From one campus culture to another

Students walking past C.V. Starr East Asian Library
Ciecie Chen/File

“Why did you even transfer here?” is the question I often receive from other students when they discover that I left a well-known, private university in New York City to come to UC Berkeley.

It’s the shocked tones, the perplexed looks that take me aback, for it’s as though they see my decision to come to UC Berkeley as a lapse in judgment.

I suppose I can understand their jadedness. UC Berkeley is often cited as having one of the most stressed-out student populations. The recent outcomes of “Free Speech Week” generated widespread anger in the community. Not to mention we’re no longer the No. 1 public university in the United States, or that almost 40,000 students attend this school according to UC Berkeley’s website, fueling the common perception that each of us is a faceless digit in this colossal machinery of a school.

Clearly, these aspects don’t help my case. Yet as a new student still unsullied by the typical anxieties and shortcomings of a rigorous public college, I remain captivated by the myriad layers this community has cultivated.

Coming from an urban university and a junior college, I had grown complacent with the absence of community. Yet when I arrived at UC Berkeley this year, I was overwhelmed by the constant and adamant presence of community. Solidifying our campus universe, we have established our own language and time. Thrown at me was the lexicon of FSM, HMMB, GBC, GPB, IB, EECS, GSI and more. On my first day, I went to class 10 minutes early, only to learn that we start on “Berkeley Time,” our endemic point that completely disregards the outside world’s time.

“Yet as a new student still unsullied by the typical anxieties and shortcomings of a rigorous public college, I remain captivated by the myriad layers this community has cultivated.”

What astonished me more was seeing the profusion of gold and blue every day: students, staff and faculty wearing emblazoned “Cal” and “Berkeley” gear. Before, I was accustomed to only seeing sad specks of people donning college gear, my past classmates finding it pointless and corny to wear any clothing that displayed our school’s name. Here, it seems as though a flood of people go out of their way to brandish their unspoken pride for the community we share, to the point of sticking the school’s name on most of the bathroom soap dispensers and on dog collars.

Even more astounding to me is the reality that a wide variety of people share our singular identity. From formerly incarcerated citizens to war veterans to international students, I have met a colorful multitude of people at our school, leaving me in awe of this inclusive web rich with vibrant stories, bright people and rooted connections that UC Berkeley has nourished.

Despite the diversity at our school, all students share a common nature. And in spite of being a person who hates generalizations, I am about to make some grand claims about the average UC Berkeley student.

One of the best examples of what I find the campus student to be was found on my first day in GPP 115, when the professor asked if we believed that, as college students, we were doing enough by donating money to developing countries.

Immediately, hands sprang up, and students claimed that we need to do more, that throwing money at impoverished communities was insufficient and that we must change the system. My professor then remarked that we’re all so cynical, to which a student responded that we’re merely sitting in a classroom and not helping anyone, despite the fact that at that moment, we were passionately discussing how to best combat global poverty — and apart from hands-on experience, discussion has value in and of itself.

“I do find that it is ‘so Berkeley’ to wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to learning, to pursuing our ambitions, regardless of the obstacles and circumstances we endure.”

Another prime example was observed on the second day of the semester when old friends from high school visited me, finding my house’s dining room filled with housemates actively studying. My friend was baffled to find everyone studying already, finding it “so Berkeley,” but I shrugged it off.

She was right. I do find that it is “so Berkeley” to wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to learning, to pursuing our ambitions, regardless of the obstacles and circumstances we endure.

It comes as no surprise that we are identified as the annoyingly persistent activist school and often deemed the most stressed-out university, because the common characteristic of us UC Berkeley students is the unwillingness to pat ourselves on the back and to instead keep pushing ourselves to do better — be better — to contribute something more to the world. I find that the UC Berkeley student often becomes anxious, not solely because of the academic standards, but because being a student here means worrying about nearly all causes and feeling compelled to do something.

Call me naïve or yet to have really experienced UC Berkeley (don’t worry — like most of the campus community, I have waited in Sproul Hall, left to think I would die receiving the wait time texts). Yet since coming to this campus and leaving behind the excitement of a global city, the awe of being here and being a UC Berkeley student has not left me. That is, until the torrent of finals and the next round of flyering on Sproul Plaza come around.

But for now, I’m grateful to call UC Berkeley home.

Contact Katrina Fadrilan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katfadrilanDC.

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