Bani: Final Impressions – a Home Away from Home

Before I knew it, my time at Berkeley had come to an end. I did go through the process of extending my exchange into the next semester but was unable to on account of some technical difficulties with my courses. Do let me know if you need any help with this process!

Between Classes Sunbathing at the Glade!

The University of California, Berkeley, gave me friends and memories that I will cherish forever. From Golden Bear Orientation to study week (known as dead week) and finals week (which just butchers you), my 4 months at Berkeley went by in the blink of an eye.

Some final thoughts, ideas and tips about spending a semester abroad!

  1. You’re going to miss home. Make sure you have a little memento from home you take with you, I took my Minnie Mouse stuffed toy which I’ve had since I was eight years old with me. Whenever I felt like I missed home, I just looked at it and felt much better.
  2. You’re sometimes going to be too busy to call home! But do take out a few minutes of your day, just to let someone you love back home know that you’re okay.
  3. Dead week is going to be one of the most stressful experiences of your life. It’s okay, take a deep breath and go to office hours! I can’t stress this enough. Office hours and consulting GSIs and professors probably helped me more than anything during this period. It helped me focus, take a step back, and actually evaluate how prepared I was. Berkeley is a difficult school and the pressure will come as a surprise.
  4. GET INVOLVED! There are hundreds of clubs at UC Berkeley, from those who beer brewing to photography, mental health and so much more. There are so many research opportunities at this school available at both an undergraduate and graduate level. Find your niche, get involved! Being part of 7Cups at Berkeley, the Marvel Cinematic Universe DeCal, the Harry Potter DeCal and research at the Language and Cognitive Development Lab helped me meet so many people who loved the same stuff as I did!
  5. Remember to tip! Keep in mind that most workers make money off their tips, and it may feel weird that you’re obligated to tip, but do remember to leave 12-20% depending on service!
  6. And most of all, make some lasting memories.
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My Roommates!

This is all from me for now! If you have any questions regarding exchange, you can reach out to me through my Auckland email ID: bseh764@aucklanduni.ac.nz. And since I ate burgers at too many places to count at the end, I’ve got a small list of burger places around the Bay Area that you should try too!

BURGER FEATURE(S)

Berkeley Social Club California Burger: 9/10

Spruce Burger: 9.5/10

Nopa Woodgrilled Burger: 10/10

Eureka Chesseburger: 8.5/10

The Snack Shack Cheeseburger: 8/10

These were, in my opinion, some of the best burgers I had the pleasure of eating. Do visit these places (across San Francisco and Berkeley). You won’t regret it!

Bani

Bani: CalTech, UCLA, and Holi!

Hi everyone! I’m back.

In this blog post, I want to talk about how I’ve been unwinding at UC Berkeley.

During the second weekend of March, two of my friends and I headed to CalTech or the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. We were there to observe a hackathon that was happening there. A hackathon is an event that usually lasts about 48 hours where computer programmers come together to make something new.

What followed was one of the greatest weekends I have spent in California!

We started the weekend with an open mic night at one of the residence halls. From death metal, to self-composed acoustic songs, opera songs, and whistling, the students at CalTech showed us what it really means to enjoy music! The night ended with hundreds of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, which obviously, is a great way to end any night.

The next day, we headed out to LA where we walked around the city. Even though it rained the entire time we walked the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it was quite an experience. We then went on to UCLA, which is a beautiful university with one of the best campuses I have ever seen! Our day in LA ended with a trip to Santa Monica pier and then home cooked Indian food at my friend’s cousin’s place.

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UCLA
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Walk of Fame (David Bowie’s star!)

Our next morning was spent at Venice beach, which included mangoes, strawberries and basketball games. LA is a fun, vibrant city with some of the most interesting people I have ever met. All of our Uber drivers had something fun to tell us, they were all from different parts of the world, with different stories and opinions about the world.

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UCLA
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Venice Beach!

The next big thing at Cal was Holi which is the Indian festival of colours. Hosted by the Indian Students Association, Cal’s Holi celebration is the biggest one on the west coast. Hundreds of kids get together, from every culture, ethnicity and country, and use water and colours to give rise to one of the most colourful celebrations of all time. As you can see in the photos below, taking a shower was quite a pain afterwards (but it was 100% worth it!).

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Before Holi!

Cal has one of the most diverse student populations in the world and it is amazing to see them embrace all members of different communities to form one big Cal family. Holi was one of the most memorable days I have spent at Cal and I will never forget how unique, heartwarming and wholesome the whole experience was!

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Holi Aftermath!

BURGER FEATURE

Shake Shack: 11/10

Sadly, I did not get a picture of the burger I ate at Shake Shack in LA simply because I could not wait long enough to click a picture before I dug in. It was one of the most delicious burgers I have ever tasted and the only word I have for the shake is scrumptious. I think everyone who loves burgers needs to try Shake Shack at least once!

Bani

Bani: LA and Irvine – Tips on Travelling in the States

Hello hello!

