Candice, studying abroad at University of California, Berkeley, USA
The first thing to say about Berkeley is that it is so Berkeley – that is to say, it’s such a charmingly unique place that it warrants its very own adjective. It has a real sense of shared ethos and is teeming with wonderful, interesting people who are deeply curious about the world and enthusiastic about creativity, social awareness and helping others. Honestly, I’ve met so many people whose ambitions in life are just full of selflessness and co-operation that it’s actually quite ridiculous.
Speaking of co-operation (smooth, I know), and to back up what Ola said in her post about Santa Barbara, the co-ops are a really great system to get involved in. They are definitely key aspect of the Berkeley experience, especially if you enjoy counter-culture and open-mindedness.
My top piece of advice is that, if you don’t get offered accommodation in one, you can sign up for a boarding contract (essentially a meal plan) for a co-op of your choice. This way you can eat tasty, home-cooked meals while also becoming integrated into the co-op lifestyle.
Another part of the authentic Berkeley experience are the DeCal courses. These are courses taught by graduate students and there is truly something for everyone. The relatively unconstrained format means that the classes can be on really inspired and original topics, such as the DeCal on Quantum Consciousness, or can allow you to learn a skill you’ve never tried before, like Archery.
The classes in general at Cal are incredible and there are so many enthusiastic and engaging professors with dazzlingly brilliant minds. As well as this, the semester system – while it does have the potential to be tiring towards the end – ultimately means you can go really in-depth into the subject. You also have more time to shuffle your schedule around, which means there is a lot less pressure if, like me, you are terrible at making decisions (#Basclyf).
On top of Berkeley itself, it’s great being in such close proximity to San Francisco. SF is going through a lot of changes as all of the tech continues to boom and many people feel it is becoming overly gentrified. However, it’s still a really vibrant city and the changes in themselves are interesting to witness and discuss with local people. I’d say it’s pretty ideal to be close enough to make daytrips or go to concerts in SF, but to live in a much more affordable area across the bay.
One final highlight of my year so far has been travelling up the Pacific Northwest over the winter break. The U.S. has such varied and amazing landscape to offer and some really fun cities amongst it. While there is a huge hiking culture, there is also a bigger emphasis on car travel (taking the train is seen as a lot more of a novelty) so if you don’t drive, you do have to be a bit creative with how you get around, but it really, really pays off so I highly recommend getting out there!
If you want tips on travelling the West Coast without a car, or have any other questions about life at Berkeley, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Facebook!
Peace, everybody. Hella peace. Oh, and go bears!