The amount of work that is required of you as a UC Berkeley student honestly came as a surprise to me. The most significant difference in terms of academics between UCB and UoA is the way that the courses are structured. At Berkeley, there is a greater emphasis on homework and class attendance (i.e. coursework), whereas UoA generally places a much higher weighting on our final exams. Berkeley also tends to be more old fashioned, preferring blackboards and overall less use of online/digital resources, such as lecture recordings and piazza that we take for granted back at home. Ironically, I probably have the highest attendance rate over the 15 weeks on the exchange than any other semester that I’ve completed.
As most of the classes at Berkeley weren’t recorded, it was a bit difficult to plan trips during the semester, aside from the occasional thirty-minute BART ride to San Francisco. It’s probably best to travel during the Thanksgiving break, or before and after the semester. That being said, I did end planning some last-minute trips to Chicago for a weekend and LA over thanksgiving. I’d recommend finding friends and planning your trips early in the semester to save on airfares and accommodation costs. Do be aware that for budget airlines, carryon bags may include an additional fee (only the personal item, e.g. backpack is included in the ticket price).
Another handy tip: make sure to extend your friend group outside of just exchange/international students – the locals might be able to show you around!
Getting around the Berkeley area is relatively easy; each student is given a student clipper card, which allows free transit via bus around the east bay area (Berkeley + Oakland mainly). A campus shuttle is also available to students free of charge, and they operate very late into the night (for those late-night study sessions). If you do plan to travel around the bay area, the BART (bay area rapid transit) is your best friend. Just load up your clipper card at the stations, and you’ll be good to go. Another great way to travel around is by using the lyft bikes! They’re super convenient, students get a one-month free membership, and you won’t have to worry about getting your bike stolen.
I found that the food options around campus were quite pricey and weren’t very good (in my opinion). There are better restaurants in the downtown Berkeley area, as well as Oakland, which has heaps of great Korean restaurants. And yes, the bubble tea/boba culture also exists in Berkeley, with numerous places to get your fix if that’s what you’re into. Also, for full-service restaurants where the server takes your order, and you pay at your table, don’t forget to tip! They usually expect a tip of around 15% depending on the service (and how generous you’re feeling).
Ultimately, my semester at Berkeley was one of the most challenging and rewarding of my university career. Just as I had acclimatised to the Berkeley life, my four months here at Berkeley has come to an end. Leaving is bittersweet; I’m excited to see my friends and family back at home again, but I will inevitably miss the friends I’ve met here at Berkeley. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to expand my horizons, grow as an individual and meet life-long friends.
Getting all the paperwork (visa/course approvals/housing/insurance, etc.) sorted will be tedious, and you may find it hard to accommodate yourself in a new environment. But it honestly is a once in a life-time experience (when else in your life will you ever go on a university exchange again?) that isn’t to be missed. I’d highly recommend anyone thinking about going on exchange to go for it.
I hope my blogs have been useful and informative to you. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about life at Berkeley as an exchange student. Thanks for reading!