Before I begin first my post, I’d like to say that if you get into Berkeley, be prepared to work hard. If you’re looking for an exchange experience with a chill workload and have plenty of time to spare for other activities, don’t choose Berkeley. This school is exceptionally academically challenging (at least for engineering) and will push you to your limits. None of my classes have lecture recordings, and the number of resources provided to students is much less than back at home, especially for upper-division (3rd/4th year) courses. But if you’re thinking of exchanging here, you’re probably expecting to be academically challenged… right?
Most people know UC Berkeley or Cal as the number one public university in the United States, and Berkeley is geographically stereotyped as the campus “just 30 minutes’ drive” from San Francisco. However, in reality, the City of Berkeley is a stark contrast from the bustling high rises of San Francisco, being ranked in the bottom 20 for safest cities in all of California. Student housing here is very pricey, and the actual accommodation you get is not of high quality, considering the price you pay. The streets are dirty in comparison to Auckland, and you tend to see many homeless people in the area. That being said, I don’t feel particularly unsafe in the area, and the university offers plenty of services to make sure you get home safe. There’s quite a bit to cover here on these topics, so I’ll probably return to these in my future posts.
GBO (Transfer Edition)
The first date on which the semester starts, according to the academic calendar, marks the first day of GBO (Golden Bear Orientation). As an exchange student, I attended the same orientation program as the other exchange students, rather than first-year students. Unlike UoA, where there isn’t a specific timeframe for people to transfer into the university, Berkeley transfer students typically move after the end of their 2nd year. Since I am also living on campus, my orientation group also consisted of people living in the same building as I was. This is great for meeting people that you’re probably going to see around a lot in the same building. I found this week to be quite enjoyable and met many friends that I now hang out with quite often. The activities sometimes ran until midnight but aren’t all compulsory, apart from the ‘bear pact’, which everyone must attend. Even though they are not compulsory, I recommend visiting some of the events just for the sake of meeting new people.
Furthermore, as part of the transfer-student orientation, we can choose from a list of companies to attend a company tour or a tour of the Bay Area. Make sure you check the dates to see when the form releases, since spots from the well-known companies fill up very quickly! There are some great companies such as LinkedIn, Goldman Sachs, etc., and this presents an excellent opportunity to network. As I couldn’t find a company relating to my studies (I applied late), I visited an Australian architectural company called Woods Baggot, which was quite interesting.
Having never watched a football game in my life, I attended the opening home match between Cal and UC Davis. As you all know, football culture is huge in America. Hot dog stands line the streets up to the memorial stadium (where the match was being held), and everyone wears some form of Cal merchandise to support their team. I still don’t understand the rules, but it was fun to experience the school spirit!
Overall, the first few weeks have been very full-on, but I have found the experience so far quite meaningful. Keep an eye out for my next blog post to follow my journey here at Cal. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions on the application process or anything in general about the university as an exchange student.