My fourth blog post is dedicated to my wonderful trip to Los Angeles and Irvine, where I visited a friend from high school for about six days. She goes to UC Irvine, so I also got to see another UC Campus. As mentioned in my bio, I am super obsessed with anything Harry Potter related so the main purpose of this trip at the end of the semester was to visit Universal Studios, Hollywood and also eat some wonderful food around the Los Angeles and Irvine area.

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UC Irvine’s Cotton Candy Sky!

I would also like to mention some tips on travelling around the United States. One of the things that was an absolute shock to me when I was booking my flight tickets to Los Angeles was that you have to pay extra for baggage when flying domestically. So, be prepared to pay USD 40-60 (per suitcase!) for checked in and carry on luggage when flying somewhere.

Further, you could also take Amtrak within states, or across state lines since it’s not that expensive and the railway system is really well developed. It’s quite fun to watch the Californian landscape through the upper berth of Amtrak trains. Further, there are tonnes of cheap bus services available with prices as low as USD 5 if you book the tickets in advance. Even if you do end up booking the tickets much later, a trip as far as San Diego should not cost more than USD 40.

My trip to Los Angeles was full of experiences from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, some wonderful food, and the Hollywood Sign hike. To go to Universal Studios, I would suggest reaching around 10-11am. Look at the weather forecast earlier and if you can afford it, definitely invest in the Express Line passes (since most rides have a wait period of 2-3 hours on a busy day). If possible, try to go on a date where you can catch a cool light show at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (we happened to see the Dark Arts one and it was beautiful).

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HOGSMEADE!

Los Angeles and Irvine also have some delectable food. The Anaheim Packing District near Irvine was full of small food-court-style restaurants which offered a variety of cuisines from Southern American, to Mediterranean and Vietnamese. Los Angeles’ Melrose Avenue and Sunset Boulevard are well known for their picturesque landscapes and delicious brunch food.

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A Chicken Avocado Sandwich at Sunset Boulevard!

Of course, when in Los Angeles, do visit Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park. There are three routes around the Hollywood sign, varying from easy to hard difficulty. Start out the hike around 4:30pm and make it back to Griffith Observatory around 7pm to catch a beautiful sunset. If the night’s a clear one, try to spot a constellation or two through the many telescopes inside the observatory which is free for everyone! There’s also a bus there that takes you outside the park where you can then call an Uber.

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Hello Hollywood!

A word of advice though, there are some coyotes roaming around this area around the evening (and my friend and I were unlucky enough to encounter two!) but if you stay calm, walk with a group and ignore the coyotes, they’ll ignore you right back!

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View from Griffith Observatory!

California truly is the golden state, so make sure you do end up seeing as much of it as you can. Eat some tacos in San Diego, take a bus to San Jose, wear your Mickey Mouse ears at Disneyland Anaheim, and check out the sparkling Lake Tahoe! Travelling is quite fun, be sure to bring your camera so you can capture the gorgeous sunsets this state offers.

BURGER FEATURE

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The Butcher, the Baker, Cappuccino Maker: 10/10

A wonderfully delicious, perfectly medium rare burger at this eatery at Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. Slightly pricey, but nothing people from Auckland aren’t used to. You won’t regret it! The meat was juicy and tender, the fries were crunchy, and the cheese was too die for!

Bani

Bani: Resources at UC Berkeley

Hi everyone! One and a half months into my semester at UC Berkeley has made me realise how great campus resources are! From research opportunities to tutoring options and hackathons, Berkeley wants you to know that there is never a quiet moment here.

Right off the bat, I applied for a research assistant position in the Language and Cognitive Development Lab. The lab is run by Professor Mahesh Srinivasan, has numerous postdoc, graduate and undergraduate students who are a part of numerous studies.

So far, I have been involved in two different studies. The first one required me to transcribe and translate interviews from Hindi to English. The data was collected from India and focused on religious and cultural norms as understood by primary school students. The second study involved coding data collected from middle school and high school students that gauged their understanding of caste and gender norms in India. As a Psychology major who grew up in India, being a part of this study has been an enriching experience and I hope to get involved in different studies across the lab.

I will keep you all updated about my research and what I’m involved with!

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Berkeley boasts some of the most beautiful sunsets in the Bay Area

The next thing I would like to touch on is the academic side of exchange. I have not seen a lot of posts about this, so for all of you planning on coming to UC Berkeley, I would like to give you an idea of the academic pressure at Berkeley.

My midterms started in the third week of classes and are scheduled up until the fifteenth week. The cherry on top of the cake is that each of my classes have three-to-four midterms. Now, I know that sounds daunting and like a lot of work but the beauty of having everything spread out is that you get an adequate time to prepare for everything (unless you love procrastinating like I do). There is constantly something to work towards, and do not worry if you think you’re falling behind. From office hours, to tutors at the SLC (Student Learning Center), and GSIs, you have all the help you need on campus in order to ensure you don’t fall behind! All professors are accommodating and willing to help out in case you need extensions or help.

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The Campanile is one of my favourite structures on campus!

