Hi everyone! It’s almost been a month since I arrived at the University of California, Berkeley but I have to say, it feels like so much longer. For this blog post, I will give you an overview of my initial experiences on exchange.
The process of applying to the University of California was a long one (you can contact me if you have any questions about that!). After receiving my acceptance, I cracked down on the process of applying for a visa, which takes a while, so you should get started on it as soon as you can. Initially, you apply for a DS-2019 form (it takes about one month to get to you), after which you can schedule an appointment at the United States consulate for an interview and obtain a J-1 Visa.
Since Auckland was getting a few particularly sunny summer days right as I was leaving, I delayed packing for as long as I could. When I did finally start, the biggest problem I faced was figuring out how to get my seven Harry Potter books to California with me (I managed). I would recommend bringing an umbrella and a windbreaker if you’re coming on exchange during the Spring semester because it’s been raining almost nonstop since I have arrived here. My friends have mentioned this is one of the coldest winters Berkeley has seen in a while and they like to blame me for this because they think I brought Auckland weather with me.
You can get to Berkeley by flying into either San Francisco or Oakland. I flew to San Francisco via Los Angeles the evening before my Orientation started. It was raining the day I got here, but my roommate’s warm welcome made up for the stormy weather.
The following day, I saw the campus for the first time and I have to say, it was quite impressive. Though originally the campus started at Sather Gate, it has been moved one block ahead and now begins at Sproul which sees a lot of activity as multiple clubs, fraternities and sororities set up their tables and try to recruit members over the course of the semester. As you enter the campus through Sather Gate, you are by greeted old, traditional looking buildings and the Campanile or the Sather Tower (which is the clock tower). The campus is breathtakingly beautiful and has multiple trails and nooks scattered all over it.
UC Berkeley (or Cal, as they call themselves) and Stanford have an intense rivalry and my favourite bit of history about this rivalry has to do with the Campanile. When Stanford was building Hoover Tower, it asked Cal about the height of the Campanile and Cal reported an incorrect measurement so that Hoover Tower would always be shorter than Campanile.
The site of the 1964 Free Speech Movement, Berkeley has a vibrant history with active involvement in political and social issues. Even today, Berkeley prides itself on being not only the number one public institution in the United States but also a campus that places values of freedom and justice above all.
My first week was all about Golden Bear Orientation (GBO), which is a big thing here. From a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco to trivia night at Anne Hall, Cal tries to make the week-long orientation experience as fun as possible! We were assigned to GBO groups with three leaders in each group and I was lucky to have a wonderful orientation group, the members of which were quite excited about being featured on this blog. Though a fun experience, GBO can be tiring because you usually start at 8am and finish at 10pm. They start with campus tours, speeches by the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and faculty, discussions and presentations on issues we might face, motivational speeches, trivia night, movie night and a Day in the Bay (a fun activity somewhere in the Bay Area).
Overall, my my first few weeks have been a life-changing experience. I have met wonderful, warm people who have welcomed me to this new city with open arms. In my next post, I will talk more about classes and the opportunities this great campus has to offer. But for now, I will end with a Burger Feature (which will be a constant throughout my posts)
Nation’s Giant Hamburgers: 7/10
My roommate and I ordered a chocolate thickshake and a cheeseburger each at 1am the night before our first midterm. The thickshake did not disappoint and the burger tasted wonderful as well (I do believe it would have tasted better if we’d had it fresh instead of getting it delivered). Also, meet Tesla the Panda and Puggi the Teddy.
Stay tuned for more updates!