I feel like my parents ask me at least twice a week what job I’ll be able to get with my major and what my career goals are. Both of my majors are incredibly broad and not something you see in a lot of fields. In a previous blog post I talked about my decision to become a geography major on top of my Society & Environment major. Truthfully, with a lot of things academic wise and career wise, I just don’t know what I want. I’m the type of person who gets excited about literally anything and everything but I also get bored easily. I chose my majors because I wanted something that would continually be stimulating and changing. It’s great for being in college, but for a career path, it’s a little tricky. How the heck do I apply for internships when I don’t even know what I want? How do I tell interviewers that I simply don’t know where I see myself in five years? My initial reaction has always been uhhhh successful I think? Well I just secured an internship that I am thrilled about for this summer so let me take you on my journey.
Online learning has its pitfalls, its challenges, and its benefits. My younger sister, for instance, is grateful for the online semester because she now has the opportunity to take all of her “weeder” courses at UCLA online with open notes. Generally it’s been a bit of a struggle for me. I miss connecting with classmates and professors and all that comes with it. The hustle and bustle of pushing past someone to get to your seat, the smell of coffee wafting through the classroom, even the over eager freshmen answering every question the professor asks are all small details I never thought I’d miss. I’d give anything to go back, so it’s been an ongoing process to find silver linings throughout all of this.
The one incredible thing about an online semester is that it, by its very nature, connects everyone to a global community. Professor Desiree Fields, who teaches my technological geography class, took full advantage of that fact this year. Several of our readings have come from scholars all across the world and almost every week we got to speak to at least one of them. Berkeley already has renowned faculty and a reputation that brings in people thrilled to talk to the students here. During in person classes, it just wasn’t always possible because they’d be in New York or China or elsewhere. Now, with the online semester, we’re able to connect with just about anyone from any corner of the world: all we have to do is ask!
My favorite guest speakers came just a couple weeks ago when we were discussing the idea of carceral geographies (prison geographies). This is a field that has a lot of contention and a lot of personal stake attached to it. Joining us in the classroom were Dr. Chris Gilliard and Dr. Brian J Jefferson, both of whom had written groundbreaking work on the topic. Simply through reading their work, I was astonished and had my world view challenged. When they came in to talk to us, it didn’t end up being a lecture from them, as I had thought it would be. Instead, it was a dialogue between all of us students, my professor, and the two scholars. We engaged with each other, challenging the ways in which we all thought and pushing towards a greater understanding. We talked about the consequences of prison surveillance and how urban spaces are more readily surveilled, which pushes former criminals to rural spaces. They asked us questions about California and Prop 25, which recently was on the state ballot. It was nothing short of astonishing.
Now, it’s not like guest speakers are anything new at UC Berkeley. Berkeley professors often bring in their colleagues or industry folks to talk about their work. But never before had I seen it be so consistent or reach such a global level. Engaging with scholars outside your geographic area used to be a huge ordeal but now it’s as easy as them clicking on a link and popping in. It’s a lesson that should be taken beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. We have these online tools at our disposal that make it so easy to engage in dialogue to push forward academic thought. I’m thrilled that I have been able to be apart of this and hope that this engagement will continue beyond the forced online realm and into the future.
I always thought it was a little bit silly how I grew up right next to the beach almost my entire life but could not stand going. The beach is sandy, it’s hot, some seagull is always trying to steal your food, without contacts I can’t even see the water, it’s a mess. My high school’s annual beach trip was an adventure that I almost always tried to skip. Moving to San Diego during this semester in the cloud was primarily a way for me to gain independence but here I was going to yet another beach town. And, of course, right now, being outside is one of the few things I actually can do without getting a massive panic attack. My San Diego native housemate made me a promise: by the end of the summer, I would love the beach. I scoffed at the idea, always stubborn and set in my own ways. Spoiler alert: he kept his promise.
I didn’t even realize that I was slowly being tricked into it until it had already happened. One of the first things to open up again in San Diego were water sports. After waiting another couple weeks just to be safe, we went jet skiing. We had to go jet skiing, Groupon had such a great deal! It would be criminal for us to turn it down. So we put on our masks, coated everything in hand sanitizer, and went. It was an absolute blast. I am not afraid to admit that I am an absolutely terrible driver and this jet ski was no exception. But isn’t that part of the fun? Miserably failing and flailing around on this watery mechanical bull that theoretically you should have control over but is certainly getting the best of you? After our fun had come to an end, my housemate suggested we go get Shake Shack. There’s nothing like greasy cheesy goodness to make you feel refreshed after salty sea air.
