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He doesn't even go here

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SEPTEMBER 18, 2017

Last week, I found myself playing human bingo with a bunch of people with whom I had pretty much nothing in common, except the fact that we all decided to show up to a transfer student meet-and-greet. Despite being surrounded by at least 50 peers who also went to community college, I felt alone and eager to make my grand exit as soon as I nabbed some sad-looking pepperoni pizza.

In reality, pretty much all my friends at UC Berkeley are transfers. It’s not because of common interests or mannerisms — we bond over our inability to entirely feel a sense of belonging on campus.

See, I walk down Telegraph Avenue bearing the same egregiously overpriced apparel as any other Cal student, in hopes of reaffirming that I have a right to bear it, because I, too, am, well, a bear. Approximately one-fourth of UC Berkeley’s student body is composed of transfer students. Yet, a drizzle of self-punitive rumination always persists — to quote the revolutionary “Mean Girls”: “She doesn’t even go here.”

I can’t even tell people I’m a third-year without tacking on “transfer,” an awkward divide that separates me from the rest of the juniors. You can call it imposter syndrome or whatever other hip term the bourgeois of academia have now invented to describe this particular brand of low self-esteem.

There truly is no greater environment to study imposter syndrome than within the transfer community at Berkeley. I constantly hear my fellow transfer students tell me how they don’t feel intelligent enough to be here, or how difficult it is to make friends.

Compared with four-year students, transfer students have higher proportions of low-income students and underrepresented minorities. Financial problems and mental health struggles are often the reason a student takes the community college path. This exacerbates the issue, and it makes the imposter syndrome feel almost insurmountable.

When juxtaposed against the upper-echelon GPAs of incoming freshmen, transfers often internalize a sense of inferiority to the point where they feel meritless, even though they clearly have much to offer.

New junior transfers are tossed into the hunger games of Berkeley’s cutthroat academic culture, but we carry the added burden of having to navigate the campus alone, isolated from the organizational cliques and friendship groups that have already been established.

Granted, this year’s incoming transfers received the newly developed Golden Bear Orientation, where they had a week to familiarize themselves with the campus and its community. Aside from its 14-hour-long daily schedule and compensation of GBO leaders’ 80 plus hours of free labor with little more than yellow T-shirts, GBO is a step in the right direction. Still, it simply cannot compare to the academic experience, leadership opportunities, networking and social bonding that typical third-years receive over the course of four semesters.

The tricky dyad is figuring out how to be aware of the unique aspects accompanying both the community college and transfer experience, while also being willing to normalize the transfer route as not just an unpreferable second chance at redemption, but instead as a rational, alternative method of upward mobility.

During convocation this year, transfer students were asked to stand en masse, revealing a diverse scattering of 20-some-year-olds accounting for a third of the entire incoming class. I fully understood that the school was attempting to destigmatize the community college experience by ensuring visibility, but the entire experience felt like an Animal Planet special. As the sitting freshmen stared for far too long, the move to so strongly differentiate me, as a transfer, made me sit back down, especially when the speaker said something along the lines of, “This is what they look like. See, they are normal people just like you.”

I wholeheartedly believe transfers are normal students capable of aspiring to the success rates of the rest of the student body. But, I also know that for myself, and many other transfer students, our life experiences and sense of belonging here at Cal are completely unlike those of most traditional, straight-out-of-high-school students. For incoming freshmen, the hardest part of college might be meeting the glowing expectations of their parents. For me, it’s just convincing myself that I’m a bear — or that I even deserve to be.

Neil McClintick writes the Monday blog on transfer student troubles. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @neil_park_.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2017