Hae Yeon: Final Thoughts

This final post is going to be a collection of final thoughts, tips, and anything. Actually, I’ve ended up extending my exchange to a year, so it won’t be my final thoughts per se, but it will be the last post of the semester.

Finals & “DEAD WEEK”

Similarly to how UoA has exam study leave after lectures finish, UCB has what they call Reading, Review, and Recitation (RRR) Week, a.k.a. DEAD WEEK. It is a week before exams for students to prepare for their exams, or cram a whole semester worth of work because you know what they say, diamonds are made under pressure.

Unlike UoA however, final exams are all scheduled in the following week.

Some of the libraries, like Moffitt, are open 24-hours, so you’re likely to find severely sleep deprived students camping out there. It’s also very competitive to find seats so, be warned. I stuck to studying in my room or the lounge in my residence hall. Instead of having final exams as such, I had a number of final projects, which were just as, if not more, time-consuming.

It was also ironic how I was reviewing ‘insomnia’ for my ‘Psychology of Sleep’ class at 2AM, depriving myself of sleep. Sorry Matt (my professor). I tried.

Despite the all-nighters, I did pretty well.

Packing Up

The residence halls have a strict policy about checking out times. Of course you are free to leave as soon as your exams are finished, but they have a specific time on the day after finals end: if you stay any longer than that time, it was $100 per hour overstayed. Over winter break, you are allowed to leave your belongings in your room, since you’ll be returning there. So people would just take their clothes, laptop etc and leave things such as bedding.

 School’s Out!

On the final night, we decided to celebrate the end of our first semester at Berkeley by going to an escape room (OMESCAPE), in which we figured out the laws of time-travelling with 8 minutes to spare.

Go Bears! (Of course)

We then went on to karaoke; to cry, to celebrate, I don’t know. But, we had a blast with our repertoire which consisted of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Hispanic songs.

End of our first semester! Thank you, next
The much-needed roommate photo

Overall, my semester at Berkeley has been a wild one, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else. I’m super grateful for the friends, experiences and opportunities that I’ve had. Like I mentioned earlier, I will be returning to Berkeley for another semester (!!!) which I’m sure will be another adventure, and you know how to reach me for any advice (see first blog post).

Before I say bye for the last time, I shall leave you with some last-minute tips:

  • US prices don’t include taxes. Remember that, so you don’t get confused at the counter.
    • Might be worth noting San Francisco also has one of the highest tax rates, so.. if you’re wanting to buy a new laptop or something, try somewhere else.
  • TIPS. I must admit, I’m still not quite used to the tipping culture here but the general rule of thumb is this: if they have table service, you tip. If not, it’s not necessary.
    • When you receive the receipt, it already tells you how much you can tip at the bottom. For example, 15% = $XX, 20% = $XX. You indicate how much you want to tip your waiter and you write the total at the bottom. I generally gave them 15%.
    • It may feel strange feeling like you have to tip, but remember, the tips are usually how the employees earn their money, and hopefully, their service is that good that you don’t feel hesitant about tipping.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading up on my Berkeley experiences, I’m glad to have been able to share a little bit of that with y’all.

If you’ve applied or confirmed to be going on an exchange, kudos to you. You’re going to have a blast. It may not be all that you expect, but then it could be more. Either way, enjoy the ride. If you’re thinking about going on an exchange, I strongly recommend it. As cliché as it sounds, I’ve learnt so much and feel that I’ve grown as a person in a way that would only be possible in Berkeley. Thank you to 360 International, and UC Berkeley for this opportunity and I cannot wait to be back in 2019.

But for now, some well-needed rest with my family back in New Zealand!

Thank you. There are no other words


Hae Yeon: Thanksgiving

This is not that far from my last post, as the smoke cleared just in time for Thanksgiving.

Flashback to the pre-departure session for outgoing exchange students in June. Not only did I meet other students going to UC Berkeley, I also met the students going to the other UC campuses. Here I met Benny and Daniel, who were going to UC Santa Barbara.

They said that they were coming up to San Francisco over Thanksgiving and asked if I wanted to catch up; and of course, I said yes. My friends at Berkeley had gone home over the long break – which was even longer because classes were cancelled (check my last post) – and it would be nice to see some familiar kiwi faces in California.

Flash forward to Thanksgiving weekend, and I took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train into San Francisco, where I met Benny, Daniel, and their group of friends from UCSB.

Side note: at the beginning of the semester, UC Berkeley also gives you a clipper card, which is similar to the Auckland Transport card. It allows you to use AC Transit buses for free, and you are able to charge money onto it to take the BART trains



Making friends with the UCSB ‘Gauchos’

We went to see the murals in the Mission District, it was nice to just walk around and take in all the street-art. Not the most typical thing one would do in SF but it’s these hidden gems that make your trip special.

