For my first blog I’ve decided to focus on tips for before you arrive in the U.S. and also some first impressions from my first couple of weeks in the U.S.
Also a pre-warning, I’m still waiting to get my film developed so this entry is a bit low on photos!
This semester I’m living in one of the houses associated with the Berkeley Student Co-operative (BSC https://bsc.coop/). Their aim is to provide affordable housing to students who would otherwise be unable to attend Cal and other nearby colleges. The rent at the co-ops is about $3700 USD a semester whereas alternative accommodation like iHouse is about $9000 USD per semester. The low rent prices are made possible by the five hour “workshift” required by each resident every week. These workshifts range from cleaning bathrooms to cooking to party security. So far, I’ve done a couple of cook shifts and a bathroom cleaning shift and they’ve been fine, although I don’t know that I’ll be rushing back to clean the bathroom!
I’m in the house Casa Zimbabwe, this is the largest house and houses about 120 students from a wide range of backgrounds. The sheer size of the house can make it feel intimidating, but the residents are really friendly and accepting and after just a couple of weeks, it’s starting to feel like home. I think the community that you receive here is one of the major benefits of living in a co-op. I’ve talked to quite a few international students, most of whom are living in apartments and they’ve said that the hardest thing so far is building a network.
Logistically, it’s definitely worth applying early to the co-ops because there is a waitlist. However, you do get priority as an EAP exchange student. I applied for the co-ops before I’d even received my campus placement (and also applied for the co-ops at UCLA and UCSB). There is a small fee, but in my opinion it’s worth paying the money and getting on the waitlist early, rather than potentially missing out. I also wouldn’t stress too much about not getting off the waitlist on the first round, I was 65th on the waitlist and got in on round 2 or 3.
I found getting my courses approved to be quite difficult. The course syllabi are not easily accessible like at UoA and I was told that the course descriptions which can be found online did not contain enough information. I would recommend finding the classes you’re interested in taking and emailing the professors directly to get the course syllabus as I initially emailed the departments and didn’t get a response.
Unlike UoA courses at Berkeley can be very competitive to get into and as an exchange student you don’t have top priority (this is given to returning undergrads). However, you will still receive some priority for classes that are your major. As an exchange student you can only declare one major at Berkeley so if you have more than one at UoA I would recommend declaring the more competitive major to ensure you get into the classes you want. I would also recommend getting in touch with departments and pleading your case, specifying that while you declared ____ as your UC major, you are also a ____ major at your home university. Doing this meant the film and media department allowed me to be recognised as a Film major and gave me preferential entry into competitive film classes.
If you can’t get into courses that you want to be in, it’s also definitely worth getting on the wait list. Most students initially sign up for more units than they intend on taking and drop and add courses throughout the first weeks of classes so even if you’re high on the wait list, there’s still a decent chance you’ll get into the class.
I paid for the SHIP health insurance programme but a lot of people I have spoken to have health insurance through a company called ISO Insurance (international student specific health insurance) which came out to about a third of the cost. I’m not completely sure of the specifics but just google ISO insurance and it should come up.
The compulsory Golden Bear Orientation (GBO) was pretty full on, but overall a lot of fun. They say everything is mandatory, but it is actually mainly optional. I tried to go to all of the events anyway because I’d paid for it and it’s a great way to meet new people (especially if you weren’t meeting people through a co-op). There is a strong focus on diversity, consent and mental health and it was nice to know that everyone who is on campus has been through the same programme and it sets a really good precedent for the inclusive culture on campus.
For the spring semester GBO is only 4 days but in Autumn it’s 7 days. I would recommend arriving in the US a few days before GBO starts so that you can get your bearings and get over your jetlag. Even as a pretty extreme extrovert, constantly meeting new people at GBO then coming home to a house full of strangers and a roommate got pretty exhausting towards the end of the four days.
I think that’s all the tips I’ve got for now but feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’ve got any specific questions and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.
Until next time,