An international student’s reality vs. expectations of CA

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As an international student who first stepped foot into California less than four months ago, I was pleasantly surprised about all things “Californian”  from the lingo to the weather that I just hadn’t expected. Having visited the United States only twice before, and as a hardcore Hollywood movie and American television buff, I was certain that I already knew everything there was to know. Boy, was I wrong! Here are a few things I’ve learned and a couple that have left me stumped!

California slang

A Californian’s lexicon is truly one of a kind. I’m learning new slang words even today. Back in July, I’d have blinked at words such as “SoCal.” It seems wild to an outsider that Californians have managed to shorten Southern California to “SoCal” and Northern California to “NorCal”! Even more absurd is calling mandarin oranges “Cuties.” It was only after a quick Google search that I realized the California-based company called Cuties has become ubiquitous with its product: mandarin oranges. And on the other end, I learned that saying “Cali” while actually in California is highly frowned upon.


Back in April when my college decisions had all come in, my dad was rooting for UC Berkeley. It wasn’t the title of the “No. 1 Public University”’ that charmed him, it was the California weather. The prospect of warm weather and no snow during the winter enticed me; I didn’t carry a lot of heavy winter gear. But the weather as of this past week makes me wish I’d brought my beanies and boots from home. After numerous poor clothing choices earlier on in the semester, I’ve learned to check the temperature each day before leaving my dorm to prepare for Berkeley’s fluctuating weather.

Boba culture

Before joining the official UC Berkeley class of 2023 Facebook group, I’d never heard of boba. Seeing the word “boba” pop up in everyone’s introductions in the group piqued my curiosity. Bubble tea was nonexistent in Oman where I lived, as well as in India, where I’m originally from. Surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be much hullabaloo about boba when I visited the East Coast last year. But here in California, it’s common to have more than three boba shops on the same block!

Where are all the avocados?

Having heard all about California’s abundant avocado stock, and avocados being one of my favorite fruits, I was hoping to find avocados at regular prices as opposed to the “special” status they’re given everywhere else. Unfortunately for me, this doesn’t seem to be the case — avocados have maintained their crème de la crème image here too.

So there you have it! These were some of my expectations versus reality moments after arriving in Berkeley. And here’s to hoping for many more enlightening lessons about California in the future! 

Contact Nandita Radhakrishnan at [email protected].