Stanford experience by Sara Gottschalk

Why I chose to apply for the IHP at Stanford University

When I read about the possibility to attend Stanford Summer School I knew I had to apply, because I was keen on studying something outside of my regular program, such as psychology and adjacent fields. Also, Stanford is a name and I thought it would be great to visit one of the top schools in the world to find some inspiration and learn more about where I want to go in life. I had spent a High School Year in Texas and had visited the country and especially California a few times before. Arriving in June 2017 felt a bit like coming home.


Centre of the Oval

Arriving to Stanford

Arriving to the campus was mind-blowing as the campus is such a beautiful place, resort-like. It was overwhelming to take in all the new information concerning living at the campus, eating, checking out the courses, attending events, meeting new people and making other arrangements. Getting sick was one of my first activities and forced me to slow down, but also gave me the chance to realize what was ahead.

The dorm and IHP

My dorm room at Lagunita Court was very beautiful and located conveniently. The IHP organized many events and trips for us with interesting topics and locations to visit and did indeed take great care of us. The same counts for the House Director and Resident Assistants who were students living with us in the dorm to create a community and home for us there, by organizing get-togethers etc. Really, there was always some kind of event to attend to have fun, learn something new or just be part of the program. To me it was even sometimes a bit too much activity, which taught me to prioritize though.


Walking the Stanford Dish hike trail

Also, by the end of the 8 weeks I realized how loud it was around the dorm (lots of people and groups passing by, construction work going on, general loudness of dorm and dining halls – each day) which affected my sleep. So: It’s always good to have earplugs!

The courses

I chose Thinking Strategically, 4 units (Political Sciences), Introduction to Social Psychology, 3 units and Leading Trends in Information Technology, 1 unit (Management Sciences and Engineering). Initially I had chosen another 3 units course instead of the 1 unit one, but had to realized that 10 units overall was too much to handle.

I was very happy with my Social Psychology class as the course provided a lot of insights into the topic, including exhaustive readings and a variety of exercises to learn how Social Psychologists work. Also, as I have more of a Media and Design background, the courses taught me how to do scientific research and work which was of great value. The teachers were very sweet and the class generally interested in the topic.

For my Thinking Strategically class it started out well but then became too complex and theoretical. After a while, it became clear that the course title and description were misleading, as it was actually a course introducing Game Theory. In the end, I spent lots of time struggling with the course homework and not really learning what I had expected. The teacher was wonderful and entertaining, but it should be a recommendation to potential students to really find out what their courses are about before committing to them.

The campus and facilities


Favorite spot in front of Green Library – lots of squirrels to watch

As mentioned already, I absolutely loved the campus. It was beautiful to take bike tours and explore the different facilities, departments and areas. The swimming pool was across the street from our dorm. The Tennis courts were a 3-min bike ride away. Benches and park areas for taking a break and relaxing were available in abundance. My favorite spots were to hang out in front of Green Library, lie under a tree next to the Bing Concert Hall or just relax at the Oval in between classes. As I am a design student it was a must for me to visit the and I loved the space. If you visit, you should take a tour and explore how design thinking is used there as a glue between all types of disciplines.


Walking around the Main Quad and enjoying the beautiful architecture and tall palm trees made me appreciate where I was each and every day. Also, the libraries offered plenty of resources and inspiration, including magazines in all languages. These special facilities and resources are definitely something to appreciate and use during the time of being there.

Bottom line

Stanford and Silicon Valley is an extraordinary place. It is full of life and all kinds of people and backgrounds and knowledge. It is easy to lose yourself in it during those 8 weeks and I suggest it’s exactly what you should be doing. Depending on what your goals and background is, you can make anything happen there. You will go in there and come out with a book full of ideas, learnings and stories to tell. In general, the summer is of course different and too short to really learn how things work there and make yourself a home, but it is definitely enough to get a feeling for the place and be touched and inspired by the possibilities. This experience taught me lots on a deeper personal and intellectual level. I learned about myself and others and I dearly appreciate the opportunity to have been part of this unique place and community. It does leave a mark on you, no matter in what way you choose to experience it.

My top 5 summer highlights

  • The IHP organized a variety of events where one of them was a Handwriting analysis workshop. Awesome!
  • Playing Tennis twice a week and attending the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
  • Day of Service at Half Moon Bay, an excursion organized for Summer Session students to give back to the community.
  • Weekend trips to Napa Valley, Santa Cruz, Yosemite NP and Lake Tahoe.
  • Being able to immediately see and apply what I learned during my Social Psychology course.

Self-organized weekend trip to Yosemite National Park

My top 5 recommendations for future IHP students

  • Use sunscreen!
  • Don’t come with any expectations. Come, go with the flow, be ready to socialize (a lot) and attend every event you can, work hard and travel! Sleep later.
  • Double-check in the first weeks, if the courses you chose are really what you want to be doing for the next 8 weeks (some descriptions are misleading).
  • Get a bike – it’s possible to get around without a bike, but it’s just such a breeze with it.
  • Be a classic tourist for a day: take the free campus tour, get on top of Hoover tower and take many silly selfies.
  • Join a sport – you will meet interesting people outside of the Summer Session, such as staff, staff wives and husbands and full-time students

A big >>Thank You<< to Aalto University

Who’s talking: Sara Gottschalk

From: Aalto School of Arts, Design and Architecture, MA Collaborative and Industrial Design