Lessons learned as a freshman

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To all incoming freshmen,

I will first say that CalSO is terrible, and if you walk away with nothing but a sweaty Cal ID photo and an unbearable desire to transfer before August, you’re in good company. If you’re enjoying yourself, kudos. If not, hang in there. The school year is so, so much better.

I recently packed up my dorm room to prepare for a journey home to Los Angeles, commemorating my first year of college by stripping away my life in the square box I had occupied since August piece by piece. My unused shower caddy occupied the same bag I had packed it in. I shoved photos, new and old, into a thin manila envelope, stuffed comforters and sheets into the back of my mom’s car, and that was it. 613 Davidson Hall looked just as it had more than nine months ago.

My roommate and I often talk about how we’d gladly remain freshmen forever.  After move-in day, you’ll quickly realize that Crossroads, the main dining hall, cycles the same inedible delights through the menu every couple of weeks, and the beef goulash will begin looking like dog food, not a luxury. Your favorite fraternity will become riddled with faces that you vaguely recognize from English R1B or Math 16A, and you’ll spend 90 percent of your time exclusively with people who live on your floor. But that’s the beauty of being a freshman. At times, it will feel like you have two friends in the entire school, and at others, you’ll realize you actually know your way around. Either way, you’ll familiarize yourself little by little, and each day will bring something new. And that’s exciting.

I could tell you about smart scheduling or the different types of homeless people and absurd professors you may encounter in the coming months, but that’s a task better left for you to experience. What I can address are the fears that plagued me, leaving CalSO and preparing to leave home, and why you’re going to be okay.

Senior year of high school, for me at least, was the culmination of many amazing things. I spent a final year with friends I had known since preschool; classes were easy; life seemed simple and exciting. Getting into college was an invigorating and nerve-wracking process, and committing to Cal was equally thrilling. I continually told people I couldn’t wait for college, couldn’t wait to leave. But the last summer was strange. As the days crept by, it was hard to imagine that everything I had known would change permanently in the coming months. Home would always be there, but what is home once the people who define it have left?

Turns out that my fears were founded. Each journey home will be different as you grow out of your childhood self. If you’re the type to visit your high school campus over Thanksgiving break, embrace this. The desire to return will be fleeting.

But returning to Berkeley gets better each time. Coming back, you’ll be excited to see your new friends and enjoy the freedom of living on your own. When my family first dropped me off, my brother had to physically force me to go socialize with my floormates. When I return this fall, I’ll be living in a house with those same people I begrudgingly introduced myself to. You will find and forge a community here, whether you expect to or not.

Leaving will come to somewhat feel like returning home.

To finish, a few quick pieces of advice. Eat at Qualcomm Cyber Cafe or Pat Brown’s, not the Golden Bear Cafe, better known as GBC. Hike the Clark Kerr fire trails. Talk to people in the elevator (you’ll be seeing them all year). Bring a vacuum to the dorms. Don’t wait in line for CREAM if the line is around the block. Don’t live in Foothill.

And finally, believe that this place is your home. Telegraph Avenue may not look like your small town, and your floormates may not look like your siblings, but give Berkeley some time. It’ll make all the difference in the world.

See you this fall.

Contact Libby Rainey at [email protected]