I first came to UC Berkeley in fall 2011, lost and confused. I arrived as an undeclared student in the College of Letters and Science. Countless majors floated in and out of my head, and I had no clue which one to pursue. Here I am four years later, about to graduate with a degree in political economy with my sights clearly set on a career in the civil service. How did I get here?
It wasn’t easy. There were several highs and lows, periods of uncertainty, nights spent painstakingly going through course catalogues and desperately making phone calls. Yet, in retrospect, perhaps I didn’t have to be so stressed. How I eventually unearthed my passion came rather naturally.
I had a relatively affluent upbringing. I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand, and my parents were within the upper echelons of the socioeconomic pyramid. They sent me to an expensive private school and provided for me very well overall.
All of this privilege, nevertheless, put me in a bubble. My peers came from some of the richer families in the country. Most of them had lavish houses, personal drivers and in-house maids. It was a bubble composed almost exclusively of the so-called “1 percent.” The world seemed great. Everything was kumbaya, and it seemed to be the norm.
Coming to a public school burst my bubble. It was so different from what I was used to before. I was amazed when I first found out about student loans and that some of my peers were supporting themselves. Although I really admired them, it didn’t make much sense to me. Why aren’t your parents paying your tuition? Why are you working part time? You’re late on your rent payments? Why aren’t your parents helping you out?
I really struggled with these questions, among others. In essence, I was ruthlessly exposed to the 99 percent with which I’d had minimal interaction prior to coming to UC Berkeley. It was mind-blowing but also humbling.
In my parents’ defense, this is not to say my folks spoiled me. They always pushed me to work hard and constantly reminded me to stay humble. They themselves had very modest childhoods. Nevertheless, they simply wanted the best for their children, and it was the norm for those within my social circle to have their parents support them until they were done with college, if not beyond. It was just a different philosophy.
But as much as my parents told me to stay humble, nothing shattered my bubble quite like coming to UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley’s political activism opened my eyes to a plethora of social issues including but certainly not limited to racism, educational inequality, income inequality, wealth inequality, gentrification, gerrymandering and police brutality. Several classes I took, chiefly Public Policy C103 and Sociology 120, also explored these problems.
These myriad social issues pushed me to meticulously examine my privilege. It all felt very unfair. How is it just that I have far more resources at my disposal compared with most of my peers just because I happened to be on the winning end of the lottery game of childbirth? Should the womb in which you happened to be matter that much in shaping life’s opportunities and outcomes?
More importantly, though, UC Berkeley and its political activism inspired me. It was surprising yet refreshing to see students sacrificing so much time in their busy schedules to fight for the greater good. Although some protests turned violent, most were not and showed that civil belligerency is still alive and well among the Generation Ys, who are often bashed, sometimes correctly, for being narcissistic and materialistic.
All of this made me feel that I am part of the problem, too, if I don’t get involved. Ignorance might be bliss, but it also perpetuates the status quo. It also made me realize that there is a behemoth of pressing matters that still need to be addressed which affect millions of people every day. Amid such a political atmosphere, I gradually became very passionate about investigating and possibly solving society’s problems.
Overall, UC Berkeley was such an eye-opening experience. It changed me for the better, inspired me to study what I study and firmly put me on the path to becoming a civil servant. There are obviously other ways to contribute to the world as well, and I may not move into civil service immediately, but it is something I will likely pursue in the future.
So thank you, UC Berkeley. Thank you for allowing me to discover my passion. Thank you for bursting my bubble and exposing the horizons of the wider world. Thank you for instilling a sense of social responsibility in me. Thank you for showing me the power of collective action. Thank you for allowing me to be at the forefront of historic political movements. Thank you for giving me the chance to meet so many inspirational individuals and take so many inspirational classes.
UC Berkeley was truly a wild ride, but it was well worth it. I’ll be back one day.
Until then, forever and always, Go Bears!
Natchapol Praditpetchara joined The Daily Californian as a news reporter in spring 2015. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political economy and minor in public policy.