Harvey: Final thoughts at UC Berkeley

Academics

The amount of work that is required of you as a UC Berkeley student honestly came as a surprise to me. The most significant difference in terms of academics between UCB and UoA is the way that the courses are structured. At Berkeley, there is a greater emphasis on homework and class attendance (i.e. coursework), whereas UoA generally places a much higher weighting on our final exams. Berkeley also tends to be more old fashioned, preferring blackboards and overall less use of online/digital resources, such as lecture recordings and piazza that we take for granted back at home. Ironically, I probably have the highest attendance rate over the 15 weeks on the exchange than any other semester that I’ve completed. 

Travelling

As most of the classes at Berkeley weren’t recorded, it was a bit difficult to plan trips during the semester, aside from the occasional thirty-minute BART ride to San Francisco. It’s probably best to travel during the Thanksgiving break, or before and after the semester. That being said, I did end planning some last-minute trips to Chicago for a weekend and LA over thanksgiving. I’d recommend finding friends and planning your trips early in the semester to save on airfares and accommodation costs. Do be aware that for budget airlines, carryon bags may include an additional fee (only the personal item, e.g. backpack is included in the ticket price). 

Another handy tip: make sure to extend your friend group outside of just exchange/international students – the locals might be able to show you around!

Sunny day in Chicago
My first NBA game!

Transportation

Getting around the Berkeley area is relatively easy; each student is given a student clipper card, which allows free transit via bus around the east bay area (Berkeley + Oakland mainly). A campus shuttle is also available to students free of charge, and they operate very late into the night (for those late-night study sessions). If you do plan to travel around the bay area, the BART (bay area rapid transit) is your best friend. Just load up your clipper card at the stations, and you’ll be good to go. Another great way to travel around is by using the lyft bikes! They’re super convenient, students get a one-month free membership, and you won’t have to worry about getting your bike stolen.  

Biking around the SF piers

Food

I found that the food options around campus were quite pricey and weren’t very good (in my opinion). There are better restaurants in the downtown Berkeley area, as well as Oakland, which has heaps of great Korean restaurants. And yes, the bubble tea/boba culture also exists in Berkeley, with numerous places to get your fix if that’s what you’re into. Also, for full-service restaurants where the server takes your order, and you pay at your table, don’t forget to tip! They usually expect a tip of around 15% depending on the service (and how generous you’re feeling). 

Overall

Ultimately, my semester at Berkeley was one of the most challenging and rewarding of my university career. Just as I had acclimatised to the Berkeley life, my four months here at Berkeley has come to an end. Leaving is bittersweet; I’m excited to see my friends and family back at home again, but I will inevitably miss the friends I’ve met here at Berkeley. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to expand my horizons, grow as an individual and meet life-long friends.

Getting all the paperwork (visa/course approvals/housing/insurance, etc.) sorted will be tedious, and you may find it hard to accommodate yourself in a new environment. But it honestly is a once in a life-time experience (when else in your life will you ever go on a university exchange again?) that isn’t to be missed. I’d highly recommend anyone thinking about going on exchange to go for it. 

I hope my blogs have been useful and informative to you. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about life at Berkeley as an exchange student. Thanks for reading!

Goodbye Friends

Harvey: Accommodation and Dorm Life

Welcome back to the blog! I’ve just finished my first set of four midterms, and they went surprisingly quite well. I’ve got a couple of weeks before my next set of midterms, so I’m planning to take advantage of this to do a bit of relaxing and travelling. In the meantime, I thought it’d be helpful going through the accommodation options and dorm life here at Berkeley.

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Trying In-N-Out for the first time with my roommate

Accommodation

As an exchange student, you can either choose to live on-campus housing or find your own apartment/flat off-campus. Off-campus housing is typically cheaper (and more pleasant for the price you pay), but will involve much more work on your end; you’ll need to make sure you don’t get scammed, and you will probably need to view the property beforehand. Both of which may be difficult if you’re not already in the states. Furthermore, since most housing contracts are usually 12 months, if you’re only exchanging for one semester, it may be difficult to find another tenant to replace you when you leave. On the other hand, on-campus housing tends to be quite pricey for what you get, but I find it to be much more convenient and an excellent way to meet other students. On-campus housing also includes a meal plan, so you won’t need to cook.

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Maximo Martinez Commons

There are quite a few university residence halls to choose from, ranging from dorm-type to apartment type halls. To my knowledge, the units 1, 2 and 3, as well as foothill (and some others), are all freshmen (first year) dorms. Since all exchange students are classified as juniors/third years, no matter what year you’re currently in at Auckland, don’t bother with these. Some university apartments, along with Blackwell and Martinez, give priority to transfer and students second year or above, so I recommend applying for these instead. The newest residential hall is Blackwell, which I also find to be one of the nicer ones from the list. Another option available is the International house (or I-house), which has a separate application process. I-house residents have their own separate dining hall, which, in my opinion, has the best food.