Slowly we made our way up from jet skiing, constantly associating water with positive fun vibes. We went kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing (where we “accidentally” capsized) and the beach. Every time we got incredible food and had the most wonderful time. The day I realized I was hooked was when we went to the beach after getting Tacos El Gordo (if you know, you know). We found the most incredible conch shells while we were walking in the water just up to our knees. There’s no way we would have seen them if the water hadn’t been crystal clear. It was a wonderful find. After checking for critters and making sure we wouldn’t be disrupting anything, we made it a week-long project to get them cleaned up. Now, the beach season is over, but I’m itching for any chance we get to go back on the water.
Growing to love the beach this past summer made me realize that I just wasn’t doing things right. Nature is a wonderful thing and I am truly lucky to get to live where I do, right next to some of the most beautiful beaches in the United States. I have always enjoyed exploring, I just had to make the beach days my own. Instead of sitting in the hot sun on the sand the entire time, I could go on walks and try to find cool things. I could play frisbee and hone my skills. I never disliked the beach, I was just bored because I’d never tried to make it fun. I’d never associated it with anything other than sitting waiting wishing I could “get” what people were so hyped about. My housemate was clever, continually making sure that I associated going to the beach with good food and adjusting our activities to something that was exciting for me. And I got to learn how to sail along the way!
Really what I think everything comes down to is learning to appreciate the people you’re with. People you live with during these crazy times become such a support system for you and you either have to really like them or you will likely drive each other crazy. My housemates and I spend pretty much all day every day together and there’s a reason why it’s worked so well. I’m so grateful that I got to see the beach and water sports in a new light.
Explore if you can, appreciate the people you’re with. Be willing to stretch yourself and try things again that you previously disliked. Who knows, maybe you just needed different people to make it awesome!
32.7157° N, 117.1611° W
Hello, welcome back to the hitchhiker’s guide to buffoonery-no wrong title, welcome back to Michael and Kaelyn’s Not So Serious Semester in Zoom Survival Guide! We hope you enjoyed our first post and if you haven’t seen it, why the heck not? Go check it out right now! You’ll be so confused if you don’t 🙁 Anyway… please enjoy the end to our attempt at trying to be helpful. I’m Kaelyn, still writing in Italics!
First semester freshman year in Fall of 2018, I joined a club called Project SMILE, a middle school mentorship club that worked out of two different schools to bring college accessibility to middle school students. I was placed at Longfellow middle school and absolutely loved my experience working with them. I’d joined the club to make friends and to make an impact on the Berkeley community. I went to all of the social events, every field trip, every possible opportunity I had to get involved.
Second semester sophomore year, Spring 2018, my friend joined Project SMILE just as a way to do something good for the community and get away from the hustle and bustle of Berkeley. He was placed at Willard, the other middle school. He just wanted to help out some middle school students. He never went to a single event.
An entire semester of us being apart of the same club went by without us ever meeting.
Every club does recruitment at the start of the semester. With over 1200 organizations on campus, getting people to join yours can be a time consuming but invigorating game. It’s a relatively standard formula: go and advertise your organization on Sproul Plaza for the first two weeks of classes by handing out flyers, talking up the organization, etc and host information sessions for those who you manage to get interested. Both are crucial to club recruitment, but the information session is how you really get people to join. I’d gone to one for Project SMILE when I was looking into clubs and it was the main reason I had joined.
As an overeager freshman who was just getting her footing at Cal, I was beyond excited when I was asked to speak at one of the Project SMILE information sessions.
Going into second semester of his junior year now, my now friend was not super thrilled about going to speak at an information session. He enjoyed the club but didn’t exactly see the appeal of talking to a bunch of freshmen. Still, he was friends with the president of the organization, so why not?
We showed up to the information session at almost the exact same time. Relieved that we’d found the one other person there who wasn’t apart of Project SMILE leadership, we started talking. It felt like we’d known each other for years despite having never interacted. At the end of the information session, we went our separate ways and didn’t see each other for another eight months.
I’d been elected as a board member for Project SMILE and ran the workshops at the school that I was not a mentor for. In other words, I was at Willard, same as this guy I’d met months before. He always made an effort to say hi to me when he saw me there, but nothing more than that.
COVID-19 started causing national panic, prompting UC Berkeley to move all classes online through Spring Break. The day before I left to go home for what I thought would only be three weeks, I found myself studying in the Earth Science and Map library in McCone Hall after one of my classes. And who sat down next to me other than this random guy I’d met well over a year ago! He remembered my name, said hi to me, I said hi back, completely forgetting his name. He revealed that he was only there because the East Asian Library, the library directly next to the one we were in, was full. As I was getting up to leave, he asked where I was going. It was late and I was planning on going to eat dinner at a local sandwich shop, Mezzo on my way home. Long story short he invited himself along and we hung out for a couple hours, solidifying a friendship that should have existed long ago.
