To say a lot has happened since my last entry would be a bit of an understatement. I made the very hard decision to remain in the United States even as fear of Coronavirus gripped the whole world (after changing my mind several times and changing my flights in a mad panic). I had to make this decision at a very stressful time in semester in the middle of midterms and also while NZ graduate applications were closing. However, the faculty and international office at Berkeley were incredibly compassionate surrounding the stress that this caused me, and I was able to get extensions and catch up on some missed assignments after my stress had subsided and ultimately finished up the semester feeling very good about my results. There was a lot of talk about mental health and stress in the orientation week, so it was reassuring to see the university “walking the walk” and provide support when the situation called for it.
A huge part of my decision to stay in the U.S. was living in the co-op which I have discussed in my previous two entries. I reasoned that living in a big house that I loved with a lot of people during the Californian summer was a better alternative to being holed up at home living alone with my parents. In my opinion, this was definitely the right decision for me. I have had the time of my life being here at Berkeley and will be very sad to leave this amazing place. I would recommend the co-ops for anyone coming to Berkeley in the future. There are over 15 different houses to choose from and each has its own personality. The house I lived in, Casa Zimbabwe, has a reputation for pretty rowdy and there is a party culture here, but if that isn’t for you there are a bunch of other houses that will give you the same community. You can find information on all of them on the “Berkeley Student Co-operative” website.
Due to coronavirus my VISA was extended allowing me to remain in the U.S. for another couple of months. I’ve tried to make the most of this by going on some road trips around different parts of the country. We took a lot of food from home and stayed in free campsites (found using https://freecampsites.net/) to minimise costs. We did our first weeklong road-trip into Utah With our final destination being Zion National Park which is AMAZING! We passed through Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas, San Luis Obispo and a bunch of other little spots on the way through. We then did our second roadtrip along the west coast up to Portland where all the Black Lives Matter murals have been painted over the boarded up cafes are stores passing through the Redwoods on the way up. It’s been amazing to see the diverse and beautiful scenery and wildlife around the U.S. and I can’t wait to come back when coronavirus has subsided. It was also very interesting observing how cultures vary so much, even within states, driving just an hour or so out of “The Bay” it can feel like you’ve gone to a whole new country.
Berkeley is renowned for being very progressive and is famously the home of the free speech movement. Unsurprisingly, the Black Lives Matter movement has been very pronounced here, and in San Francisco and Oakland. As someone who knew very little about the racial injustices in America before coming here, it has been a powerful learning experience for me. Near the beginning of the movement I attended a peaceful demonstration held by Berkeley City Council which coincided with a march organised by the Berkeley Black Student Union. While I knew there were risks involved in attending this demonstration, it was during the day and there was minimal police involvement due to it being a family friendly protest. Before attending this demonstration, I had been reading a lot online and on social media about the injustices. However, attending the demonstration made the situation very real for me. It’s hard to express how powerful I found this march and just generally being in U.S. during this movement. Even writing about it now is giving me goosebumps and a lump in my throat. It has driven me to educate myself about racial bias, anti-racism, the criminal justice system, and the history of white- supremacy and to look at how they express themselves in New Zealand. It’s not something I expected from this exchange but has inspired me to consider a career in policy making and will be a big part of what I take away from my exchange.
Overall, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I am so glad I decided to come here and stay here in spite of the pandemic. I couldn’t recommend Berkeley and the co-ops enough and this experience has consolidated to me, the way that I want to live for the rest of life. I hope that when COVID is finally over other people will be able to have an experience anything like mine because it had been, quite simply, the best.
Over and out,