Amber Yang
9 min readJan 1, 2020

✈️ On being abroad ep. 1 / 2019: a year of travels

On being abroad:
The German writer Goethe was one of the first western scholars to pick up and study a Chinese novel. The common consensus at the time was that eastern culture was exotic and unable to be understood, but Goethe was able to realize a certain universality about the thoughts and characters he encountered and began to search for other writings across the world. For him, writing and arts were not the pride of a nation or race but rather something shared with humanity.

In 2019, I travelled to ten new countries and took 41 flights collecting new stories along the way. Here’s some of the things I’ve learned being abroad:

Poland (Warsaw, Krakow, Auschwitz, Tarnov):

Warsaw, Poland

In March, I traveled to Poland with Stanford Hillel on a trip focused on rebuilding Jewish nationhood.

✨ What I learned/appreciated:

  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧 the importance of cultural community: Before the Holocaust and World War II, there was a large Jewish community in Poland, and they were some of the first ethnic settlers of Poland too. The Jewish population was nearly wiped out during and after the Holocaust, and ever since then, ethnic tensions between Jews and ethnic Poles have arisen, making it difficult to rebuild the rich Jewish culture that once existed. As an Asian American raised in the south, I’ve never felt super connected with any culture, and through this trip, I learned how community can help one cope with difficulties.
  • 📚traveling with an educational focus: Most of the trips I’ve taken in the past were very touristy — visiting sites only for their fame without knowing the complete history or significance of what I was looking at. Traveling with the director of the Polin Museum as a historical guide made me appreciate having a holistic understanding of the history of Poland.

🌉 Places/locations that made an impression on me:

  • Auschwitz: I haven’t quite been able to put into words what I felt during and after visiting Auschwitz: confusion, anger, empathy, hope. Going through the exhibits and the tour, I felt pretty senseless — numb. When we reached the end of our tour of Auschwitz, we were brought into a multimedia room where video footage of Jews before and after the Holocaust played. It gave me a sense of hope, and an understanding of what it means to pick yourself up and define your own meaning in life. (This experience made me read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, which has easily become one of my favorite books)
  • Kuchnia Conflictu: Had lunch at a restaurant (that’s actually a nonprofit) where all the cooks are international refugees trying to rebuild their lives in Poland. The cooks make ethnic dishes from their culture (so the menu changes daily), and you can choose any price to pay for lunch. Had an amazing discussion with the founder of the kuchnia (kitchen) about the refugee crisis and had amazing Afghani food.

France (Paris, Versailles)

Top of the Sacre Coeur (Paris, France)

At the start of summer, I travelled to Paris to speak about space debris and space exploration at the Paris Air Show but took some time to also explore the city.

✨ What I learned/appreciated:

  • 🌫 living simply and the art of disconnecting: I realized how superficially reliant I am on material goods when I’m home and at school. It clutters my mind and decreases my attention span, which I hate. On this trip, I challenged myself to become more reliant on the people around me and my experiences instead of my phone and money. On certain days, I tried to survive on only $10 and my phone only to use Google Maps.
  • 🍰 dolce far niente (taking my time): The Italian saying “dolce far niente” translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing”, which is something that I am trying to master. I feel pressured all the time to be doing “something” productive, and when I don’t, I feel really uncomfortable about myself. Took a step towards reaching dolce far niente by standing in front of pieces of art I loved for 30 minutes at a time or people watching in a cafe with my dad for over an hour. Trying to become proficient in thinking a lot and saying nothing.
  • 🎑 impressionist art: Ever since I took an art history class at Stanford with Alex Nemerov, I’ve been obsessed with art museums, specifically impressionist painters: Morisot, Monet, and Manet. When I visited, there were two one of a kind exhibits going on: a first time solo feature of Morisot (one of the only female impressionist painters) and the Negro Model (the first exhibit in Europe to feature black models in paintings). These exhibits taught me how art from the past can be used to make societal statements today.

🌉 Places/locations that made an impression on me:

  • Top of the Sacre Coeur: I climbed over 300 steps to the top of the Sacre Coeur, a basilica. What amazed me at the top was the amazing view of Paris (you could see literally everything). It was crowded at the top with people huddled together; I stayed until the sun set, and it turned dark. I like to go back to that memory when I’m stressed out to think about how I enjoyed the simplicity of just standing there and thinking.

Germany (Berlin, Weimar, Dessau)

Bauhaus School (Dessau, Germany)

Spent three weeks in Germany taking a Stanford summer class on the Bauhaus School and modern design.

✨ What I learned/appreciated:

  • 🏠 minimalistic design: the beauty of the white cube. Although I still have lots to learn about design, I came to the conclusion that design should not only follow function but be sympathetic to the user. Still trying to answer the questions: what makes something art?, and is there a difference between art and objects?
  • ⚪️⚫️ clean lines and monochrome colors: came to appreciate simple cuts and monochrome colors (black, grey, and white) that have informed my own fashion sense. Playing with textures and shades of black, grey, and, white have come to define my ideal wardrobe (working towards completing said wardrobe in 2020).

