Everything I Learned Outside of the Classroom

In my four years at Berkeley, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about how organic molecules are formed, about the duality of particles acting as waves, and about how chemicals contribute so much to our world, both good and bad. I read thousands of pages of chemistry textbooks, some of which kept me up at night because they fascinated me, many that put me to bed because they were so dry and boring.

But as most soon-to-be college grads will likely agree, I know that I learned far more beyond the classroom. I learned to become a somewhat dysfunctional, sometimes functioning adult. I developed some vices I’m not so proud of (an addiction to caffeine) but also perfected the level and intake of caffeine that will give me the ideal amount of focus to get to work.

I learned to be extremely inquisitive and curious about the world. Berkeley gets an inaccurate rap of being a liberal bubble, but on the contrary I think it’s made me very open-minded to people of different beliefs. At Berkeley, we generally hope to have political beliefs and ideology that serve the greater good, but if something in our aligned political party isn’t serving the American population, then we’re not going to blindly support it. We are critical of our government and actively brainstorm alternative solutions in and out of the classroom. We show up to protest causes we are against, and show up in even greater numbers for the causes we support— take the Climate Strike in 2019 that gathered thousands of students that are behind oil divestment, progressive climate policy, and the Green New Deal.

One of my greatest takeaways of attending a huge undergraduate institution with a diverse student body is how to foster an inclusive environment. From little things, like the language we use to address other people so as not to assume their gender identity or sexuality. Or larger issues, like how to host an event or activity that is going to accommodate for people of all abilities. Or even thinking about the kind of people that are going to show up in a space, and if our organization reflects students of all backgrounds so as to make everyone feel welcome and invited. Learning how to cultivate a safe and positive environment is a skill that will be implemented far more than my knowledge of quantum mechanics ever will! read more

The Myth of “ONE” Best Fit University

Maybe you applied to 10 schools and got into all of them! Congratulations!

Perhaps you were waitlisted to Berkeley, accepted your offer elsewhere, and now you got in to Berkeley! Now what?

Maybe you didn’t get into the schools you hoped for and are now overwhelmed as you compare and contrast your options.

As a college senior reflecting on the college decisions process, I think the college decision was too overhyped for me. I remember my thoughts that kept me up at night, trying to search for a sign that would reveal the school that was the one. Committing to a location and university for four years is daunting— but your unique soul and spirit are stronger than the transformation that any one university can do to you. I’ve spent time immersed in two undergraduate environments and come to realize that both would have been fantastic options, not one better than the other.

Katia holding instagram cut out on Cal Day in Sproul Plaza
The day I decided to go to Cal!

For context, I spent my childhood assuming I would attend UC Santa Barbara someday. My mom went there and ever since I was little I felt an emotional pull to this beachy region of California– I had to be talked into even applying to any other schools. I surprised everyone, especially myself, when I ended up choosing UC Berkeley over UCSB for a handful of good reasons.

Fast forward four years and I took advantage of online classes to move next to the UCSB campus, where I have been for the past year. Everyday I wake up and take Berkeley classes and give virtual tours online, but when I leave my apartment to go out and interact with people from a distance, I am essentially living the life of a UCSB student. I am super happy to be here and I feel like I really belong in this town where the sun is on my skin and the ocean steps away. But if I’m being honest? I belong at Berkeley, just as much, if not more.

Both university environments fostered positive growth in my undergraduate years. My home for the last few years was Berkeley, CA, and I knew it because I could feel my heart tug at the sight of the Campanile after returning from a trip. I recently felt that same tug when I left Santa Barbara for the weekend and returned to our beautiful beaches and mountains, knowing this was home now. At Berkeley, I grew immensely by being academically stretched, gaining wonderful mentors, and encountering and overcoming failure. At “UCSB” I have learned to balance my work with time spent outdoors,  and have spent a lot of independent time soul searching for my future path.