We also went to the Castro District, or The Castro, which was one of the first gay neighbourhoods in the US. It remains as one of the most prominent symbols of the LGBT community.


The entire neighbourhood is adorned with rainbows

We also went to the infamous Golden Gate Bridge. One may wonder why the red bridge is named the “Golden Gate”. The bridge is actually named for the Golden Gate Straight, the narrow entrance between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. The bridge was getting lit up as it was getting dark. There was also a LOT of people, which is what you would expect with such an iconic monument.

But as I was coming back from the bridge to the carpark, I noticed some of the others crowded around the car. As I got closer, I saw that the car window had been smashed, and everything was gone. At that point, I think none of us really knew how to react; this was what happened in movies, not in real life, and especially not to us.

In case you didn’t figure out where this was leading to, I was one of the unfortunates who had my bag taken, which had my wallet, bank cards, ID’s, room key etc. etc. The next hour or so was a blur; freezing my bank accounts, talking to the police, and worst of all, calling the parents. Because I had no way of getting home, I ended up staying the night with the UCSB crew at their AirBnb which was all good fun; it turns out getting robbed really helps you bond. So, the point is, travel insurance is key.

Also, some other safekeeping tips:

  • Try to take your belongings with you. If you must leave them in the car, put them in the boot.
    • Always have a look around your surroundings when putting things in the boot, people may be watching.
  • Try not to wander around by yourself at night; this is also something that is emphasized at orientation.
  • If you do happen to get robbed, call the police, report what you’ve lost; the police report card should exempt you from any replacement fees. Freeze all bank accounts if necessary.

In case you’re wondering, a few days after this incident, we got a call from an officer saying they found some ID’s – turns out that the robbers had targeted that carpark and smashed other cars. They had taken everything that was worth money and left behind our ID’s; student ID’s, driver’s license, passports. So I suppose there is a silver lining, but lesson learnt.

Hello from the other side. Literally. (Benny, Daniel, and I)


Hae Yeon: California Wildfires

As I’m sure some of you may know, California is prone to wildfires, and this year was no exception. Sources say that 2018 had the most destructive and deadly wildfire season on record. Luckily, I was not directly affected by the wildfires, but I still experienced the aftermath nonetheless; I write this post for those who are considering applying to come to California on exchange as it can be a serious health concern.


This map may not mean much, but it shows how the wildfires affect both Northern and Southern California, and some are much more destructive than others. The Camp Fire (Butte County) alone took 88 lives, with other fires also taking lives and destroying cities.

But what I want to write about is how severely the air quality was affected. In New Zealand, we are blessed with relatively clean air (even more as a person from Hawke’s Bay). It never got to the point where I would have to wear a mask.


During the wildfire season, the smoke raised the air quality index (AQI) to well over 150. Other schools around the area closed down until further notice as a safety precaution. Berkeley didn’t. Nearby supermarkets, and even Berkeley’s health centre had run out of the suggested N-95 masks. I was walking around wearing one of those medical masks which does nothing. Just walking to the dining hall right across the road was enough to make your throat dry and stuffy, and there was a lot of coughing. So, you can see that it’s quite a big problem.

There was an online petition started to close the campus and cancel classes. Over 16,000 people signed it. Although it wasn’t accepted initially, campus was eventually closed within a couple of days, as the AQI had soared over 200.

Just to put this in perspective, the AQI in Auckland sits around 19 real-time.

Also, to show how much Berkeley was affected by the smoke, here is a before and after shot of the campus.


HaeYeon_4dBEFORE / AFTER – “welcome to UC Beijing”

Like I mentioned earlier, we weren’t in direct path of these fires, and the rain that followed soon after got rid of the smoke, but this definitely made me appreciate the clean air of New Zealand, and is something that you should keep in mind when considering coming to California during the dry season.


Hae Yeon: Life as a Golden Bear

This post is going to be relatively casual – talking about the life as a student at Cal, and the different activities one can get up to.

Luckily for me, the earliest class I have is at 10AM on a Monday, and other days, class usually begins at 2PM. Although this may sound like I get to sleep in a lot, but that is not the case: I’m usually up in the morning trying to finish off assignments and catch up on work. Also, side note, some classes will end well past 8PM.

Because I live in on-campus housing, my fees include a meal plan; you get a certain amount of meals per week, which you can use with your Cal1 Card (student ID card). The meal plan also comes with a certain amount of Flex Dollars loaded onto your card. Flex dollars function like cash and can be used as payment at campus convenience stores, restaurants, concession stands, and for guest meals in dining halls. The Cal1 Card can also be used for doing your laundry. In other words, never lose your Cal1 Card.

