About two months ago, I was packing up my suitcases in my home in Muscat, Oman to move to Berkeley. Despite the prospect of being more than 8,000 miles away from home in another corner of the world, I was excited to finally start living and going to school at UC Berkeley. Things here are definitely different and this piece is my attempt to chronicle some of my personal experiences of navigating life at UC Berkeley, some of which may or may not be relatable to my fellow international students.
I noticed the stark differences even before I got off the aircraft at the San Francisco International Airport. As we landed, a flight attendant began announcing general information regarding the time at the destination as well as further steps for disembarking. I did a double-take when I heard him mention that the outside temperature was in the low 70s. Because I’ve used the Celsius scale my whole life, I still find myself needing to convert temperatures even after living here for over a month. Slowly but surely, I’ll be able to understand what my friend means when she says, “Oh my goodness, tomorrow’s weather is going to be in the 80s!”
On our way to the hotel, I was confused for a good five minutes about why the speed limits were only 65 on the freeway. Well, as you may have guessed, I didn’t realize that distance was measured solely in miles here. For instance, when Google Maps told me that it was 0.8 miles from Unit 2 to Cory Hall, I misread and underestimated the distance, thinking it was just 800 meters. Boy was I wrong.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I entered the lift (or should I say elevator) in my hotel and had a mini heart attack when I couldn’t find the “ground” floor button. It still feels odd saying, “I’m on the first floor,” when I am actually on the ground level. Just last week, my friend spent forever trying to find me since I asked her to come to the third floor when I was actually on the fourth floor according to the system here. The lifts in the Units are probably the only exception to that rule, thank god.
Another struggle as an international student is correcting everyone’s pronunciation of my name. Almost nobody ever gets my name right the first time they hear it. There’s usually a back and forth of me pronouncing my name in varying degrees of pace so that my peers can understand. Sometimes, I even have to spell my name out to prevent people from butchering the pronunciation!
Lastly, I’ve experienced a desert climate for over 14 years in which the temperatures would range from moderately pleasant to hot throughout the year. Because of this, the biggest change for me has definitely been growing accustomed to the fluctuating Berkeley weather. There have been innumerable times this past month when I wasn’t prepared for the bipolar Berkeley weather, whether that was not carrying a jacket on a cold day or wearing Birkenstocks when it happened to drizzle. Needless to say, after enough poor clothing choices, I’ve now started to get into the habit of checking the temperature before I leave my dorm every morning.
These trivial things puzzled me when I first got to UC Berkeley. Nonetheless, everything’s slowly falling into routine and Berkeley’s beginning to feel like home!
Contact Nandita Radhakrishnan at [email protected].