For new students, Berkeley can seem like a monstrosity of new sounds, crowds of people and armies of squirrels. I can remember my first week at UC Berkeley feeling completely overwhelmed as I tried to navigate the crowds of students rushing down the streets at high speeds, listened to the six-lettered acronyms flow freely from upperclassman conversations and heard the Campanile sing every hour, reminding me I was both late to class and completely lost.
But as time went on, Berkeley started to feel more and more like home. The sounds of the sirens, the crowded apartments and the peanut-stealing squirrels became comforting to me. I found myself able to join the sea of rushing students, fill my vocabulary with many lengthy acronyms and navigate campus with enough time to get to class. I grew used to falling asleep to the city noises and lugging a 10-pound backpack with me wherever I went. And as semesters became years, all of these things became routine, and I forgot about the time when Berkeley didn’t feel like home.
When I left UC Berkeley for a semester to study abroad during my junior year, I wondered what it would be like to return to a place that took me so long to grow used to. I wondered if I would have to grow use to the city all over again. I wondered if I’d be able to call Berkeley home a second time.
While I was away, people would ask me if I missed my home. Although the question was seemingly simple, I was never able to answer it. Over time, I began questioning what I liked about Berkeley. And I remembered only the negative things: overpriced rent, lack of sleep, overdue assignments. I began asking myself why I decided to live in Berkeley in the first place. What was it that made me stay there year after year? And did it really feel like home?
When I returned after my semester abroad, I was instantly reminded of the busy streets filled with the sounds of car horns and the sights of street vendors. I recognized the anxious students and their heavy backpacks. I remembered what it was like to sleep in a bunk bed and share an overpriced apartment with multiple people. I was reminded of lying in bed and listening to the sounds of cars rushing down nearby streets throughout the night. And I remembered what it was like to wake up to the sounds of the squirrels running up trees and the buses’ screeching breaks early in the mornings.
But I was also reminded of the long Sunday walks I’d take around my neighborhood, admiring the tall trees and colorful houses that lined the tight streets. I remembered what it was like to come home to a house full of roommates every night, people I had been with since the beginning of freshman year. I remembered the slow Saturday mornings when all I had to do was step outside my apartment and find myself standing in the middle of the vibrant and lively city.
I remembered how the brisk, foggy morning felt as I would run to my morning class on Mondays and how the sun beat down on me as I would walk home from my last Friday class of the week. When I returned home, I was thrown back into all the sounds, feelings and smells that made this place Berkeley. But everything that overwhelmed me the first time I moved here no longer did.
I never had to rediscover Berkeley. I fell back into place and was reminded of the things I had grown to appreciate over the past few years. I was reminded of what it was like to be in a place that constantly challenged me and opened my eyes to new opinions, perspectives and ideas. I was reminded of what it was like to walk down the street and never know what I would see or who I would meet. I was reminded of the sunny days that lit up the Golden Gate Bridge from the top of campus and the cool nights that made the city lights glisten above me. Even though I could endlessly list the things I didn’t like about it, I was reminded that I would always return to Berkeley. I was reminded that Berkeley was my home and that no matter how long I was away from it, it always would be.
After I came back, people asked me if I missed Berkeley. I still can’t answer this question. All I know is that when I walk through campus and hear the Campanile sing, I am no longer lost.
Contact Emily Denny at [email protected] .