One of my favourite things about UC Berkeley is what my friends like to call the ‘constant grind’. Being on the campus of the number one public university in the world is a great privilege and as a semester abroad student, I think it is my duty to make use of all the resources available to me. I have joined the 7Cups at Berkeley organisation, which is a mental health organisation that provides free online counselling. I am handling the finances for this organisation for the semester and am currently training under the Rogerian model of therapy.

Further, the campus offers decals which are student run classes for one to two units that you can take pass/no pass. These decals can range from a class on Harry Potter (which I am obviously enrolled in) to classes on Baking, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Virtual Reality, and Drake and Kanye West (yep, you read that right, they have a class on Drake and Kanye West).

So yes, the past few weeks have flown by for me. I am excited to keep you all updated on my journey! For my next post, expect to hear a lot about CalTech and UCLA which is where I will be next weekend. If you have any questions, you can reach out to me at bani@berkeley.edu.

And now, for BURGER FEATURE PART TWO.

BURGER FEATURE

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Super Duper: 8/10

I ordered a cheeseburger, a vanilla and chocolate swirl shake and cheese garlic fries. I have to say, my favourite thing were the fries and the pickles. The garlic fries were unlike anything I’ve ever tasted and added a lot to the whole meal!

Stay tuned for more burger updates!

Bani

Bani: Initial Experiences at UC Berkeley

GO BEARS!

Hi everyone! It’s almost been a month since I arrived at the University of California, Berkeley but I have to say, it feels like so much longer. For this blog post, I will give you an overview of my initial experiences on exchange.

The process of applying to the University of California was a long one (you can contact me if you have any questions about that!). After receiving my acceptance, I cracked down on the process of applying for a visa, which takes a while, so you should get started on it as soon as you can. Initially, you apply for a DS-2019 form (it takes about one month to get to you), after which you can schedule an appointment at the United States consulate for an interview and obtain a J-1 Visa.

Since Auckland was getting a few particularly sunny summer days right as I was leaving, I delayed packing for as long as I could. When I did finally start, the biggest problem I faced was figuring out how to get my seven Harry Potter books to California with me (I managed). I would recommend bringing an umbrella and a windbreaker if you’re coming on exchange during the Spring semester because it’s been raining almost nonstop since I have arrived here. My friends have mentioned this is one of the coldest winters Berkeley has seen in a while and they like to blame me for this because they think I brought Auckland weather with me.

You can get to Berkeley by flying into either San Francisco or Oakland. I flew to San Francisco via Los Angeles the evening before my Orientation started. It was raining the day I got here, but my roommate’s warm welcome made up for the stormy weather.

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The campus by night

The following day, I saw the campus for the first time and I have to say, it was quite impressive. Though originally the campus started at Sather Gate, it has been moved one block ahead and now begins at Sproul which sees a lot of activity as multiple clubs, fraternities and sororities set up their tables and try to recruit members over the course of the semester. As you enter the campus through Sather Gate, you are by greeted old, traditional looking buildings and the Campanile or the Sather Tower (which is the clock tower). The campus is breathtakingly beautiful and has multiple trails and nooks scattered all over it.

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Memorial Glade, UC Berkeley
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Sather Tower or the Campanile

UC Berkeley (or Cal, as they call themselves) and Stanford have an intense rivalry and my favourite bit of history about this rivalry has to do with the Campanile. When Stanford was building Hoover Tower, it asked Cal about the height of the Campanile and Cal reported an incorrect measurement so that Hoover Tower would always be shorter than Campanile.

The site of the 1964 Free Speech Movement, Berkeley has a vibrant history with active involvement in political and social issues. Even today, Berkeley prides itself on being not only the number one public institution in the United States but also a campus that places values of freedom and justice above all.

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During GBO

My first week was all about Golden Bear Orientation (GBO), which is a big thing here. From a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco to trivia night at Anne Hall, Cal tries to make the week-long orientation experience as fun as possible! We were assigned to GBO groups with three leaders in each group and I was lucky to have a wonderful orientation group, the members of which were quite excited about being featured on this blog. Though a fun experience, GBO can be tiring because you usually start at 8am and finish at 10pm. They start with campus tours, speeches by the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and faculty, discussions and presentations on issues we might face, motivational speeches, trivia night, movie night and a Day in the Bay (a fun activity somewhere in the Bay Area).

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Day in the Bay (Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco)

Overall, my my first few weeks have been a life-changing experience. I have met wonderful, warm people who have welcomed me to this new city with open arms. In my next post, I will talk more about classes and the opportunities this great campus has to offer. But for now, I will end with a Burger Feature (which will be a constant throughout my posts)

BURGER FEATURE

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Nation’s Giant Hamburgers: 7/10

My roommate and I ordered a chocolate thickshake and a cheeseburger each at 1am the night before our first midterm. The thickshake did not disappoint and the burger tasted wonderful as well (I do believe it would have tasted better if we’d had it fresh instead of getting it delivered). Also, meet Tesla the Panda and Puggi the Teddy.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Bani