Hilla’s SSIHP Summer 2015

I’m Hilla Kurki, a first year master student in Photography and one of the lucky six who got to attend Stanford Summer International Honors in 2015. In this report I describe my SSIHP experience from the point of view of an art student, highlight some of the most memorable moments and also shed light on the basic living conditions on campus. If you want to hear more, feel free to contact me on my Aalto email!

Stanford is not well known for its art department, nevertheless it does have one. I almost did not apply, because I somehow thought that SSIHP would only be for the other schools of Aalto, not ARTS. Luckily I confirmed from our department’s study coordinator that also students of fine arts can (and should) apply. In your application and motivation letter remember to explain how your course selections relate to your interests. This will also help you focus and to make the experience an actual part of your study plan. I also took the effort to contact one of my former professors for an additional recommendation letter. He ended up writing a one sentence recommendation, the sentence filling the whole page. I think it is only positive to let your personality show during the application process.

Most of the art courses offered during the summer are introductory ones, so for an art major there is really no point taking them. The courses under for example Communication, Psychology and History definitely offer a possibility to deepen one’s understanding and wander outside one’s comfort zone. When browsing through the courses and planning your picks, keep in mind that the courses vary each year and the actual course selection will be published later in spring. Two of my initial choices weren’t offered this summer and I had a hard time finding replacements.

Finally I ended up attending three courses, each worth 3 credits: Plein Air Drawing , Creative Industries: The Business of Popular Culture and Who Am I?: The Question of Self in Art, Literature and Philosophy . I was really satisfied with all of them. The warmth, enthusiasm and knowledge of all the professors was impressive. They are willing to meet students one on one during the office hours and almost always stayed after lectures for further discussions. The pace of the courses was demanding but also highly rewarding. The culture to give a lot of critique and feedback makes all the work worthwhile. The homework consisted of weekly readings, response papers and essays. I was pleasantly surprised that both the teachers in Creative Industries and Question of Self welcomed more creative approaches for the final papers . In the Creative Industries we also had guest lecturers, like Youtube’s Creative Manager and self-published authors, who really helped to understand the courses themes better.

I would highly recommend the Plein Air Drawing for even experienced art students. The teaching style made even the basic drawing exercises seem fresh. Our teacher made the effort to make every class unique and really encouraged everyone to loosen up their technique. We ended up drawing in the gym, on the stables, on the railway station, on a beach, in a cafe…

The Stanford premises have two great locations to find some masterpieces: the Cantor Art Museum and the Anderson Art Collection. They have individual works from artists such as Warhol, Pollock, Sugimoto, de Kooning, Rothko and Lawrence. Cantor also has a Rodin sculpture garden and the campus area is filled with sculptures from example one Andy Goldsworthy. San Francisco with all of its galleries is just an hour away. The Caltrain operates all day and the ticket costs only little over 7 dollars one way. I also got the chance to visit the San Francisco College of Art and talk with their students. So outside class there are endless opportunities to see inspiring things! Be sure to visit the Cactus Garden, the most beautiful spot on campus in my opinion.

I was the only art student in my dorm (and I actually managed to meet only two art majors throughout the whole summer). Interacting and living side by side with students from different departments was eye-opening. SSIHP is a chance to not just to get to know Stanford, but also gain insight of different universities around the globe through the other international students. This can be highly valuable for networking and when choosing a possible exchange school. Together we attended an ecological surf course, visited Los Angeles with the Indian students (the trip included listening to Bollywood musicals for the whole 5 hour drive), climbed a mountain in Lake Tahoe and partied side by side in the historical San Francisco Pride.

Every week is packed with different opportunities to visit different attraction all around Bay Area. The trips are organized by the RAs (room administrators) of the dorm and all expenses are paid. The studies demand a lot of time, so most weekends I just stayed on campus. If one dreams of seeing California more thoroughly, one should plan to stay an additional week or two in the States. I took two weeks after the official study period to get to explore California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. The nearly 4500 km trip was packed with the most beautiful scenery in the world and some classic American road trip nostalgia, from shady motels to Bruce Springsteen songs blasting from the radio. Renting a car is cheap and you’ll find plenty of affordable roadside motels, so you don’t need to plan your road trip that much in advance. The same of course goes to the shorter weekend trips.

The hassle to get the visa is the only difficulty you should expect. That said, start the visa process as soon as possible. Once we reached campus everything went really naturally and hassle free. Three of the six Finnish students got a private room. Most of the shared rooms are also divided to two separate rooms with only a shared entrance and a sink. Our dorm, Branner Hall, was located really close to the Main Quad so I didn’t need a bike to get to class. The campus is quite peaceful and vast, with all the historical sights, a mall and park areas. The whole campus pretty much shuts down after 10pm, with few exceptions like Starbucks. I was really glad to find how easy it was for a vegetarian to find something to eat. The gyms and pool are also free to use!

All in all, during the summer I learned a lot and at the same time, a lot about myself. Highly recommend applying! The summer spent in Stanford was one of the best I’ll probably ever experience.

Best, Hilla