I am a Design Thinking student in the School of Architecture. In such a interdisciplinary major, I have found that it's essential to get out of the studio and experience not only architecture, but all kinds of design around the world. Design Thinking is dependent on a diverse array of both learned and intrinsic skills. Learning is about stumbling upon that small wooden house, trying not to fall apart on a random street in the Balkans; it is looking at a city you are flying above and seeing how it’s been developed and expanded throughout time.
As students, we realize that any given project on a laptop screen can turn out to look much different after we plot, laser cut, or 3D print it. Most images of buildings we’ve studied in our Architecture History classes do not do them justice once we’ve seen them in real life; the details, proportions and colors must be witnessed in person in order to understand the essence of the architecture. As a result, one can say that affording students the opportunity to go abroad for a semester is a responsibility every A-School has.
Curious about Urban Planning, I decided to apply for summer courses in Europe. My main goal was to witness different architectural styles and approaches to planning cities. After some research and suggestions (thanks mom), I got the chance to study abroad in Berlin and Amsterdam the past two summers and took classes about placemaking and urban design. I took classes in the Humboldt University of Berlin and the University of Amsterdam through external programs that would count towards my Urban Planning minor. As a visual learner, these short study abroads had become my way of understanding cities.
My last two summers in Berlin and Amsterdam were more about experience than time spent in the classroom. I was staying in the two most well planned cities on Earth. Walking on a street for 10 minutes taught me more about how to understand a city than any one hour lecture in any institution would. I got to experience living with families, which gave me the opportunity to immerse in the local culture, the U Bahn (subway) and bike lanes I learned about in the classroom became my way of getting back home after each excursion I went on after class. Each museum, restaurant, bar, cafe and park my friends and I visited taught us the way of living within the city. The moments outside of class deepened my relationship with these two great cities. I was no longer the tourist I once was. I felt like I had become a citizen of both places.
Having the chance to see different parts of the world during my education at UVA is a rewarding opportunity. There is so much we can learn from getting out of our comfort zone and spending time in cultures different to ours; the initial fear of entering a new setting is replaced with memories lasting a lifetime. Later in life, we will probably not remember most of the lectures and discussions we had in college, but we will recall the time we visited the Monticello or another country for our research studio.