On paper, both Berkeley and UCSB are large research institutions, have a dynamic student body, and have club opportunities with lots of overlap. In my physical experience, I spent a little over 2 years living in Berkeley and 1 in Santa Barbara, I couldn’t tell you which one was the right choice. Both schools would have been a really, really great fit.

And so this is not to say you should take your college decision lightly. Many students will end up transferring schools after a year, drop out, or suffer through a poor fit school. But if you are looking for the stars to align to show you the one school meant for you, just go ahead and take a chance on one! You will come out a slightly different person based on your decision, but you will become an enlightened, worldly adult whichever way you go.

Someday we will have to commit to a career, a future partner, or to a geographical location, and like your college decisions these will be huge decisions but with multiple right options. This isn’t a multiple choice question with one answer, but rather a question that lets you select several right answers. So best of luck to you, don’t sweat it, and maybe we will see you on campus in the fall!

Course Highlight: L&S 12, The Berkeley Changemaker

As a campus ambassador, some of the most common questions I get on my tours are: what are some of the best classes to take? And, this one is a big one, but why Berkeley? What makes our university different from the rest?

The answer to these questions lies in L&S 12: The Berkeley Changemaker, a 2 unit course that students can take on a pass/no pass basis.

inserted quote: “As a rising senior looking for a course to take during the summer...I decided to add this course was because of how many different leaders from various majors throughout the campus would be invited...In a sense we were given the honor to talk to the giants that paved a way and len[t] a shoulder to us evergrowing future giants.”

First offered in Summer of 2020, this course was so popular that it filled up a waitlist multiple times and expanded to accommodate huge interest. The course features 22 UC Berkeley faculty members including Chancellor Carol Christ and secretary of the treasury Janet Yellen, that guide students through a series of readings, lectures, and activities. The course syllabus for L&S 12 outlines an introduction to changemaking, training towards becoming a solution-oriented critical thinker, and culminates with an action plan for how you can be a leader on a tangible community project.

What does it mean to be a Berkeley Changemaker ? You see, Berkeley has this unique vibe which is hard to find on other college campuses: we question the status quo as we think, and act, beyond ourselves. Not only are our professors and students among the most brilliant minds, but the social and scientific contributions of Golden Bears past and present have quite literally changed the world. Whether it’s been the discovery of the Calvin cycle in photosynthesis, the development of a cost-effective anti-malarial, or the birth of the Free Speech Movement, it is the people of Berkeley that have caused our larger global impact. A big reason I chose to attend Berkeley was because I felt this change-making attitude transcend throughout the campus on my college decision day four years ago, and today it continues to make me feel alive whenever I am in the presence of my Cal community. Despite visiting dozens of college campuses throughout the years, Berkeley is the only one that has exuded this special energy to me. read more

Ready for the Real World

I distinctly remember the frenzy in February of my freshman year when it came time to find housing for the coming year. Most private apartments around Berkeley do a 1 year lease starting in June so that it matches with the school year. That means that come springtime, the early bird gets the worm to find a good housing deal for the next year.

It’s always a bit dramatic to sort out the roommates. Are you looking to room with 1, 2, 3, or 4 others? Are you okay to have a double occupancy room, or are you going for a single? What’s your budget, and are you willing to compromise? All these are questions that I tackled as I sprinted from my classes to get to open houses in time, only to see 40 other freshmen also lined up, trying to rent out the same apartment. Unlike other colleges, it’s actually significantly cheaper to live off-campus and housing is very limited for upperclassmen, so the majority of students do not live in the dorms after freshman year.

Yes, it was crazy, it was hectic, but as I look back on the experience, I am so thankful that I got to be a real adult, even at age 19 and as a freshman in college. I managed to pay thousands of dollars for a security deposit and rent and learned the tough parts of living on your own, like doing my groceries, getting my bike stolen, and all the beautifully unexpected moments in between. For better or for worse, Berkeley will do that for you. This school absolutely pushes students academically, but even more so it shapes impressionable, naive minds into individuals that are ready to quite literally tackle whatever the world has to offer.

