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By Mella Tesfazgi MPP’23

Mella Tesfazgi
Mella Tesfazgi MPP'23

One of my most treasured undergraduate experiences was studying abroad at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom during the spring of my junior year. I remember feeling enamored by the European Union's complex political system that completely intertwined what was then still 28 member states. Despite countless cultural, linguistic, and geographical differences, I was intrigued by how the member states vigorously upheld the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. It was an imperfect symphony that melodically blended many diverse perspectives, and I, as both a student and tourist, deeply resonated with its sound.

I learned a lot through that experience, so I was thrilled when the opportunity came along to study abroad again at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany through my Master of Public Policy program at Sanford.

I was inspired to apply after taking an Information Privacy Law class at Duke Law that exposed me to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an important component of EU privacy and human rights law. Applying to the Hertie program was an opportunity to explore this important legislation further from the perspective of those directly impacted.

Hertie was a highlight

Studying at the Hertie School was a highlight of my time in Berlin. With over 70% international students, every classroom discussion was filled with diverse perspectives. For instance, when Italy elected its first far-right prime minister in over three decades, my Italian classmates brought a palpable energy to our course on “Power and Leadership.”

I interacted with students from all over the world, each bringing their unique experiences and viewpoints to the table, making every class an enriching and enlightening experience. I especially enjoyed an entrepreneurship class titled, “How to Build a Tech Start up in Highly Regulated Markets.” That exposure shifted my prospective of what’s possible with an MPP, I’m now exploring the start-up world and possibly using my policy lens to build innovative yet socially conscious tech products.

Mella Tesfazgi BW

But Berlin wasn't just about the classroom; there was so much to learn from the many monuments sprinkled throughout the city, reminding citizens and visitors alike of the nation's rich yet harrowing history.

During my four months in the city, I lived in a neighborhood called Tempelhof, which was known for its vibrant Turkish population and Tempelhof field, a former Nazi airport converted into a massive open-field park.

Almost every morning, I would walk to a coffee shop just a few blocks from my apartment, where a friendly Turkish man would serve me the perfect shot of espresso before I took a meditative stroll through Tempelhof field. The old runways had been transformed into a skate park, perfect for adrenaline junkies or bike riders and families with strollers.

On Saturdays, the grassy field was filled with children flying kites. Far off in the distance, you could see the city skyline, complete with Berlin's signature high-rise television tower, the Fernsehturm, that served as a visual reminder of the city's communist history.

During my walks, I reflected a lot on the landmark's history and ideas of struggle, racism, liberation and freedom.

convenient location

Berlin's central location in Europe also made it easy to travel to and learn about other nearby countries. In just a few hours by train, I was able to explore Amsterdam, Prague, and Paris, among other popular tourist destinations.

But perhaps my favorite place to explore was Berlin itself. In many ways, the city let me live out my 1990s New York City dreams with its eclectic art scene, underground record stores, and cash-only establishments.

Everywhere you turned, there were Berliners draped in something black or leather or both, exuding an effortless coolness I found myself wanting to emulate. 

As my time in Berlin came to a close, I realized just how much the city had become a home away from home. The Hertie School, Turkish coffee shop, and stylish Berliners— they all became a part of me. It’s an experience I'll cherish for a long time. 

Mella Tesfazgi is a second-year Master of Public Policy candidate at the Sanford school concentrating in Technology Policy. She most recently completed an internship at the Center for Data Innovation under the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Mella holds a B.A. in Economics from Wake Forest University.

Mella's Hertie Scrapbook