I never wanted to go to school close to home. I thought that the college I went to had to be physically far away in order for me to gain the independence I yearned for. My first year at Berkeley taught me that I was wrong. My parents didn’t contact me at all after dropping me off at my dorm — not even a single text. Eventually it got to the point at which I was concerned something had happened to them, and since then we’ve had a more regular flow of communication. But distancing myself from my old life at home served its advantages: I found myself feeling more and more integrated into the campus community, and the more integrated I became the more I realized I was finding my independence. Instead of playing tourist in a new city, I served as a tour guide for new friends who had never been to the Bay Area before. I was asked for restaurant recommendations so often that I started to keep a running list on my phone. That’s not to mention that things like moving and going home for breaks are infinitely easier than they would be if I had moved further away.
When I tell people that I’m planning to major in Human Geography, they tend to respond in a few different ways. The most common, “Oh that’s so cool! I don’t know too many people who study that.” The second response starts out like the first, but after it’s sunk in for a few minutes, a perplexed look crosses their face and they ask me, “So can you just clarify what exactly Geography is?” And the last, my personal favorite, “Wow, I loved learning where all the countries are on the map when I was in elementary school!” I bite my tongue when I hear this — refraining from responding by asking if they really think I’m spending four years and an entire college tuition on memorizing maps — and try to remind myself that Human Geography is a unique major, so it’s not their fault they haven’t heard of it.
If you mention sunsets to any UC Berkeley student, they’ll most likely respond with their favorite lookout spot: the Lawrence Hall of Science, the top of the fire trails, Clark Kerr Campus, the view from the upper floors of the certain buildings in the Units, and so many more. Our campus’s prime location in the Berkeley foothills provides us Berkeley students a plethora of opportunities to catch a view of the sun as it falls behind the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. But rarely mentioned is the view of the sunrise from campus — an experience that I recently discovered is almost as magical as the sunset.
For many students, moving into an off-campus apartment is the first time you’re truly responsible for finding furniture, cleaning your living space, keeping track of bill payments, and, most importantly, feeding yourself — essentially everything that comes along with “adulting.” When I moved into my first apartment two months ago, I was excited for the independence that would come with it, but also equally, if not more, nervous about all these new responsibilities. However, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that taking care of these responsibilities gives me a break from my schoolwork, and there’s none I get more satisfaction from than cooking for myself.
My summer plans were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s no surprise, as I don’t know a single person who can’t say the same thing. When the spring semester ended, I decided not to take summer classes and instead to fill my newly-empty days with volunteer work. I had spent too long simply witnessing injustices in our society being heightened by the pandemic and wondering how I fit into UC Berkeley’s campus community of changemakers during this pivotal moment. I spent hours peeling through newsletters of local elected officials and emailing staff members of community organizations only to volunteer a handful of times. Though I knew the work I was doing was important, I felt no connection to it or to any type of community, and I subsequently found myself losing my motivation.
“Share your name, your pronouns, your major, your hometown, and a fun fact about yourself.” It’s an introduction I must have been asked to share fifty times in my first week of college, probably 300 times by the end of my first year. But on the first day of Golden Bear Orientation, the soon-to-be common icebreaker took me by surprise. I listened to the forty-four other members of my group confidently list Molecular Cell Biology, Computer Science, Business, and a few other topics as their intended majors. When it came to be my turn, I was the first and last person to say “I have absolutely no idea what I’m studying.”