Katia and her three roommates dressed up for Halloween
My first apartment and my sophomore year roommates!

And this goes well beyond living on your own. A lot of older students will tell you that while attending this campus of 40,000+ students, they discovered the importance of asserting themselves and being their own advocate. Maybe that means walking into the office hours of your most intimidating professor, sending in that application to that internship even though you feel underqualified  (you’re probably overqualified, tbh), or having really difficult, but important conversations with peers on uncomfortable topics. Looking back on my greatest opportunities and moments of growth in 4 years of Berkeley, every single one of these memories started with me actively stretching outside my comfort zone. Because I went to Berkeley and because I took hundreds of little leaps of faith everyday, I am a better person today.

I say this with hopeful optimism, given that I graduate college in about 7 weeks and have no plans lined up. Perhaps a very organized adult would panic in my shoes— perhaps I ought to be a little more panicked than I am right now— but in all honesty I couldn’t feel better about my place in this world right now. I know that I’m competing against job candidates from other universities that also memorized the same amino acids, they also maybe had a bit of chemistry research experience, and they probably have a fine GPA to rival mine. But what many non-Berkeley students will lack is the confidence to walk into that interview and ace it, to juggle adult responsibilities with their career, and frankly they won’t have the dazzling reputation that a UC Berkeley degree holds in the eyes of employers. UC Berkeley is tough stuff, no doubt. But when I walk that stage (or attend my virtual commencement) I feel really happy knowing that I conquered one of the most challenging chapters of my life, and if I could do this, then I am going to be pretty resilient and well-equipped for whatever the future holds.

Brain Like Berkeley

If you’ve ever had the privilege to join us on a campus tour or online visit, you may have heard the abbreviated version of some of Berkeley’s best contributions to the world of science. Whether it’s the mention of our 16 elements on the periodic table or winning a Nobel prize for the discovery of CRISPR gene editing, we as campus ambassadors try to highlight our favorite scientific discoveries for our visitors. However, a regular tour doesn’t have enough time to get into all the facts because UC Berkeley has too rich of a history to even brush the surface. Here I try to outline some of the lesser known, but equally exciting, contributions that Berkeley has made to furthering our understanding of the world.

1. The Calvin Cycle
Melvin Calvin and co-researchers discovered the famous pathway that is an essential part of photosynthesis in plants. By adding radioactive carbon dioxide into a suspension of cells, they were able to trace how carbon distributes itself in the light and dark stages of photosynthesis. I was totally nerding out when I learned of this discovery, years after memorizing the very cycle in my high school biology class!

2. The Wetsuit
As a surfer, I’m so hyped about this 1952 invention by physicist Hugh Bradner, who discovered that neoprene was a suitable fabric for insulation from cold water. While later popularized and commercialized by legendary surfer Jack O’Neill, you can thank Bradner and UC Berkeley for the original idea!

3. Scuba Diving Tanks
On the topic of water sports, chemist John Hildebrand created the pressurized mixture of helium and oxygen that today allows SCUBA divers to descend hundreds of feet under the sea. This 1924 invention allowed divers to explore the depths of the ocean like never before, without experiencing “the bends.” Still today, one of our buildings, Hildebrand Hall, commemorates this iconic man.

4. Berkeley UNIX
Alright don’t quote me on this one because I’m not a computer expert, but Berkeley UNIX was developed by alumni Kenneth Thompson in 1969, essentially starting the revolution of open-source software. A product of Bell Labs (later AT&T and Nokia), this invention became one of the early operating systems in the very beginnings of the computer and tech industry.

5. Influenza and Polio Vaccinations
Remember a world where vaccine wasn’t a daily word that crossed our minds? Well, on top of our many contributions to the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, Berkeley biochemist Wendell Stanley was responsible for both a WWII-era polio vaccine and influenza vaccine. With the UC Virology Laboratory, his research was critical in preparing vaccines and combatting the spread of these viruses. Today, Stanley Hall is named after this revolutionary scientist.