We talked a bit over the course of the next few weeks, realizing that quarantine would certainly be lasting the entire semester. The first time we video chatted, I noticed something in his background: a very familiar building. I asked where he was and quickly found out that he had been living in the building across the street from my family home in San Diego! The building I had seen in his background was, in fact, my building.
Once the stay at home order had lifted, we hung out constantly (socially distanced of course). The fact that we were already so close geographically to each other made for an easy friendship to develop despite the pandemic. The more we hung out, the more grateful I was for our friendship. I missed Berkeley so much that just having someone to hang out with in person that had gone through a lot of what I had gone through, who understood how wonderful those experiences were, was beyond incredible. Despite being hundreds of miles away, the two of us represent a piece of home for the other. Having that connection has brought us closer to each other and to the place we both love so dearly. I am grateful for my new found friendship despite all of the obstacles I had to face, for it brought me closer to my home than I thought was possible. My summer is forever changed as a result and I’ll never forget my lovely, beautiful bay. I suppose the moral of this story is don’t worry too much: let things come to you. Chances come and go at Cal, some sticking, some moving away. Let yourself relax and appreciate what does stick. Who knows, your summer could change forever. To Oski and others at Cal, I miss you <3
–Kaelyn (she/her/hers): Geography / Society & Environment
32.716° N, 117.166° W
Let me just start off by saying that Geography is really really cool. I could talk about maps for actual hours (and I have :D). However, if you had told me five years ago that I would be a geography major, I would have likely laughed in your face. First off, I have a terrible sense of direction so it just doesn’t make sense for me to be a geography major. But more importantly, my perception of geography was totally different than it is now. It is not just knowing where things are on maps, it’s so much more complex and beautiful than that — but more on that later.
One of the beautiful things about my other major, Society & the Environment, is that it’s so interdisciplinary, which allows me to take classes from all sorts of departments. For my major requirements, I have tons and tons of options, so I often pick whatever class sounds the most interesting to me. So when I was signing up for classes for the second semester of my freshman year, I thought about what class sounded the most relevant to the minor that I was thinking about pursuing, Food Systems. Finding a class called “Food and the Environment” made me so excited because, of course, that’s exactly what I wanted to study! The one thing that didn’t make a ton of sense to me was why it was a class listed within the Geography department, rather than the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (or ESPM) department. When I signed up for the class, I actually kind of dreaded what kind of Geography I was going to have to do in that class. It was not something I wanted to do, not a subject I had any desire to explore, but the topic of the class sounded interesting enough that I was still willing and excited to see where it went.
The class was phenomenal. As someone who hadn’t studied a ton about food systems yet, I was amazed. But what shocked me even more was how cool Geography was, how different it was from what I thought. I think a professor I had the following semester put it very well, stating that Geography is driven by the question you want to know the answer to, not limited by a particular methodology or subject. Geography is the study of the ways physical and human landscapes come together and determine the ways in which people act. I found myself learning about topics ranging from computer science to political ecology all in one class that I thought would just be about food and the environment. One day, I found myself sitting in class as normal and had an epiphany. Why was I not just majoring in this? Finally I’d found something that combined all of my interests and would be an ever expanding, ever evolving field that would never cease to keep my interest.
After doing some of my own initial research, I made plans to talk with my professor about the geography program. He himself went to UC Berkeley as an undergraduate and was very familiar with the geography major as a whole. He got me excited about the program, recommended some cool classes I could take the next semester, and I felt genuinely set to switch over to that major. Society and Environment was great, but Geography was where my heart was at. Though it was certainly not a decision I had spent nearly enough time thinking about, I went to my major advisor and told him that I wanted to switch. But the more we talked about it, the more I realized that the best way to decide between the two majors was to not decide at all, I could have both! Now I am a double major and I could not be happier.
Dear Kaelyn, age 17,
Wow have you got a lot ahead of you. I know you want out, to go as far away from home as you can, to get your own life. I know you think that you are so much more than your small town, which believe it or not you’ll miss. There is so much that I wish I could tell you. Let’s start with this.
You’re about to start applying to college. It’ll be a very stressful time, I won’t lie. You’ll pour your heart, soul, and energy into your essays. You’ll constantly doubt yourself. You’ll associate too much of your self worth with your rejections and acceptances. There is no reason for that. First because the college admissions process is so complicated and random that you’ll never be able to figure it out. It is not a reflection on who you are. Secondly because things will work out in the best possible way. I promise. Be kind to your father; he’s just trying to help. You’ll realize in a year or so that he is your best advocate and confidant.
