Putting the ‘student’ in ‘student-athlete’

On that grind

I had been to Berkeley once before, but as a recruited water polo athlete — this was much different from my second experience visiting. I remember it clearly; as I stood in UC Berkeley, looking at the school for the first time from a student’s perspective, what was in front of me did not coincide with what I had been led to envision as an athlete at the school.

My naivete had gotten the best of me — I expected the college town of Berkeley to mimic my neighboring college town of Westwood. However, instead of chain eateries and cute retail shops, as I looked at Telegraph Avenue, all I saw was a mass of book and record stores, places I had never heard of and a strange man repeatedly yelling, “Hell yeah!” at me. I was shocked at what I saw (although I really shouldn’t have been, had I actually done my research on Berkeley), but ventured onto campus in the hope that Telegraph was a special case of weirdness.

Sure, the city could be strange, but maybe the school was a bit more “normal.” I was wrong. Two minutes of walking down Sproul Plaza, and I was asked roughly 20 times if I wanted to join clubs that I had no interest in ever joining; in this mere two-minute walk, I also witnessed a dance troupe, people protesting and a strange man dressed in an aluminum foil outfit.  

Despite the culture shock that was the city of Berkeley, I decided to attend UC Berkeley. Not only did it offer me the greatest opportunity to pursue phenomenal athletics and academics, but the city was surprisingly exciting to me; college was supposed to be about “new experiences,” and everything about Berkeley said “new experience” to me. My curiosity overcame my apprehensiveness of attending.

Summer went by quickly and move-in day came; I was excited to finally be living in all of the weirdness I had previously seen. I wasn’t expecting to see the things I saw on Telegraph and campus extend to where I was living, but the floor that I was placed on completely embodied Berkeley’s eccentricity.

On my first day at UC Berkeley, I was approached by a floormate dressed in business casual; I thought he was perhaps dressed for the occasion, but after a couple days I learned that this was his everyday attire. He also played the melodica, an instrument I didn’t even know existed before meeting him.

Another one of my floormates had a mathematical equation (followed by graphical analysis) to come to the conclusion as to whether someone was attractive or not. I had a floormate who was devotedly invested in business and finance, one who was in the ROTC program, and two more who broke out into song every day and clearly had a divine love for music.

It was an unusual experience for me, as I was in a brand new place with people who, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t connect with because we were so different — many were home-schooled, from countries I had never been to and had schedules that permitted them to stay up until 4 a.m. bonding while I was dead asleep because I had to get up for 6 a.m. practice.

Although I learned to love being surrounded by these people (and in hindsight hope they enjoyed my company), it quickly became apparent to me that for the most part they weren’t going to be my people; even though I had fun being around them, I couldn’t bond over enough things with them to develop strong friendships. However, even though I initially felt excluded by the strong friendships other people were able to make on my floor, none of this diminished the countless friendships I was able to make at Cal.

Being at Cal exposes you to such great diversity that it becomes easy to find like-minded people that you feel drawn to. For me, those people, and my niche, became Cal’s athletic community. The vast majority of people I have chosen to surround myself with are athletes, because they go through the same routine I do every day — practice, school, practice again (most likely). They have the same interests as me (chowing down on protein powder — kidding), and for the most part have the same goals and values as me. My freshman teammates and I would even make the (decently) long trek from Unit 3 to Crossroads every night to avoid vegan dinners.

This experience that I went through of living with my floormates exposed me to the fact that you can truly make any place your home — although I was very different from them, the familiarity of seeing them every day made me feel more comfortable at Cal. Why not try to enjoy and learn to love everyone and everything that surrounds you? I developed lasting friendships with my floormates who were different from myself. Despite how odd and eccentric the people and place may be, you just have to choose to surround yourself with a strong network of people who you identify with to make yourself happy, while keeping your heart open to everyone you meet.


Daily Hartmeier writes the Tuesday column on being a student and an athlete at UC Berkeley.