These are some of my favorite discoveries, but even still there are so many other findings, especially beyond the sciences, that UC Berkeley is proud to claim. As a chemistry major at UC Berkeley, I can honestly say that a big draw to the university was my absolute awe when I learned of some of our scientific contributions, and I continue to geek out every time I learn about another one!

For more incredible facts, check out the link where most of these came from and enjoy! https://www.berkeley.edu/about/history-discoveries read more

The Best Beaches by Berkeley

If you are choosing to attend Berkeley because of the awesome location, I totally second that decision. We are so lucky to have both the urban vibe of the city and the peaceful escape to nature in the Berkeley hills. Even better, while we are not quite located  near the beach, we have access to some fantastic spots, many of which I have been visiting my whole life growing up locally.

I think one of the best outings you can have during the pandemic is going to the beach by yourself or with your household. Even in the colder months, the ocean water is so healing, the sunshine peeks out every so often, and perhaps you can even arrange a socially distant hang-out with folks outside your household!

If you have access to a car, here are some of my favorite spots within two hours drive from Berkeley:

Capitola

The sunset over the colorful condos at Capitola

Just south of Santa Cruz you’ll find Capitola, the tiny village-by-the-sea, which is just a few walkable blocks of stores and restaurants. On one side, you will also find colorful vacation condos which are perfect for a fun photo shoot. My family and I used to stay in a beachside motel here every winter and you can stay entertained here for a full day. I’m also an avid, albeit amateur surfer, and this is my favorite local wave to surf. It’s a great spot if you wanna learn because the water is gentler here.

Pillar Point Harbor, Half Moon Bay

About an hour away, you have to check out the  charming and foggy town that is Half Moon Bay (HMB!) If you venture to the north end, you can spot a huge white “golf ball” on the bluffs over Pillar Point Harbor. My first memories here were for family beach days, but I’ve since rediscovered this natural space because it is the closest strip of land to Mavericks, one of the biggest waves in the world! If you head out between December and March, there is a good chance you can spot some of the world’s most fearless surfers taking on waves up to 60 feet!

Stinson Beach, Marin County

If you’ve ever ventured to Mt. Tamalpais or Muir Woods, you might have also stumbled by this beautiful beach which honestly takes my breath away during sunset, every time. A lot of folks make a whole day trip out of the journey and hike in the local state parks, then take a dip at Stinson after! It is a tiny town so the weekends get incredibly packed, so I recommend going on a weekday or evening to avoid the traffic.

If you are like me and do NOT have access to a car

If you are comfortable taking public transportation, you can work your way to Ocean Beach (or Baker Beach, just north!) in the city. You can either BART, then transfer to the SF MUNI train/local bus, or if you want to get active you can bring a bike to finish the journey.  Baker Beach is a fan favorite because it has the most stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge which really makes you feel lucky to be a local! Make sure to leave time for a stroll through the Sunset or Richmond Districts, the hip neighborhoods that border the beaches.

I’ve left out my very favorite spots because a local can’t give away all her secrets, but I do hope you get out to the sand and sea for a much needed recharge this quarantine season!

Being Average Here is Amazing

“Being average here is amazing” is the best advice I’ve gotten in college.

It’s what my high school best friend, Bianca, told me the first time I got overwhelmed by academics a few weeks into my time at UC Berkeley. I only applied to Berkeley because Bianca came here one year before me, and visiting her in her freshman year intrigued me enough to apply, and then enroll at this special place.

Katia and Bianca walking with the Campanile in the background
Walking through campus for Bianca’s grad pics, 4 years after she introduced me to Berkeley!