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My side of the room

In my case, I was allocated to a double dorm room in Martinez commons on the south side of campus. When you apply for housing, you select your top five housing choices, with your last choice being any location any room type to get priority housing. It is essential to apply for accommodation before the housing deadline to ensure you get priority housing. This means that the housing department will guarantee that you get a room, although it may not be on your preferences list. For some reason, I received my university login details (required for the housing application) a day after the housing deadline closed. I still managed to get on-campus housing through constantly emailing the housing department, so I’d definitely recommend keeping in contact with the university when something doesn’t work out. This doesn’t only apply for housing, but also for your course enrollments!

Dorm life

Like many of the other students, I wanted to live in a single room with my personal space. Unfortunately, the Berkeley ‘housing crisis’ only allows for double/triple rooms if you’re not trying to break the bank. There’s quite a lot to get used to, and of course, it depends on who your roommate is. Some people never get along with their roommates, and others get on great. You would also need to get used to their different schedules (sleep times, etc.) and their good or bad habits. In this aspect, it’s vital to communicate with your roommate. Other things to get used to are the unisex bathrooms, and people studying in the study lounge late into the night, starting from the second week of classes. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find an empty study room since everyone’s on the grind. Residential halls also tend to offer free events and prizes to its residents. All in all, I highly recommend living in a residential hall or apartment just for the sake of meeting more people!

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Introducing kiwi slang to the locals (through my amazing art)

As you may have realised, there are heaps to get used to here at Berkeley! Don’t be afraid of reaching out and asking for help, there are plenty of resources out there. Feel free to contact me at hlin583@aucklanduni.ac.nz if you have any questions about accommodation or Berkeley in general.

Thanks for reading!

Harvey

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View of Berkeley and the bay

Harvey: First Impressions at UC Berkeley

Before I begin first my post, I’d like to say that if you get into Berkeley, be prepared to work hard. If you’re looking for an exchange experience with a chill workload and have plenty of time to spare for other activities, don’t choose Berkeley. This school is exceptionally academically challenging (at least for engineering) and will push you to your limits. None of my classes have lecture recordings, and the number of resources provided to students is much less than back at home, especially for upper-division (3rd/4th year) courses. But if you’re thinking of exchanging here, you’re probably expecting to be academically challenged… right?

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View from the top of the Campanile

Most people know UC Berkeley or Cal as the number one public university in the United States, and Berkeley is geographically stereotyped as the campus “just 30 minutes’ drive” from San Francisco. However, in reality, the City of Berkeley is a stark contrast from the bustling high rises of San Francisco, being ranked in the bottom 20 for safest cities in all of California. Student housing here is very pricey, and the actual accommodation you get is not of high quality, considering the price you pay. The streets are dirty in comparison to Auckland, and you tend to see many homeless people in the area. That being said, I don’t feel particularly unsafe in the area, and the university offers plenty of services to make sure you get home safe. There’s quite a bit to cover here on these topics, so I’ll probably return to these in my future posts.

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Welcome to UC Berkeley!

GBO (Transfer Edition)

The first date on which the semester starts, according to the academic calendar, marks the first day of GBO (Golden Bear Orientation). As an exchange student, I attended the same orientation program as the other exchange students, rather than first-year students. Unlike UoA, where there isn’t a specific timeframe for people to transfer into the university, Berkeley transfer students typically move after the end of their 2nd year. Since I am also living on campus, my orientation group also consisted of people living in the same building as I was. This is great for meeting people that you’re probably going to see around a lot in the same building. I found this week to be quite enjoyable and met many friends that I now hang out with quite often. The activities sometimes ran until midnight but aren’t all compulsory, apart from the ‘bear pact’, which everyone must attend. Even though they are not compulsory, I recommend visiting some of the events just for the sake of meeting new people.

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GBO Group 607! (or what’s left of it by the end of the week)

Furthermore, as part of the transfer-student orientation, we can choose from a list of companies to attend a company tour or a tour of the Bay Area. Make sure you check the dates to see when the form releases, since spots from the well-known companies fill up very quickly! There are some great companies such as LinkedIn, Goldman Sachs, etc., and this presents an excellent opportunity to network. As I couldn’t find a company relating to my studies (I applied late), I visited an Australian architectural company called Woods Baggot, which was quite interesting.

American Football

Having never watched a football game in my life, I attended the opening home match between Cal and UC Davis. As you all know, football culture is huge in America. Hot dog stands line the streets up to the memorial stadium (where the match was being held), and everyone wears some form of Cal merchandise to support their team. I still don’t understand the rules, but it was fun to experience the school spirit!

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Grateful to be sitting in the shade

Overall, the first few weeks have been very full-on, but I have found the experience so far quite meaningful. Keep an eye out for my next blog post to follow my journey here at Cal. Feel free to contact me at hlin583@aucklanduni.ac.nz if you have any questions on the application process or anything in general about the university as an exchange student.

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