Office Hours

When I was a freshman, I was told over and over again, “Go to office hours”. I heard it so much that it transformed into this abstract item on my checklist – something to check off eventually, but not really that important to complete in the present moment. Then the semester got busier, and finding time for office hours got to be more and more difficult. The semester passed before my eyes, and I soon realized I would never check “office hours” off my list. A wasted opportunity. This occurred over the course of my entire first year at Cal, and while I did go to office hours to get help on assignments, office hours became a resource only if I was struggling. I had yet to see the beauty of going into a professor’s office hours without anything concrete to discuss. The idea that you could just have a conversation about whatever with a professor was beyond my understanding.
Now in my senior year, and after many recent trips to office hours, I’ve become that person. The one now saying to you, “go to office hours”. Despite a first year devoid of them and a last year chock full, I now say with clarity: office hours with both professors and graduate students can and should be an integral part of your college experience.
You will be blown away by how incredibly enriching it really is! Especially at Berkeley. Our professors are world-renown, innovative, and enlightening – just by going in and having a conversation with one will undoubtedly expand the limits of your mind and help you grasp broader themes or concepts that weren’t necessarily apparent from the course material. So in the span of fifteen or twenty minutes, you can gain help on any tangible material, as well as, and perhaps more importantly, extend the conversation to make it more personal. In my experience, this was the key to having conversations that aided both my academic and personal development.
The true beauty of office hours lies in the way you and a professor (or GSI!) can develop a lasting relationship that extends past the end of the semester. This can translate into professional help or even mentorships or tight bonds between you and them. I have been fortunate enough to be mentored by both professors and GSIs, forming invaluable connections and giving me access to a plethora of resources within academia and the professional world. Moreover, if you are interested in going to graduate school, developing connections with professors is crucial to your acceptance – those letters of recommendation will be much stronger if the professor actually knows and likes you, and can speak honestly about your characteristics, talents, and abilities.
So now that I’ve convinced you, there’s only one thing left to do: Go to office hours! And quick, before the semester, and then the year, pass before your eyes. read more

Two Different Programs, One Year Abroad

I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Spain for the full academic year, first spending the Fall semester in Córdoba and later extending my stay for another semester in Spain, but in a different city – Granada. Being abroad for the full year turned out to be a great decision, yet the way the two programs differed made a big impact on my experience. If you are interested in studying abroad, consider some of these features and select a program carefully!

One thing to focus on is if your program is centered around a community of US, international, or local students, and similarly, who your classes are with. In Córdoba, my program was composed of 14 UC students, so I spoke a lot of English and traveled around Europe with those friends. My classes were also offered only for us abroad students, and were taught in easy-to-understand Spanish by local professors. In contrast, my classes in Granada were at the official Universidad with local students and professors, helping me make local friends and forcing me to listen and communicate in Spanish much more frequently. This greatly aided my Spanish acquisition and cultural knowledge and also incentivized me to stay put in my program city during weekends. Here I also saw the importance of an immersive academic experience in order to truly learn the language. read more