Today I woke up to an email from my mom with an attached video and the simple caption: “3 years ago today.” I opened it to see the two minute long video of me sitting in my living room opening up my Berkeley decision. The first minute and a half is mostly just me telling my dad I didn’t get in while my dad stares at my computer screen and I try to remember my password to the online portal. In the middle there was about 30 seconds where the website crashed. Or maybe it was our WiFi. The video ends with a small scream as I finally see the confetti floating down the screen and I realize I had just been offered admission.
On March 20th, nine days ago as I write this, the state of California issued a shelter-in-place directive in response to COVID-19, radically changing the way state residents live and work. For a university with about 27,000 California residents amongst its undergraduates (https://pages.github.berkeley.edu/OPA/our-berkeley/student-enrollments.html), most of the student body is now subject to this new way of life.
This directive followed announcements from UC Berkeley that classes would be held online for the remainder of the semester, with no in person instruction, prompting many students to leave their places of residence in Berkeley and return to family in far flung parts of the state or world. For those who left and those who remain, these are strange times.
It’s hard not to picture your college graduation day: weeks, years, or even a whole decade in advance. Maybe you grew up seeing an iconic framed photo of your parents on their graduation day, wiping back tears and throwing their cap into the air, youthful, happy, and proud, surrounded by family and encouraged by celebratory shouts. Maybe you’re the first person in your family to have ever gone to college, practicing your walk across the stage, planning your photo opportunity, and imagining what you want that special day to be like – the tears, hugs, kisses, and giggles accompanying the emotional celebration of a new start for your family: proof that their work paid off. You picture your relatives laughing and hugging, your baby cousin posing for a comedic photo wearing your much-too-large graduation cap, and your parents beaming with pride and joy and whispering to each other “we made her!” As remaining months turn into days, you think about your last college photos with your best friends before life pulls you all in a hundred different directions. You start to prepare yourself for goodbyes, anticipating your last shift at your long-term job, your final lecture, exam, and presentation, or your last run around the field as a college athlete. There’s this simultaneous push and pull, as you get ready for the next life shift but take time to soak in every single moment you have left and appreciate your increasingly melancholy memories.
As an incoming freshman, I knew that I was interested in the medical field, but I wasn’t quite sure that medical school was for me. Before going to Berkeley I didn’t know anything about Optometry. Little did I know that we have the top Optometry school in the nation as well as a thriving pre-optometry community. It sparked my interest and I was welcomed into the undergraduate student community as well as the graduate one.
Foresight Pre-Optometry Club was the first club I joined at Berkeley. One of my friends from home was also in it, which was nice. The club is an incredible way to get connected with the School of Optometry. For starters, all of our meetings were in the graduate school. Our meetings frequently had professors come in and speak for us as well as the occasional faculty dinner. I honestly feel like I know all the professors already! Foresight also hands me opportunities I feel I wouldn’t get anywhere else like job openings at optometry offices, research opportunities, leadership and professional development, and volunteer opportunities.
When coming to Berkeley, there was one thing I really looked forward to: football. From cheering in the spirit section for my high school’s football team to my family’s fantasy football league, I loved to cheer on a team I could call my own. So I made it a priority that I would go to as many football games as possible at Cal, despite not knowing much about the team.
I remember my first game: a hot midday game against UC Davis. It was so exciting to see crowds flowing into California Memorial stadium, the students getting their game day t-shirts, and the Rally Committee and CalBand filling up their sections. However, at the first game, I was surprised at what I saw: many people came to the game but didn’t even watch, leaving halfway through. The student section seemed pretty empty against the full card stunt. The stifling heat made it difficult to concentrate on anything. Despite winning the game by a substantial amount, there was little fanfare or hype for the team.
During one of my first weeks at Berkeley, as I walked through Sproul Plaza, I was stopped by someone holding up a poster board with bolded letters “BTS” written on it. I knew BTS is a popular k-pop band, but I was not interested in joining some sort of fan club. The girl, however, stopped me to explain that she is a facilitator for a BTS decal course at Berkeley. She introduced me to democratic education at Cal, known as decals, which are student-run classes that can grant students with university approved academic credits. For the BTS specifically, the course would explore factors in the media that contributed to the success of the international k-pop group. It turns out, Cal students put together over 100 different courses every semester across diverse topics. Ever since I started my Berkeley journey, I have been taking a decal class every semester.
Studying abroad was always something I had dreamed of doing in college. I looked forward to exploring new cities, trying new food, and learning a new language. However, as the time to study abroad approached, I got very nervous. I loved studying at UC Berkeley and was scared of missing out on time with my friends, extracurriculars, and everything else that you’re only able to experience for the short 4 years you get in college. It’s very hard to leave your entire life behind, put everything on pause, and move to a new country where you hardly know anyone. That being said, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made in my college career.
Before starting college this past fall, I spend the entirety of my summer perusing the dark web of Youtube, watching hours upon hours of sorority “bid day” and “recruitment” videos, eventually convincing myself that I could never be apart of Greek life. Even on an intellectually-motivated and diverse campus like Berkeley, I still felt that I wouldn’t quite fit into the Greek system, as I wasn’t always the most extroverted and outgoing person during high school. I was under the false assumption that these personality characteristics were pre-requisites of joining a social community such as Greek life, and also didn’t see myself as fitting the image of the stereotypical “sorority girl” that is portrayed across social media, causing me to think I would feel isolated or outcasted if I didn’t “look” like everybody else. As a result of my misperceptions, I became close-minded to the possibility of ever joining a sorority or being involved in the Greek system.
At Cal, the desire to be the best you can be is simply part of the culture: to do more, to be more, to do everything, to be everything. It is part of what makes going here so incredible. Everyone around you is always up to big, amazing things, showing you the endless possibilities that Cal has to offer. We all want to do everything, but that can often lead to feeling like we must do it on our own: but nobody’s superman, and nobody gets to where they are without a helping hand.
I have always prided myself on my independence and strong work ethic. I take on challenge after challenge, pushing myself as hard as I can to get to the next rung on the ladder. I am not at all unique in this regard, but I have often found myself feeling isolated when I start to struggle. Many people will refer to the “sophomore slump” and while I do not personally believe that going into sophomore year inherently leads to disaster, I have noticed my own moral deteriorating and my workload increasing. Recent struggles in academics, personal life, and leadership roles have left me toeing the line between independence and self enforced isolation.
Living in Southern California my entire life, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about moving to Northern California. I was excited to experience different weather and to have “the city” refer to San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, but I didn’t think there would be too many differences besides those two. I wasn’t too worried about the adjustment to this new location being too difficult. They’re both California, how different could they be? The answer is – very different. I’ll highlight some differences I’ve noticed after living in Berkeley for a semester.