Andrew Henry was 33 when he came to UC Berkeley. A surprising acceptance — followed by rescindment, then conditional reacceptance — created a looming anxiety that he could get kicked out at any second.
Living outside of the surrounding city, while also being a re-entry transfer, created major social barriers preventing him from making any friends for most of the first semester. He was finally here — at his reach school. But, he had already been off to a disappointing start.
I had been fidgeting slightly with the hard-boiled egg I had just purchased in order to hit the three dollar card minimum at Cafe Milano, but I nonetheless listened intently to his story.
While feverishly scribbling, I suddenly had a revelation, spilling coffee on my shirt as my small, protein-rich friend nearly rolled off the table. Disappointing. That was one word I could easily relate to as a new transfer student.
Since moving to Berkeley seven weeks ago, I lost a job I only had for a week, fell behind on five weeks of reading and failed to declare my major on four separate occasions. Just writing this column has demanded an unfamiliar degree of vulnerability that severely ramps up my anxiousness.
Somehow now six weeks in, I find myself faced with a fear of the unknown — upper-division midterms. Having exactly zero UC Berkeley exams under my belt means I lack the sufficient familiarity for even feigning confidence. With a blank GPA and less than two years until graduation, these initial letter grades will define my transitional experience, no matter how much I attempt to disassociate grades from intelligence.
Midterm stresses only latch onto my continuing struggle of finding meaningful purpose on a campus five times the size of my community college. Just remember, if your transfer experience has been just alright, or if — in the common vernacular — it’s been a steaming pile of shit, that’s OK and it shouldn’t warrant self-blame.
I’ll be the first to admit that all is not well. A few weeks ago, I began to realize how much of a toll the transfer process had taken on me. I felt alone even with the decent number of friends I had already made. Recognizing that I was not really alone just made me frustrated at myself for feeling so irrationally insecure. I cried myself to sleep many nights, but I just chalked it up to my pre-existing emotional instability. Only after waking up one morning and feeling the same as I did the previous night did I finally seek professional help at the Tang Center.
It’s OK to admit you are struggling. In my limited time here, I’ve noticed a particular determination to exude a glow of heightened achievement and aspirations. Surrounded by intense academia and 40,000 fellow Bears, students become eager to demonstrate that they are truly one of the golden ones. This is why, when the professor asks my political science class how many students plan on going to law school, it’s easier to count the hands that remain unraised. Realistically, only a fraction of those hands will be briefing cases years from now, but we nonetheless want others to think that we have a stable grasp over our own lives.
Putting on a face seems like a necessary survival tactic when family members and friends constantly ask the dreaded “How has Cal been so far?” You would think that after being consistently asked this every day for weeks, I would have developed a better response than my unfaltering but honest go-to of “It’s been all right.”
This pithy and admittedly lazy reply represents the sum of some lows, several highs, but mostly a lot of mehs. Sometimes though, in the depths of the lowest low, you have to be able to remind yourself that six weeks shouldn’t define the entirety of your two (or more) year experience.
As a frame of reference, a student recently posted on the UC Berkeley transfer Facebook page — “does anyone else wanna drop out bc like I really don’t belong at UCB lol I feel like the dumbest kid there.”
I know the reasons that I ended up going to community college, as do all other transfer students. Just as we had reasons then, now, we have a reason for being here at UC Berkeley. In such a gray city, your story is probably more relatable than you think.
Of course, every journey is different, but after two years of saying “Go Bears,” Andrew ended up being both good and smart enough, evidenced by his ability to guide discouraged transfers through his current job as an academic achievement counselor at the Transfer Student Center. This is precisely to say: Don’t let your initial transitional experiences dictate the rest of your journey as a transfer student and as a Golden Bear.
Who knows? I might have performance issues in one of this week’s many midterms and critical assignments. In spite of all of this, I’m beginning to understand that this is all OK. No, not like the “this is fine” dog that obliviously ignores his house engulfed in flames. Rather, I know the transfer process is difficult by nature, and while I’m brutally honest about how everything has been, I know that things can and will get better from here.