Finding your niche at UC Berkeley

Winky Wong/File

After opening the acceptance letter plastered with the face of Amy Jarich, the woman who holds a mysterious allure surpassing even Chancellor Dirks’, my sense of self worth soared. It’ll be marked in my life history as my most monumental validation. It was perhaps the only time in my life where I felt as on top of the world as Oprah Winfrey does daily.

My peers at school the next day appropriately responded with an internal “cool story bro, now let me get on with my day.” My rookie pre-college self had failed to understand that any worthwhile achievement did not necessitate external validation.

In high school the more introverted ones were ushered out of the spotlight and pushed into a corner of irrelevance. That’s consequently why my acceptance to UC Berkeley ushered in a feeling of self-worth that was strange and foreign as if I was attempting to don this “big-girl jacket,” which didn’t quite fit me. In such a small learning community as my high school, I was an outsider and my presence went unnoticed. Somehow, I thought my acceptance to UC Berkeley would help me break out of that assigned identity.

In this fog of achievement, I wasn’t even thinking about the institution of UC Berkeley itself or trying to project what my life for the next four years would be like. I wasn’t thinking about what my roommates’ names would be, what clubs I would get involved in, what meals would become my staples and, most regrettably, I didn’t explore the various classes, fields of studies and opportunities UC Berkeley had to offer. So, I didn’t even know what I wanted to get out of my experience here.

When I finally arrived, I defaulted to the biology major — a field of study I ended up detesting. I hastily signed up for the latest CalSO in order to avoid confronting the fact that I was going to leave my native Southern Californian home, the place with everything I knew and loved. In my heart, I knew I wasn’t ready to leave home, but I also knew that I couldn’t afford to keep my life at a standstill. Just the thought of waking up every day in a place other than my spacious bed made me shudder in panic. So I purposefully blocked out any thoughts of my inevitable departure, turning off notifications for the Class of 2018 Facebook page because I was terrified.

It turned out that once I came here, my battle wouldn’t be with the things I imagined. They turned out to be easily surmountable and even petty.

I learned that I could survive on dining hall food and that my RA, as well as numerous classmates and building mates, were infinitely friendly. I also made use of the floor lounge in order to make living in a triple more tolerable. Academics certainly kicked me in the ass — in fact, that’s quite an understatement. To have to sit cluelessly through introductory math and science classes was a slap in the face for someone used to getting A’s with just a small amount of effort.

However, even that did not affect me as much as the unanticipated pit of isolation and loneliness in which I found myself buried in my first semester.

Not having to see the same faces every day at first seemed like a blessing. But little did I realize how great a psychological impact this disorientation could have. I didn’t realize that all these factors together — like being lost in a sea of 800 daily in just one class and waking up lonely without breakfast with my family to look forward to — could be so devastating.

While my identity may not have been a favorable one before coming here, at least I had my niche back home.   

I was left desolate and stranded and had only the choice to carve a new niche for myself.

But this time I didn’t lack agency. I could be whomever the fuck I wanted and do whatever the fuck I wanted (although the later is not always advisable).

I had no obligation to study a STEM field just because it runs in my family, I could randomly talk to the person sitting next to me without any consequences and when I drunkenly stumbled down my hallway, nobody batted an eyelash.

This newfound independence while petrifying at first soon felt exhilarating. Having the ability for the first time to make my life my own little bitch was truly a privilege and a blessing.

In the midst of freaking out over whom I was going to live with my second year, I unexpectedly and through pure chance met an amazing group of people who would become my dining hall buddies and later my irreplaceable housemates. I am currently in a major which I adore even if I came to it after numerous stumbles and extensive soul-searching.

Even if I didn’t end up becoming best friends with my floormates, I definitely valued how diverse all of our backgrounds were. They related to me experiences that as a cisgender girl of middle-class upbringing I never had. And now I have a pretty solid plan of what I want to accomplish for the remaining two or three years I have left here. Carving my niche was nothing like how I anticipated and it definitely wasn’t easy.

I didn’t belong in high school, and I initially felt like a lost soul here. But if there’s anything we UC Berkeley students know, it’s perseverance. We overcome the short-sightedness of our initial struggles because they are indeed short-term. And instead, we are motivated by our long-sighted goals as we are given the privilege of establishing new identities for ourselves.

Contact Angelica Zocchi at [email protected].