Irvine, California, is a very strange, surreal place. It is one giant suburb that could have easily been inspired by the pages of a short story by George Orwell. Essentially, the city looks like an artificial town that a government would set up to test nukes on. It takes pride in its status as being among one of the safest cities in the United States with populations of more than 100,000 people for more than 10 years running. Every house in Irvine is either white, tan, beige or some shade of brown and is situated near at least one well-maintained park, shopping area or school. I grew up in this perfectly planned neighborhood in the middle of Orange County. Students on campus often mention a “Berkeley bubble.” If living in Berkeley is like living in a bubble, then living in Irvine is like living under a dome.
Irvine has one of the best public school systems in the country but there are areas that it fails to cover. I was brilliant when it came to being a student— out on the street however, I was clueless and afraid. I went from a place where the biggest concern on someone’s mind could be whether they were going to buy a vanilla latte before they got their nails done. Elsewhere, people make the choice between paying for food or gas.
Irvine has a bulwark that shelters it from the rest of the world. Moving to Berkeley really broke it down.
Real people have worries beyond their own. They have children to take care of, high rents to pay, long hours, low wages and other concerns. When I started working at the age of 16 it was because my parents wanted me to build experience and not because I had to. Plenty of people my age started working even earlier because their families could not financially succeed on their own and needed that additional income.
Before arriving to this environment I think I was in a haze. I had some awareness, but it was incomplete. Now I have gained a much clearer perspective.
Advantages are strange things. You really are blinded by them until reality pulls the blindfold right off. Meeting more and more students here was another step in that awareness. Actually learning and understanding the struggles that other students live through was eyeopening. The tallest peak I had to climb was when my mom was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. Even then, we had medical insurance and the means to stay afloat. These are things that many people do not have and struggle to attain. Overall, through my mother, other cancer survivors and the people I have met here at school, I’ve realized that people have genuine battles and they do not complain. Moving to a place that is vastly different from the environment you knew gives you a new perspective. UC Berkeley challenges you in ways that exceed academics. The people you meet at this school and the wealth of diversity they provide can entirely change the way you navigate the world. This place is an alarm clock, and I woke up.
Contact Karina Pauletti at [email protected]ilycal.org.