You’re about to embark on your senior year of high school. People will tell you to appreciate it, to enjoy every second of it and try not to look to the future too much. Since going to college, I have thought a lot about that. Honestly, it’s really bad advice for you. I have very few positive feelings about high school, even now, two years after I left. There’s nothing wrong with that either. High school is hard for you, you feel trapped and like you cannot be yourself. You wish you didn’t have to bite your tongue when your friends make homophobic jokes because the risk of outing yourself is too great. In a year, you’ll get the courage and the opportunity to call out an elected official for their derogatory comments. It is because of the hurt you feel now that you gain the courage to do that. Use that pain, hold onto it, but most importantly let yourself feel it.
The friends you made in high school won’t all stick around. You won’t want all of them to and you’ll be able to choose which ones you do. Some people are worth sticking around for, and some you will realize quickly were never worth your time. The people you meet in college will challenge you, expand your worldview, and be there for you. They’ll make you want to be a better person, to work harder. And work hard you will.
College will bring you unexpected challenges and joy. You will be happier than you have ever been while also experiencing some of your greatest lows. You’ll realize that questioning yourself will never go away, but that those moments bring you the most growth.
While there are three Peet’s Coffee locations on campus, the one in Brown’s is the best. The lack of heavy foot traffic allows the baristas to put artistry and care into the drinks. I have yet to get a better cappuccino, best paired with a chocolate chunk cookie: my favorite four pm snack on Monday afternoons right before my freshman seminar.
The lunch menu at Brown’s invites a swath of environmental students leaving their 11 am classes. I learned very quickly to be able to time the lunch rush. If I ordered at exactly 11:45, I would get my soup (which changed every day) and salad just before the noon lunch rush, getting comfortable in my sunlit booth to work on homework just before the quiet cafe turned hectic. It became rare for me to not run into someone I knew the days I spent my lunch hour in Brown’s. I connected with people from clubs and classes, being able to chat about everything and anything.
Though I most often ate lunch there, the breakfasts at Brown’s were my absolute favorite. After an unfortunate heartbreak, I got into an exercise kick, determined to channel my emotions into healthy habits. The most ridiculous this manifested itself for me was the morning I decided to go with my good friend Jason on a 6 am run on campus. I hadn’t wanted to go THAT early, but Jason was determined to be the first one at Brown’s that morning. I didn’t understand why, thinking that it couldn’t be that big of a deal. But after running a mile and sitting down with the smoked applewood bacon, perfectly over easy eggs, and wholewheat toast with jam and butter, I understood. Let me just say, I never knew the importance of good butter until I went to Brown’s for breakfast. The butter was handmade by a local farm and has completely ruined regular butter for me. The subtle flavors make all of the difference in the world, ruining all toast for me.
Brown’s embodies the spirit of the college of natural resources with its organic locally sourced food, herb garden, and comfortable naturally lit atmosphere. Little details like the on tap sparkling water (free of course) and on tap kombucha (not free, but I can dream, can’t I?) make this place what it is. The warm smile of the baristas and chefs brighten up my difficult days. Students sit at the tables studying. I remember the time I accidentally spilled my entire cup of coffee on the floor: a truly brilliant move on my part. Immediately four different people got up and helped me clean it up, one of them even offering to pay for me to get another cup of coffee. It was absolutely ridiculous and somehow one of my favorite experiences at Brown’s.
I didn’t think it was possible to have such a strong connection to a restaurant, especially not one that I could use my dining dollars for. But here I am, sitting at home, craving that rosemary brie grilled cheese on sourdough and all it represents. I will return…
~Kaelyn (she/her/hers): Geography, Society & Environment 34.3816° N, 119.3396° W~
While being home during quarantine has made me feel disconnected from Berkeley, I had a very fortunate opportunity this past week as a Campus Ambassador to be apart of the Cal Week programming. I signed up to help out with answering questions for as many events as I could, doing the virtual tours and panels as often as possible. It was great. Being able to talk to prospective students about the school I love so much brought me back, making me feel more connected to Cal than I had in a long time.
A key thing that made that possible was being able to hear the stories of my fellow campus ambassadors both during the events themselves and during our meetings afterwards. Special shout out to KC for his mushroom story that I will never get tired of hearing. After our closing meeting, we argued about whether or not straws were needed or should be a thing: absolutely arbitrary. I personally am a fan of metal straws, Jordan thinks straws shouldn’t exist and are overrated, Allison says they are vital for milkshakes, KC wanted straw washing stations… it went on. We joked about even having a campus ambassador podcast where you just listen to us argue, that that was the true Berkeley experience. While they joked, I couldn’t help but think they had something there. The passion that every ambassador I heard and was able to talk to made me realize that even though we are not in Berkeley, its spirit will always remain because it lives within us.
