center and was constantly under or about to be under a rainstorm (the umbrella came in very handy). Massive tankers and freight ships floated on the far side of the River Elbe, flanked by rows of cranes. I enjoyed every second of my Hanseatic adventure.

A canal near the Town Hall (Rathaus) cuts straight through the city.

A canal near the Town Hall (Rathaus) cuts straight through the city.

Studying abroad in Berlin is one of the best experiences I have ever had. I love travel and learning, meeting new people and pushing myself to live adventurously. Is studying abroad for you? Honey, only you know that. I woke up one morning and just decided I wanted to go, so I went. If you find that same absurd urge take hold, listen to it. Even if you don’t, trust me, seeing the world is worth your time, even if you see it in small chunks.

(Want to know more about Berlin/Paris? Check out my next post for more.)