Right now, I’m sitting just off campus in our newly minted Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), the renowned art collection open free to all incoming students, in the bright Babette Cafe. Through a peek-a-boo window, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia reads like a billboard for a recent gallery collection. The collection is a perfect allusion to Berkeley’s aesthetic: trendy ripped jeans, trusty Birkenstocks, a thrifted flannel tied around our waist. In every discipline, these same students are working to apply course content towards a better version of the future. It’s difficult, and we face setbacks, but Berkeley students are lucky enough to be surrounded by 36,000 other students – and 1,500 innovative, supportive faculty – seeking the realization of similar visions.
When I got to college, I, like most all college students, packed what I could into suitcases and left my family behind. After living with my parents and two little brothers for the past eighteen years, college would be an opportunity for me to “find myself” – and my new family. In an effort to reassure trepid freshmen that we wouldn’t be lost in the onslaught of an incoming class of six thousand students, we were reminded of an age-old adage: friends are the family you choose for yourself. The saying started popping up on sparkly, rhinestone encrusted canvases just weeks into our freshman year. Sorority big-little weeks had begun.
The days of winter break before I left for Japan felt immeasurably long. The previous semester, I had applied to a winter travel study program in Japan, a partnership between the Haas School of Business and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Kakehashi program. The program was a week long, and I would earn my final two elective business units before graduating in May 2017. Best of all, the trip would be completely free! I had already devoured the Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet reviews for every landmark I could extract from our Japanese-heavy itinerary. I prepared a mental list of all the Japanese cuisine I hoped to sample: spicy tuna sushi rolls, gooey mochi ice cream, heaping bowls of yakisoba. I grew up in a rural mountain community of about 1,000 people where only one restaurant attempted Japanese food, Pangea. Their menu was a hodgepodge of different cultures, vegan choices and local foods. Beyond that, however, I did not know how to prepare for the trip. Before that week, I had never been to a country where I didn’t speak the local language. I resolved to say “yes” as much as possible, and keep diligent records in my journal.