That got me thinking a lot about Berkeley as a whole and about my experiences. One thing that I heard over and over again during CalWeek is that while the campus itself is incredible, with all of our resources, it really is the students that make going here so wonderful. Being separated from campus has never made me acknowledge that more. UC Berkeley is a very special place that brings together the most incredible people, giving us a space to grow and be authentically ourselves. The more I talk to my friends and my fellow ambassadors, the more I feel like everything is going to be okay. I want more than anything to go back home to Berkeley but as long as I am still connected to the people there, Berkeley will always be with me.
I don’t remember a whole lot about opening the decision, other than the numbness that came with it: neither a rejection nor an acceptance. I’d wanted to go to Cal for as long as I could remember and to be waitlisted almost felt like a slap in the face at the time. But I now know that it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
After being waitlisted at Cal and accepted by a few other schools, I did the sensible thing and committed to another school. Where my story deviates from many waitlisted stories you’ll hear is that I had committed to a completely different life than the one I would build at Cal: I would have been on the opposite coast majoring in industrial engineering instead of being an environmental major a day’s drive from home. At the time, it felt like what I wanted. It made sense, it was easy, it was mine.
I do remember very clearly the moment I knew I’d gotten into Cal. When I’d gotten waitlisted, I’d been informed of a specific date to expect an update. Seeing an email from UC Berkeley a month before that date could only mean one thing: I’d gotten in. I didn’t even let myself breathe as I opened my admissions portal and confirmed what I already knew. What was I going to do now?
I had seven days to decide. For three of those days, I was staying with the decision I’d made a month before. Changing my entire life plan didn’t make sense, even if Cal was what I’d wanted for so long. But there was something nagging at me the entire time: making me talk to teachers, friends, family to find a reason to change my mind.
Then everything changed. I was sitting in my Environmental Studies class, looking over the College of Natural Resources website and vaguely paying attention to the documentary I was being shown. My eye caught a phrase on the website: the CNR motto, “see the bigger picture, make a better world.” I sat in stunned silence, glancing at the coral documentary that was being shown in my class. It was then that I realized that I had to go to Cal. It wasn’t a choice for me as much as it was an imperative. Within three hours, I had committed to Cal and my life’s course was forever changed.
Now at Cal, being a student taken off the waitlist did bring me a little bit of embarrassment at first. I kept reminding myself that everyone ended up at the same place, so why did it even matter? I was on the traditional pathway, anyway, so it really made very little difference. It wasn’t until I began talking to fellow waitlisted people that I realized not only does it not matter, but that I was able to connect with these people on a deeper level because of this shared experience. One of my friends and I ended up bonding over it, which sparked one of my closest friendships at Cal!
More importantly, though, I am incredibly grateful that I was waitlisted. Being put in a position where I reevaluated one of my biggest, most life altering choices was exactly what I needed. It forced me to think critically about what I wanted out of life and to follow what I was passionate about. I would have chosen Cal without a second thought if I had gotten in on the traditional time frame and getting to actively choose Cal is part of what has made being here so wonderful. I am very lucky to have had that opportunity.
After being at Cal the last two years, I know I made the right decision. CNR has been one of the most supportive, uplifting atmospheres and Cal as a whole has been where I have found so much joy and love. I am taking classes that are interesting to me (shout out to Professor Jonas Meckling’s Climate and Energy Policy Class!), doing things that I know are making the world a better place, and being truly, blissfully myself. I even picked up a double major, Geography! Brief side note: Anyone who does come here, I highly encourage you to take a class in the Geography department. You’ll be very pleasantly surprised 🙂 I never would have found that if I hadn’t gone into Cal heart and eyes wide open.
All this to say, everything works out the way it is supposed to. So for those bears at heart who are still not sure if they will end up here, who are waiting to come here, be patient. It will work out. I encourage you all to think really deeply about what you want out of life in the upcoming weeks, to allow yourself to follow your passion, whatever it takes. I love Cal and even during this tumultuous time a part of my heart will always be there, doing everything it can to see the bigger picture and make a better world.
~Kaelyn Schlegel, UC Berkeley Class of 2022, Society & Environment BS + Geography BA 34.4480° N, 119.2429° W
If you’re interested in learning more about some of what I talked about, here are a few links 🙂