When I first got to UC Berkeley as a freshman, I knew exactly how I was going to spend the next four years of my life outside of class. I was going to join Dil Se, the South Asian a cappella group that I had been religiously following on Facebook and YouTube for the past three years. I was coming straight from a small high school with a graduating class of 40 students, and I was worried that I would get lost in a sea of people, so I marked the audition date on my calendar, ignoring all other flyers that were being handed out on Sproul. I was like a racehorse wearing blinders — I got so distracted by a tasty treat that I couldn’t see the finish line anymore.
And so for my first two years at Cal, I lived, breathed and sang Dil Se. Classes? What classes? Practices were the highlight of my week, and every Tuesday, I would rush through my evening chem lab to make it to practice on time — even if no one else was there yet.
Though I came armed with training in Indian classical music and experience in choir, a cappella was completely different. The point is to sound like instruments using only your voice, which is easier said than done. I learned about blend, range and dynamics and how crucial it was that the 16 of us sounded like one voice. And while everyone did get to sing a solo at some point, I’ll confess that I enjoyed singing the backs more.
College groups are so different from high school extracurriculars. In high school, you pick something you enjoy doing, and you are the only one held accountable for it — any hobby you pursued was a solo activity. College extracurriculars are the complete opposite. When you sign up for an activity in college — whatever it is — you are committing yourself to 20 or so other students with whom you will spend the majority of your evenings and weekends.
If I’m being honest, I had expected this. What I didn’t expect was just how much Dil Se, singing and a cappella would take over my life. I failed midterms because I was up late at night arranging songs. I constantly had a sore throat from overexerting my voice. I lost friendships that I thought would be forever, but I also made friends I never would have expected.
And in this whirlwind of singing, drama, excitement and emotions, I totally forgot about pursuing any kind of professional development. My peers were getting involved in research and internships on campus, and here I was, fretting about what costumes we should wear for our next performance. It struck me at one point that maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe I shouldn’t have let what started out as a hobby exert such a profound influence on me.
The thing was, though, I could have left at any point. There was nothing stopping me from walking out after just one semester, and there was no one forcing me to be 100 percent committed to the team. And yet, even after the initial novelty had worn off, every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, I showed up to the practice room in Morrison Hall at 8 p.m. sharp, because I wanted to be there.
It was through Dil Se that I met some of my best friends. I learned how to work with other people on a team. I got to meet different students from all over the country, and I learned so much about people and relationships.
I may have put off thinking about my career for two years, but I now realize that’s OK. I know graduated seniors who still don’t know what they want to do with their lives. You’ll have time to figure all of that out. Until then, find something you love to do. Find a community that will accept and love you. Allow something to take over your life for a while — however trivial it may seem in the grand scheme of things — because you will learn things you could never learn in a classroom.
I may have been staying up late nights and perhaps putting real life on hold for a while, but my classmates were losing just as much sleep as I was. I saw them motivated by an almost mechanical drive to succeed, while I sat back and enjoyed something that they missed out on — family.
So yes, it’s true that I got sucked in. But it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Contact Shruti Koti at [email protected].