🌉 Places/locations that made an impression on me:

  • Mies van der Rohe’s Lemke House: our class visited a house Mies van der Rohe (a prominent Bauhaus designer) designed for a couple (the Lemke family). The house was stripped of furniture or clutter and left with clean linen curtains that flowed with the wind when the doors were left open. It struck me as pure beauty when I saw the way the sunlight rays would hit the sharp lines of the doors and windows.


Visited Wales as the first stop in a Stanford sponsored trip while studying abroad at Oxford.

✨ What I learned/appreciated:

  • 🏘 small, quaint towns: stayed in a removed B&B outside of Porthmadog, Wales (population of 4,000) for three days. I was bored out of my mind when we first got there and resulted to working on CS homework at first. Eventually ventured out and began to appreciate the familiarity and sense of security from walking around a small town. Ended up at a pub, enjoyed some mulled wine, and made some local friends who took a special interest in me and my friends (probably because we’re Asian).

Ireland (Dublin, Cork, Killarney, Doonbeg, Cliffs of Moher)

Cliffs of Moher

Took a weekend trip with Albert to Ireland during the quarter.

✨ What I learned/appreciated:

  • 💨 the force of nature: visiting the Cliffs of Moher is one of the most iconically beautiful things you can do in Ireland. Doing it during the winter, though, can be life threatening (haha kidding, not really). Walked on top of the rugged cliffs next to the sea coast and experienced the highest wind speeds I’ve ever been in. Learned that nature is a force to be reckoned with. Was left with my face whipped from my hair blowing in the wind and bruises from being knocked over while walking, but was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen.
  • 🚗 views and convos from roadtripping: spent at least 20 hours roadtripping all across Ireland (thanks for driving, Albert!).
  • small towns over big cities: our first stop in Ireland was a small town called Killarney. Although we didn’t get the chance to thoroughly explore, it seemed like the type of town where everyone knew each other and would grab a pint after running into an old mate in a pub (ya know what I mean?). The town was bustling at midnight. Learned there are benefits to living in a small town over a big city, which can feel impersonal and cold at times.

🌉 Places/locations that made an impression on me:

  • Cliffs of Moher: explained above! just beautiful.

England (London, Oxford, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon)

Radcliffe Camera Library (Oxford University)

Studied abroad at Oxford University during my junior fall quarter and completed a tutorial on Post-Kantian/Existential philosophy. Read ~200 pages a week, wrote a 10 page essay each week, and thought a lot (things I don’t get to do at Stanford a lot).

✨ What I learned/appreciated:

  • ✍ learning for learning’s sake: When I applied to Stanford as a high schooler, I presented myself as someone who would learn and read for knowledge’s sake (otherwise known as intellectual vitality haha). At Stanford, it’s easy to get distracted to pursue things that seem sexy and lucrative. At Oxford, I got to indulge myself again in something I’ve wanted to think and explore for a long time — philosophy. Read books (The Stranger) that made me cry and had discussions with my tutor that I will cherish.
  • 👩🏻‍💼your college makes an impact on who you become: This was the first time I got to interact with a lot of students all from Oxford. I realized that the culture of a school has a lot of influence on the type of people its students become. Made me think about how Stanford has molded me and how I would be different if I had chosen a different school.
  • 🕐 philosophy as a tool to understand life: One of my favorite tutorial essay questions was: “is a meaningless life worth living?”. Message me if you want to hear my thoughts or chat with me on this!

🌉 Places/locations that made an impression on me:

  • Radcliffe Camera Library: one of my favorite places to study at Oxford. Sometimes it was distracting to study in there since it was so beautiful inside. Gonna miss this place when I go back to Stanford.
  • 🍜 Mr. Tse’s Noodles: my favorite restaurant at Oxford. The shop only sells Asian noodle soups and dim sum, and only one man runs the entire shop (he cooks, cleans, and serves). I would go to this restaurant at least once a week and became good friends with Mr. Tse (the owner of the shop), and it was sentimental to leave at the end.

Andorra (Andorra la Vella)

View from our Airbnb in Andorra la Vella

Took a trip to Andorra (a small country between Spain and France) to go skiing at the end of my term in Oxford.

✨ What I learned/appreciated:

  • 😰 skiing as an exercise of conquering fears: This was my first time skiing, and I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan at first since I have a fear of heights/steeps and I kept purposely falling. Eventually had to get someone bring me down in a wagon, but before that point, I was really pushing myself to continue. Looking forward to skiing again some time in the future to challenge myself more.

Spain (Barcelona, Montserrat)

Cable car on the way to Montjuic (in Barcelona)

Ended my year of travels by visiting Spain before going home.

✨ What I learned/appreciated:

  • 🔆 light: After spending three months in England, I was starting to get tired of the rain and lack of sunlight. My mood immediately improved once we got to Spain — felt the warmth of the sun on my skin, and enjoyed the sunlight beating down til the evening. Realized how dependent I am on warm, ambient lighting to keep myself motivated and productive during the day.

🌉 Places/locations that made an impression on me:

  • ⛰ Montserrat: Albert and I took a day trip to the monastery at the top of Montserrat (a mountain peak). We hiked to a higher point and saw an amazing view of the unique shape of the peaks of Montserrat and the town below. Sat there for a good 30 minutes taking everything in and reflecting.

🥂Can’t wait to see where 2020 brings me!

Amber Yang

Investor @ Bloomberg Beta | Space + philosophy fanatic