Off the beat: Working on foreign soil

I became part of The Daily Californian staff. I courted student organizations at Calapalooza. I visited my friend in her dorm, almost went to New Student Convocation, sniffed out free food on campus and shopped at thrift stores on Telegraph.

All this, without actually enrolling at Cal.

You see, I have been in and out of Berkeley the entire summer, and I decided that if I am going to be working in Berkeley, I should try and fit in. I came in with these preconceived notions about Cal students and Berkeley residents — an odd blend of a hardcore hipster and protesting hippie, with a little bit of engineer mixed in. But when I came and looked around, things were very different.

Awkwardly enough, I have never expressed any desire to actually attend UC Berkeley. Ever since I started high school, Cal was simply Monta Vista 2.0 — a too-close-to-home land meant for engineering students and those wanting to die in a grueling competitive atmosphere. And especially for me, someone who wanted to study Marine Biology,  a school somewhere near San Diego, for instance, would be better.

So when I first thought about applying as a multimedia intern for the Daily Cal, I was not sure if I would actually enjoy it. Would I want to work at a school I was happy to be rejected from? But working with multimedia would be the same regarless what the location was, so I sent off my application. It was then I decided that if I had to work on foregin soil, I would need to fit in.

The night before I went to Berkeley for my first assignment, I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out what to wear. People in Berkeley supposedly were hipsters, and hipsters were great dressers. Therefore, I had to pick out an outfit that would scream Berkeley. As I boarded the BART the next day, confident I made the right choice, I looked around me and found several high school and college-aged kids wearing something in a completely different vein than what I had on. Defeated, I schlumped in my seat and began planning.

I initially believed that my time in Berkeley would be soley devoted to my intern duties. That first BART ride, I spent the initial 15 minutes just mapping out my plan of attack: Walk from BART station to restaurant, eight minutes. Interview restaurant owner, 30 minutes. Take video, 19 minutes. Yet the second I came out from subterranea and set foot for the first time on Shattuck Avenue, I was immediately lost.

It was something I refer to as “the Berkeley aura.” Finally, I was in a city I heard so much about, but it wasn’t the dreary area I expected it to be. The city was steeped in such life and culture. It proved too much to handle stepping out into Dowtown Berkeley for the first time, so I started scurrying off in what seemed to be the right direction until I decided to stop by Starbucks — a comfortable common ground — and ask for directions.

My first moment in Berkeley oddly enough brought me closer to my ultimate goal: blending in. Although a local should technically know which direction you need to walk on Shattuck to get to Bancroft (I know this now, I promise), to the Starbucks cashier, I must have seemed like some poor, lost, lonely little incoming student who needed some help finding part of the Berkeley campus.

Sorry to fool you (maybe) Mr. Starbucks cashier man, but I am technically a Triton.

Berkeley’s aura is still as indescribable to me as it was during my first visit. Maybe it’s the unique style of architecture and that reddish brick color that seems to paint all of the buildings. Maybe it has something to do with the lively history that hangs over the city to this day. Or maybe it’s the way people dress. If I could have a Berkeley student pick out my wardrobe, I would — I have never seen such stylish yet chill dressers in my entire life. But whatever it is, it must supercharge all Cal students, because the campus is overflowing with driven individuals.

The evidence was all around me. People walking up and down Bancroft, discussing what their professor said during lecture. Suffocating crowds at Calapalooza, trying to find their place on campus. And a group of students in Cal apparel plugged in to their individual laptops at Philz Coffee with laser focused eyes, sharing the same driven energy.

I have never been around people so determined to win back an axe, among other things. I have never seen people wanting so much to do everything, and do it well. Even though I went to an uber-competitive high school, this concept was foreign to me. There, people were doing things because they had to. Here, they do things because they want to.

And as I start to shop and pack for UC San Diego, that is what I will be taking back with me as I depart this city. Because there is no point being on foreign soil if you can’t bring some back with you.

Contact Yaamini Venkataraman at [email protected]