Avoiding a lackluster CalSO experience

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When I signed up for CalSO after accepting my admission to UC Berkeley, I didn’t know what to expect because I never planned to attend the school. As weird as it may seem, I didn’t even know anything about the campus until I considered applying to the UC system. Growing up in Los Angeles County exposed me to a biased education system that, coupled with my lack of knowledge about other prestigious universities, gave me the impression that the college scene revolved around UCLA and the University of Southern California.

I initially did not want to attend CalSO, but the idea gradually grew on me. To prepare for my eventual UC Berkeley tour, I constantly checked photos online of the campus.

Unfortunately, when CalSO finally came and ended, I did not walk away feeling satisfied with my inaugural experience at the campus. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t actually get to tour the campus as I expected to. Perhaps my expectations were too high because of the UC Berkeley information pamphlets sent in the mail.

On the other hand, the culprit of my lackluster experience could have simply been me, because I didn’t quite try to immerse myself in the social aspect of the event. Frankly, I felt like an oddball in my CalSO group.

For one, although my group was very diverse, I didn’t meet anyone to whom I was able to relate, partly because I was the only male Latino in a largely female-dominated group. Feeling different from everyone else, I struggled to strike up any conversation that didn’t end in awkward silence.

Additionally, while everybody else talked about the celebration and tears of joy that followed their acceptance letters, I was unable to relate to their experiences because I didn’t understand the significance of being accepted to UC Berkeley. Coming from a background where my parents didn’t know much about higher education meant I had to explain to my mother where the campus is located. Every time she would ask me about Berkeley, she would get the city confused with San Francisco.

Because I felt too shy and insecure to connect with my group members, I opted to concentrate on CalSO’s academic aspect. But even this did not pan out as I hoped it would.

I managed to enroll in two courses but was unable to meet with a media studies adviser because the adviser was ill on this day.

Instead, I consulted with a sociology adviser because I was considering double majoring. Even this impromptu plan did not go smoothly, because I had trouble locating Barrows Hall. By the time I made my way to the advisers’ offices, I had time to catch only the tail end of their orientation reception. I got an information folder but left confused and disappointed, because my CalSO experience was not progressing anything like I expected.

Normally, I’m a social bird, but of all the days to be shy and insecure, it had to be during CalSO. I should have been more willing to adapt to my future settings and peers, because Latinos with interests similar to mine would not be abundant at UC Berkeley. I knew that, yet I was stubbornly reluctant to leave my comfort zone.

In order to avoid an unpleasant CalSO experience, you should talk to your group members, despite how much it may seem like you will have nothing in common with them. It doesn’t hurt to ask them where they’re from, what they plan to major in and what life in their hometown is like. These simple icebreakers may spark a connection that could develop into some of your first friendships at UC Berkeley. You should also try eating lunch with them at Memorial Glade in order to get to know them more, instead of sitting away from them, awkwardly checking your phone.

Don’t make the same mistakes I made. If your first attempts at socializing go awry, don’t run away and hide behind CalSO’s academic aspect. As valuable as it is to seek advice about your classes, it’s connecting with your fellow Bears that makes your transition to UC Berkeley a lot easier. They may be the ones with whom you’ll be able to grab lunch or chat during your first weeks as a student. Trust me: Socializing with a familiar face can bring a smile to your own face during the period of uncertainty as a new student.

If you at least make a reasonable effort, you’ll probably walk away from CalSO with a memorable experience, instead of pondering what could have been.

Contact Manny Flores at [email protected].