Cal Football

So college sports is a HUGE part of university life, especially football. Coming from a rugby nation, there was bound to be some confusion. But basically, the aim is to move the ball towards and ultimately into the opposition’s end zone to score a touchdown. This can be done by either running with the ball until tackled, or throwing the ball down field. Obviously, there’s a lot more rules, but that’s the point. As I might have mentioned earlier, school spirit is taken very seriously: marching band, cheerleaders, dancers, you name it, it’s all there.

My favourite part: when they’re getting ready to kick off
Go Bears!

They’re actually preparing for the 121st Big Game against Stanford next week, so I’m definitely excited to watch that one.

Frat Parties

You can’t go to university in the US and leave out a frat party, right? Here there is a frat row, which pretty much means a row of frat houses. To get into a frat party, you need bids. How do you get bids? You can either be in a sorority – as frats give a certain number of bids to sororities – or get a bid directly from a brother.

I went to a party at Theta Chi through a brother, and I will say it’s definitely something worth experiencing. But do keep in mind, it gets super hot.

Sororities are not allowed to have parties of their own, and it was interesting to find out that every sorority and fraternity have their own philanthropy.

Protests and Rallys

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley is the place where the Free Speech Movement began. During the past few months, I have seen a few protests begin at Sproul Plaza, the most significant of which was the protest against Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court; he had been accused of sexual assault, which he denied. Although the basis of the protest was shocking, it was inspiring to see so many people gather to fight for justice, to see matters taken so seriously.

As you may or may not know, it was the midterm elections recently, and a voting drive took place at Sproul Plaza to encourage students to vote. Even cafés were offering complimentary snacks or drinks if you had the ‘I Voted’ sticker. If I could, I would have voted.

Have you voted yet?

The Campus

The campus is truly starting feel like fall, with the trees turning gold. Daylight saving has ended so it’s sad that the sun sets early, but instead you get to see the beautiful golden hour of the sun setting after classes.

Fall is here!
The Campanile in the afternoon sunlight

To everyone at home that has finished their exams: Congratulations, wish me luck as I enter the final stretch of this semester at Berkeley!


Hae Yeon: Golden Bear Orientation at UC Berkeley

Hi everyone, sorry it’s been too long – it’s midterm season and it’s been hectic trying to juggle midterms with assignments on top of enjoying California.

It’s funny that I write about orientation week when it’s already middle of the term, but I feel like it’s such a key aspect of the transition into Berkeley. Plus, it’s where I met my closest friends here. I also had to attend the International Student Orientation, but GBO is what you really need to know about.

Golden Bear Orientation

Unlike the University of Auckland, Golden Bear Orientation (GBO) is mandatory. But like UoA, GBO is a week long, and it can be a chance for you to make new friends before the semester officially starts. Think of it like your initiation into Berkeley; it helps you make connections with peers and faculty, learn about the available resources, and experience campus traditions.

All set for Golden Bear Orientation

The activities that you do during GBO really depend on your GBO leader, as each group has their own, personalized schedule. But they’re mostly geared towards helping you get your bearings around the huge campus (comfortable shoes are a must) and Berkeley in general. Since a lot has happened in the week, I will narrow it down to the key activities of GBO:

Bear Affair: The entire incoming class comes together for the first rally at Cal. Starting with an all-class photo, we ‘break the ice’ and meet people from other GBO groups: freshmen, junior transfers, and international students alike.


Bear Pact: A mandatory presentation on the various issues faced by college students: sexual violence and harassment, mental health, and alcohol use. Learn how to balance academics, social life, and personal health.

Coming to Berkeley, you realise that some of these issues are very real and it’s important to be aware of them. It was definitely different because these issues were something that’s not so openly discussed at the University of Auckland, especially during orientation.

Bear Territory: Where the incoming class gathers in Haas Pavilion to recognize and reflect upon the diversity of UC Berkeley.

UC Berkeley is known for its progressiveness (after all, it was the beginning of the Free Speech Movement). Due to this, there is a great emphasis placed on diversity and acceptance. When we think diversity, the most common thing we think of is race, or sexuality, but Bear Territory showed that it went far beyond that to include religion, first-generation, re-entry and veterans.

Campus Tours 

Utmost respect for the flag-bearers that carry/wave the flags during rallys and games

Day in the Bay / Company Visit: As a ‘transfer’, we got to choose to spend time in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is our extended home, or a company visit. Day in the Bay could include going to the Golden Gate Bridge.

I went on a company visit to AKQA, a digital ideas and innovation company. It was exciting because I found out they also have an office in Auckland, to which I might be able to visit or have work experience (networking is key).


