Harry: Berkeley Has My Heart

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,

Harry: Brains like Berkeley

I’m now just about halfway through my semester abroad and time is flying by. For this entry I thought I’d focus on the academics and also some impression on Berkeley as a whole.  Pictures are unrelated, but give a bit of a peak into life.

I was a little apprehensive about coming to Berkeley because it has a reputation for being hard and highly competitive but so far, it’s been pretty on par with UoA. Berkeley, and from what I’ve heard, the American system more generally tends to have a lot of little assignments which are due weekly/biweekly. This means most weeks you have three or more things due and I think the constant looming deadlines contributes to the stressed out culture on campus. However, in my experience these have been really manageable so long as you stay on top of them. Also, having little assignments due all the time also forces you to review the content each week and helps you keep up. This should probably also be taken with a grain of salt if you’re a math/physics/engineering major though because the problem sets for some of those classes have a reputation for being particularly hard. I also haven’t sat my midterms yet so maybe I’ll be complaining more in my next entry!

Another difference is the diversity of classes available. Unlike UoA, classes at Berkeley have a lot less restrictions and prerequisites. There’s a four week period at the beginning of semester when you can swap classes around so you can judge for yourself whether the difficulty level is right for you or not. This has meant I’ve been able to take a couple of upper division psych courses without having ever done psych before. While there has been a bit of a steep learning curve and I’m not as well versed as other students, it’s been a great opportunity to study something I’m passionate about at higher and more specialised level.

I’ve also been attending the graduate colloquium for social psychology and once a week they invite a speaker from another university to present some of their research. So far, the speakers have been from UCLA, Stanford and Northwestern and it’s been inspiring to be at such an epicentre for academia. The talks also count towards your credit requirements.

More generally, being on campus is a lot of fun. We’ve been blessed with exceptional ‘winter’ weather (thanks climate change!) and I spend an hour or so most days just chilling in the glade with a book or some friends. I’m a commuter at UoA and my trip usually takes about an hr and a half each way so being so close to campus has been life-changing. The proximity of the students to the university definitely contributes to the feeling of community and strong campus culture and I’m enjoying it a lot. The people here are also great, because Berkeley is a competitive entry school known for its academics the students here are all passionate about learning which translates into a passion for life. Everyone you talk to has other things outside of school that they’re into and they’re generally really open and eager to tell you about it.

The Glade

Berkeley is also a great location, it’s just as easy to get into the heart of San Francisco as it is to be completely away from civilisation in Tilden Park. I haven’t done a lot of exploring yet because there’s so much going on at the co-ops and school but look forward to seeing more of the area in the coming weeks.

Until next time,

Harry: UC Berkeley Pre- and Post-Departure Tips

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!

HOUSING

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.

View from the CZ roof takes a bit of beating

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.

COURSES

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.

OTHER

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 (hcre398@aucklanduni.ac.nz) if you’ve got any specific questions and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

Until next time, 

Go Bears!