Transferring to UC Berkeley: a death knell for happiness?

Community-less College

Nothing but smiles and self-congratulatory glows — me and my fellow panelists had just successfully answered questions from current community college students on what to expect from transferring to a four-year school. One thing was clear: as the only representative from UC Berkeley at this forum for the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, my answers were blatantly less cheerful — in fact so unintentionally dismal that one student straight-up asked why they should actually want to transfer to UC Berkeley.

After eight weeks of  reproaching UC Berkeley’s particular treatment of transfers — from housing to campus climate — I’ll still gladly tell prospective transfers that they should shoot for becoming a golden bear.

No matter your interests, this prestigious yet dingy university provides career-excelling avenues that admittedly require unparalleled ambition to fully take advantage of as a time-stricken transfer student. It pays off though. Top Silicon Valley companies hire more alumni from UC Berkeley than any other college.

Personally, my priorities were different when I first walked through Sather Gate, fairly certain that I would inevitably find myself there in the Fall. I was not so allured by the scent of sweet sweet technocratic capitalism. The academic opportunity linked to UC Berkeley’s prestige has always been the talk of the town, but I wanted to know if the warnings of former transfers were true — that UC Berkeley is a hollow institution where any preexisting happiness ultimately drowns under extreme isolation and a towering stacks of books.

Admittedly, my “fresh-off-the-BART” new-admit self was initially dismayed by the run-down aesthetic of Berkeley — filled with concentrated urban congestion and no shortage of homeless folks. Compared to the terraforming of UCLA’s plastic Westwood, the choice seems clear. It wasn’t until I found myself at Brazil Cafe in downtown Berkeley that I finally realized how much the area had grown on me. As I stood in the streets, chomping down on some good ol’ tender meats, an army of Direct Action Everywhere protesters passed me at an arm’s-length distance, holding signs to “ban meat in Berkeley.” For me, this comical irony made it clear that UC Berkeley and its surrounding area have a vibrant culture.

And while the student body is not gung-ho over school spirit, UCB can surprisingly deliver a fulfilling college experience a la work hard, play hard. That is to say, the intense academic rigor has already led me down the miserable path of all-nighter sessions at Moffitt. But that hasn’t been without some of the most enjoyable weekends of my 21-year existence.

I won’t deny that UC Berkeley hosts a distinct transfer experience, where something is most certainly rotten in the state of Denmark. I won’t sugarcoat things — the initial transition process as a new UCB transfer can absolutely suck. A small minority of new transfers effortless assimilate and find a sense of complacency, but like the Salem witch trials, you’ll probably just sink before you can float. For prospective transfers however, my own experience has taught me that I’m capable of finding a sense of belongingness without subscribing to the campus’s destabilizing 4.0 hunger games.

Finding footing has not come easily, as this campus has an inexplicably isolating force that can bring you down. My first Cal Dems meeting felt surreal in that the turnout probably neared 100, but I still left with a profound feeling of emptiness because I just couldn’t jive with any of the members — be it because some were freshmen, non-transfers, or even neoliberals. Conversely, only a month into UCB, one of the most meaningful moments of my life happened right here in Berkeley, when I became one of several columnists chosen to write for the Daily Cal. Each publishing week, I am still in disbelief that I am able to write for an entire community through a platform that constitutes one of the largest and only independent student papers in the country.

This university could undoubtedly do more to look after new struggling transfers, but the transitioning process is nonetheless difficult regardless of your college. Recently, one of my newly-enrolled transfer friends at UC Davis revealed to me that she has been crying every week since arriving.

With UC application deadlines now around the corner, it seems absurd to check the UC Berkeley box for any reason other than its noteworthy but ultimately overvalued prestige. Afterall, transfer account after account reveals a common theme that many transfers don’t actually enjoy their experience until their second year. In my case, my simple checking of a box has now transformed into a two-thirds hearted appreciation for all that this campus has to offer, from its incomparable student culture to its top-notch academic institutions.

Far before setting foot in Berkeley, I’ve continuously reached for any lifelines that might inch me toward happiness. My own assortment of mental health issues has meant that transitioning has been more mixed than a bag of Chex. But I recognize that my limited time as a transfer means that I can and and must hold on to positivity. And to all prospective transfers out there, it’s possible for you to do the same — even here at UC Berkeley.

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