A first-year student at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, Indira “Indy” Bisram decided to spend her first semester with us in Berlin. By the time we sit down for the interview, I have already gotten to know her through the beginner Spanish class that consists only of the two of us. After class on a Monday afternoon, we find ourselves in the common room of Dorm W15, and I can’t help but notice her sparkling enthusiasm when she tells me about her family, school, and, first and foremost, her experiences in Berlin…
…Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Queens, NY, but my maternal grandparents are from Jamaica and my paternal grandparents are from Guyana.
Growing up, I visited my grandparents in Jamaica many times with my parents and my younger sister.
So which place do you like better – Queens or Jamaica?
Probably Jamaica. It’s so beautiful and warm there, there is so much nature and the people are so much more laid-back compared to the busy New Yorkers. It’s a great country to visit. But if I really had to choose, I’d still want to live in New York.
So what made you decide to apply to the “Begin in Berlin” program?
I liked that the curriculum was so focused on the humanities, with which I’d never really engaged before, so I wanted to come to a place with such an emphasis. I also really like to travel and see new places.
When I got the news that I got into the program, I just turned around and said to my roommate: “I’m going to Germany!”
That’s right, I remember you telling me that you went to boarding school in Pennsylvania, which means that you were already used to living away from home when you came here. What was that like?
I absolutely loved it. My classmates and I became a real family: I still talk to them a lot. What I really liked was the safe environment that it provided for these 4 developmental years. We always felt so welcome and cared about. There was a lot of structure and rules that many high school students might have complained about, but I thought it was a good thing. And it made me so much more confident about going abroad on my own. The decision would have been so much harder for me without that experience.
You said that you liked the idea of studying humanities, which you haven’t really done before. Is that what you want to pursue academically or do you have any other interests?
Next to philosophy, I really like math. I’m also really interested in mechanical stuff. At school, I always worked backstage at theater productions: doing set design, costumes, props and all that. It’s just very therapeutic for me to build things, and it’s great to be involved in that kind of project and making it happen.
I also really love working with children. At boarding school, I used to babysit my dorm parents’ kids all the time; I also did social work during one summer and worked at a daycare. I think that children are fantastic and incredibly fascinating – they have so much energy and want to learn things about the world. They are sponges – they absorb everything that happens around them, which is why it’s so important to treat them well. When I did social work, I realized how neglected children can be and how often they have to cope with things that they shouldn’t have to worry about. They should have time to just be kids and become who they are. The system sometimes leaves them scared and alone – I would love to change that.
What do you think about the fact that Bard College Berlin is such a small school?
Well, my boarding school only had 500 people, and at the time I thought that was little. This place is even smaller. But it’s great because you really get to know everyone around you; it’s very close and intimate. At the same time, people constantly filter in and out through the different exchange programs that Bard Berlin takes part in, which really keeps things interesting around here.
Also, you get to be in a big city in Europe. Had you ever been here before?
I’ve only been to Paris and England, where I have family, so this is my first time in Germany. But I like it a lot so far. Berlin is a nice place; I don’t see how you could not enjoy it here.
Well, I definitely agree with you there. There are so many great things in Berlin, I am sure everyone can find something to love about it. Is there anything specific that really strikes you about the city?
Berlin is kind of like New York, but with more trees and more laid-back. Especially Prenzlauer Berg, which really reminds me of Queens, but not to the point that it makes me homesick. In general, Berlin is very organized and informed––you always know what’s going on. There is a perfect balance between history and newer culture; so many museums, and so much music and art. You just never get bored.
In New York, it is so easy to get stuck in a rut and do the same old things over and over again. Berlin feels like it’s breathing. I will definitely come back here at some point, even if I go back to Annandale.
We spend another half hour or so in the common room doing Spanish homework before Indy takes off to return to her dorm. I stay behind with a smile on my face and start typing up the notes I took during the interview. Indy’s enthusiasm and never-ceasing good mood are definitely contagious.