From the Midwest to the Bay

Transitioning to life in Berkeley can be anxiety-inducing but also exhilarating

Heather Lawrence/Staff

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Halfway through my undergraduate career, I’ve tried to reflect upon how I have personally grown since I first came to Cal. But I realize I cannot quantify the differences between the person that arrived on this campus two years ago, straight from the Midwest — where I had lived my entire life — and the person writing this column.

As I have met new friends, joined and worked for incredible student-run organizations, discovered new hobbies and refined my tastes in music, arts and culture, I struggle to remember the mindset I had two years ago. And in typical, melodramatic holy-crap-I’m-halfway-through-college fashion, I’ve come to question who I am.

The first time I ever visited the Bay Area was during spring 2011, when the high-school version of me was visiting potential colleges I might attend. I had narrowed down my options to two potential schools: Cal and a university in my home state. Knowing that I would have to pay out-of-state tuition, I doubted whether moving to California was worth it. But from my short visit, I fell in love with the Bay Area, and from the moment I stepped onto campus, I felt a sense of both uncertainty and determination that I had never felt before.

Wanting a fresh start, away from the suburban lifestyle I grew up with all my life, I decided that the debt I would get myself into would be worth the experience. But even to this day, I still question whether I made the right choice. Has living in Berkeley changed me for the better?

I know this line of questioning is usually reserved for ABC Family TV shows, but something about this pseudo-philosophical thought intrigues me. A common, cliché piece of advice parents provide for elementary school and college-aged children alike is “be yourself.” But “myself” two years ago was a socially awkward kid trying to act mature but failing miserably.

Had I stayed the same person for the past two years, the current version of myself would have hated every part of him. I’ve since learned to adjust and have become more engaging and less neurotic — or maybe I’ve learned how to fake it better. Yet I also fear that the past me hates the person that I’ve become. One of the main goals I set for myself before I entered college was to personally develop and become someone other than an embarrassing nerd with no self-confidence. I now consider myself a person easily willing to experiment with a playful but sardonic view on life. Still, I still ask myself, did I become the person I wanted to be?

Rarely do we get second chances, especially during and before high school, where you’re stuck with the same 400 to 500 people for four years of your life. I became stuck in a monotonous routine of the same sights and experiences over and over again, and I quickly became bored of my friends who barely shared interests with mine. But with no one from my circle of friends joining me at Cal — most of them located over 2,000 miles away — I had a sense of liberation from this stifling cycle.

In my first semester here, everything in Berkeley was new and exciting, and I knew a large undergraduate population would allow me constantly meet new people who actually shared my interests. I was terrified that I might one day realize that Berkeley was not for me or that I still was that same loser during high school. But after my first year, I began to understand what made me feel satisfied and accomplished: getting out of my comfort zone and finding things that replicated that sense of hesitation and anticipation that I felt when I first walked on this campus, something that I never really did during high school.

College is a time of independence and growth, especially as many of us begin to live on our own. But out-of-state students have higher stakes; aside from the higher financial costs, there isn’t the same support system of family and friends that can act as a respite when you want to see a familiar face or hang out at a familiar spot. But in lieu of that is a sense of discovery and exploration that is constantly present.

The Bay Area is a different world for non-Californian residents, and those who aren’t bound to anyone or anything are either forced to isolate themselves or to explore and discover new hobbies, new friends or new places, though it may initially be uncomfortable.

Another piece of cliché advice is that college is what you make of it. It has taken two years for me to realize how accurate this statement is. I can easily see a version of myself that is constantly locked up in his room, constantly homesick and isolated with no friends. But the person I am today is someone who embraces Berkeley’s culture and is willing to experiment and be open-minded, someone willing to take risks and experience life rather than do the same routine over and over again.

At times, I’m not sure if me from two years ago would be satisfied with the person I am today, but as of now, I’m satisfied with myself.

Contact Art Siriwatt at [email protected]