As a campus ambassador, it is literally my job to share the best of Berkeley with you all. I am meant to stand tall and smile, to recount my most inspiring memories and  moments at Berkeley.  It is a dream job for me, since even before college I aspired to be a tour guide wherever I ended up. And many days the job is so easy and so dreamy, knowing I can make a small contribution to a student’s life-changing college decision. read more

Falling in Love with Berkeley (again)

I’ve considered Berkeley home for the last three years, and spent every semester and summer in this city since 2017. However, after a semester abroad and a pandemic, I’ve been away for the last 10 months and just came back yesterday.  It’s bittersweet to witness how some of my favorite pieces of home have stayed the same, while others have adapted to the state of the world. I feel fortunate to look at Berkeley with fresh eyes and in many ways, fall in love all over again with this place and people.The Campanile and reflecting pool with the sun peeking out of the trees.

I just moved into an apartment in the Elmwood area, a charming neighborhood slightly farther south, full of historic homes with gardens that I have always admired from afar. As a senior, I appreciate the peace and quiet that Elmwood offers as a contrast to the busy urban environment that I relished in freshman year.

I started to fall back in love with Berkeley even on the drive here, as soon as the  Campanile came into sight. The clock tower majestically stood against the backdrop of the hills and I felt a bubbling energy remembering that building belongs to MY campus, the best public university around. It was the same feeling I felt in August 2017, when I moved here for the first day of my college adventure. How naive and fun it was to feel butterflies for a place that I hold so close to my heart.

I further rediscovered my love for Berkeley when I went on a hike just in time for sunset. I’m born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I firmly believe the best view around is from our very own Berkeley hills, where you can view campus, the skylines of Oakland and San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, and the beloved Golden Gate bridge all at once. The pink sky and the distant fog rolling in makes my heart smile even after seeing the same sunset countless times.

And then, I love the food! In my 24 hours back in town, I’ve already had a burrito, boba tea, donuts, and a matcha latte from some of my favorite spots. It is so fun to have so many yummy options all within walking distance of campus (Note, my wallet is NOT so keen about the abundance of food!)

I remembered why I most love Berkeley once I stepped back onto campus, but this time with a mask, of course. I went on a run before the rest of the city woke up this morning and got to appreciate the eerily beautiful stillness of the green spaces, lecture halls, and libraries that hold some of my most joyous and most challenging moments.

Our motto is Fiat Lux, or let there be light in Latin. I love the way the light hits Berkeley in the early mornings and the evening golden hour, the way that Berkeley academics and research have enlightened practically every field with new knowledge, but I mostly love the way that Berkeley has brought out the light in me and my fellow students. While I’ll be spending most of my study time on my computer, at home, instead of on campus this year, being back in Berkeley has reignited a little light in me. It’s never felt so good to be home.

Summer in the Surf

I was so close to subletting a summer apartment in Berkeley when out of curiosity, I hopped on the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Facebook housing page. When my original internship based out of San Francisco was cancelled, I miraculously landed a similar, remote internship which gave me location independence! With nowhere to call “home” for the summer and the severity of the pandemic looming over the  Bay Area, I decided I would spend my summer in Isla Vista, California.

Katia holding a surfboard at the beach
I’m in love with my baby blue wetsuit and surfboard!

While I am a proud and loyal Berkeley resident, I’ve always longed to live among the palm trees and Pacific Ocean that line Isla Vista or “IV,” the college town adjacent to UCSB off the central coast of California. I’m quite the outdoor-oriented individual, so like many of us, the first two months spent inside in quarantine took a toll on my physical and mental health. Santa Barbara has always been a special getaway for me and my family as we have years of memories visiting our relatives down south. I’ve also been surfing intermittently for four years and realized that much like Disney’s Moana, the sea was calling me. So in mid-June with the temperatures picking up and my internship due to start in a week, I decided to commit to a summer of surfing in IV. Two months into my time here, I can definitely say I understand what the surfers mean by “living to surf.”