AKQA in San Francisco

Convocation: The official ceremony welcoming the incoming class into the campus community. This was the first time I heard the US national anthem being sung; and the whole vibe with the school band, cheerleaders and dancers made it seem like I was in a movie.

Go Bears!

Late-Night Programmes: After the full-on day, GBO continues into the night with fun activities from 9PM. Activities included performances, hypnotists, movie nights and silent discos. Late-night isn’t mandatory but that’s usually when all the fun happens…so I highly recommend.

Dancing the night away. One thing to note, quite often, a lot of the fog rolls in from San Francisco and makes for a rather picturesque view of the Campanile

As you can probably tell, GBO is a packed week, going from 9AM to 12AM and will probably make you more tired than the semester itself. But like I mentioned earlier, because you’re spending so much time with your GBO group, you become super close with peers and your leaders. My closest friends at Berkeley are those that I made at GBO. Especially for an exchange student joining halfway through, where you virtually know no one, it was nice to meet other junior transfers, who were in a similar boat.

I will be honest. Yes, GBO will make you exhausted, but it’s compulsory so you might as well enjoy it; when else am I going to see people hypnotised or go to a silent disco?

Before I leave, my tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to people – they’re all pretty nice people once you start talking (plus, the NZ accent is a great conversation starter).
  • Get as much free stuff during GBO as you can, whether it’s stationary, food, or a portable thermometer.
  • Use GBO to find your bearings, and get an idea of where your classes are.
  • Look into the libraries (there’s 25 at Berkeley, and each has their own perks).
  • Attend events: like I said, you might as well have fun.

I’ll be writing more tips as I think of them so stay tuned!

GBO Group 614 with our ‘mom’ Dylan



Hae Yeon: Welcome to Cal!

Hey, everyone! It’s been just over a month since I’ve arrived at UC Berkeley, and I think it’s about time to share my first impressions, as well as the process in actually getting here.


Since I got my acceptance letter into UC Berkeley (which is a whole another process in itself, feel free to contact me), I had to juggle studying for finals with paperwork and visa applications. The international office at UC Berkeley do support you – including providing the DS-2019 eligibility certificate which is essential for a visa. You also have to have an interview at the US Consulate in Auckland. The atmosphere may intimidate you but as long as you have the correct documents, it’s not that bad. The J-1 visa was a long process that took well over a month, so my best advice would be to get onto that application as soon as possible. Another important thing to know would be that you do not have to have a return ticket to receive your visa, and while booking your flights early may save money, be sure that your visa is approved before then.

Until next year, NZ!


To get to Berkeley, you can either fly to San Francisco or Oakland (side note: my friends seem to think Oakland sounds the same as Auckland, it doesn’t). I flew to San Francisco via Sydney. What was tougher than the long flights was the jet lag. I left on the morning of Friday 10 August, and I landed in San Francisco in the morning of the same day.

Berkeley has an awesome network of alumni who are always willing to help out. If required, the international students are allowed to request free ‘temporary housing’, which is where you can stay with an alumni until the residence halls open for move-in day. I stayed with Joan in the town of San Leandro, on the eastern shore of San Francisco.

San Leandro, CA

First impression of California? It was hot. But it was definitely nice to get away from the cold of the New Zealand winter.


After a couple of amazing days in San Leandro (which included a day trip to San Francisco), it was finally move-in day – and although I did not know what to expect, UC Berkeley did not disappoint. The campus is beautiful, with small nature trails and old, traditional buildings. UC Berkeley (also known as Cal) prides itself as the top public university in the world, and is internationally recognized as a prestigious research university. It was founded in 1868, has an intense rivalry with Stanford, and our mascot is Oski the bear.

An iconic feature of the campus is the Campanile, or Sather Tower, which is a fancy way of saying clock tower. It is taller than Stanford’s, and gives you an amazing view of the entire Bay Area. In front of the Campanile, is the 4.0 Ball – if you rub the ball before your finals, you’ll get good grades. Apparently.

The view from the Campanile
The 4.0 Ball

Also, UC Berkeley is full of history and tradition – one of them being the Sproul Plaza, where the Free Speech Movement began in the 1960’s.

Sproul Plaza

The campus was everything I imagined and more, and I am super glad that I had the opportunity to come here. It was a long time coming, but definitely worth it. I’m excited to see this year play out and see what is in store, both in and outside of campus. I will be uploading more posts about life at Cal (including the Golden Bear Orientation) and California in general, so stay tuned!

If you’re ever considering going on an exchange, have questions about Berkley, or California in general, feel free to comment or email me at haeyeon1015@berkeley.edu and I will do my best!

Also, if you’re interested in seeing more of what I do, you can follow me on Instagram @haeyeon_angela!!