Eight weeks ago I started surfing at Campus Point, a beginner surf break about 15 minutes walk away, and I’ve come a long way since then. I got rid of my initial, fun foam board and bought a technical board for more intermediate surfers. While I previously could ride a wave for 5 seconds, I can now go for 25 seconds if the conditions are right. I no longer go to Campus Point because the swell is too small for my liking and I’ve discovered the beauty of the beaches on the opposite side of town, where the waves are consistently 1-2 feet taller. On this side, the sun sets on the horizon and I fell in love with the feeling of catching a good ride under a purple-pink sky, so naturally I became part of the daily sunset crew. Social distancing isn’t hard on the water when all of us have 6 feet (or longer) boards, so I’ve even managed to make a few friends in a town where I moved without knowing anyone. The biggest barrier to entry was finding out how to get my board to the beach without a car, but I quickly learned the local method of tucking a board under one arm and biking the 1.5 miles out to the water, which only took a few attempts to get right.

Surfers coming out from the ocean at sunset

As I’m writing this now, I’m eagerly awaiting for the sun to get a little lower in the sky, the swell to pick up a little, and to slap on my wetsuit and head to the beach. I’ll probably paddle until I can’t lift my arms, lose track of time, and if today goes like the rest of my evenings, I’ll likely be the last one out as the light disappears. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still on the grind of becoming a better, stronger student as I work full time from home with a rewarding summer internship. But while I’ve learned plenty about chemistry and the pharmaceutical industry on the job, perhaps the most learning and growing that I’ve done in summer 2020 has been out in the surf in sunny Isla Vista. read more

Studying “abroad” from home

Katia standing in front of the University of Cape Town on first day of school.
My first day of school featuring Sarah Baartman Hall and the cloud-covered mountains!

This past semester, I got to experience school in the most incredible way possible, studying at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa through the UC Education Abroad Program. It was more than a dream, and although I’ve had my heart set on this trip for six years, it still managed to exceed all my expectations. For context, while South Africa is a less traditional study abroad destination, I was drawn there because it is perfectly nestled at the southwestern tip of the continent, surrounded by both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. It has an identical and opposite latitude to Los Angeles so the climate is just like California, the university is the best in Africa, and it frames the stunning 3500 ft Table Mountain as the ideal place to get outdoors while still having the urban city lifestyle. Needless to say, the seven weeks that I studied and lived in South Africa were the highlight of my life, and fly 10,000 miles home in late March when the US issued a global travel advisory was sad and scary!

Although my first day of UCT classes was over 5 months ago, I only just finished my semester, albeit my classes were online. It was pretty hectic (fun fact: the word hectic is the main slang used throughout the country, and particularly by UCT students!) for my university to transition online due to the strict lockdown in South Africa and unequal student access to technology. Therefore, my classes took a 7 week break as they transitioned online and my semester ended a whole 7 weeks after the original end date.

Me on top of Devil's Peak with the city of Cape Town below
Devil’s Peak is a fabulous hike, and it starts on campus!

While I went through cycles of sadness and anger for getting my semester cut short, I ultimately am beyond thankful that I lived abroad for a little while, and had the privilege to experience a global education from home. Even taking classes online, I was still getting a South African education, which challenged me and made me question how learning looks different outside of the US. It was the little things, like the fact that my Microsoft Word documents were formatted in South African English so the spell check would flag my spelling of the word behavior. Or in my oceanography class, I had to be mindful when I was talking about seasons and climate patterns, because in the southern hemisphere everything is flipped! Or the fact that I had to switch out of a minerology and crystallography class because it was way too challenging for me—and that was so humbling to recognize that UCT has the same caliber and rigor as UC Berkeley. Even the grading was super different, and I learned I could never get above a 70% on an essay, because the professors there are no joke.

Overall, while the majority of my “study abroad” was completed from my home country, I reflect on my time as a UCT student in-person and online and I think both experiences gave me an international perspective. While the future for the UC Education Abroad Program is uncertain and I so look forward to the day that international travel picks up again, I would encourage you to seek courses and educational resources that come from diverse countries and cultures, because you can still really gain that global perspective from your computer screen. And don’t worry, you know that I will be on first flight back to Cape Town and am looking forward to more time at UCT… maybe a Master’s degree?