When I moved to campus in the spring of last year I was a nervous, anxious wreck. I stressed about my classes, my roommates, the move-in, what I would do, how I would make friends — pretty much every part of the undergraduate experience was racing through my mind in the weeks before the semester began.
Then, I moved here, and I’ll be honest: at first, it was not much better. Everything was still overwhelming. I went to Golden Bear Orientation, hoping to make new friends and meet new people, but my group was not well planned out and I ended the week just as disoriented as before it started. My new roommates — who were extremely nice people, for the record — had already been living together for months and were closely bonded, and the other people living on my floor in Unit 2 had already formed their little close-knit groups in the previous semester as well.
The whole social scene at Berkeley felt unnavigable. I felt like I was late to the party — and not fashionably late. It felt like I had shown up after the cake was eaten, the music had been turned off and everyone was walking out the door. It felt like I had just missed the chance to have fun and connect.
Then, the first day of school came. I knew Berkeley was a big school from the moment I applied, but setting foot on Sproul Plaza the first day was a shock to my system — the vast numbers of students buzzing about was unfathomable.
The countless people tabling seemed to know everyone else they talked to, and their hugs and screams, reconnecting after being apart for a month of winter break, made it seem like everyone had their close group of friends constructed and completed. All of the people in the crowd walking through that large plaza between the trees and booths of clubs seemed to know exactly where they were going and what they were doing; I did not. They were on a mission; I was running in circles.
Spring 2019 wasn’t technically my first semester as a Berkeley student or even my first time living on campus. I spent the summer before my freshman year taking classes on campus, and for the first semester of my college experience, I studied abroad through the Global Edge program.
However, as anyone who has been on campus during the summer can tell you, academic-year UC Berkeley and summer UC Berkeley are two different affairs. During the summer, things are quiet, libraries and other buildings on campus close early and everything is much more chilled out. On top of this, my experience having high tea and pretending to be British for a semester prepared me even less for the chaotic campus I met for the first time that spring.
My experience on campus did get better over time, and my situation improved a lot quicker than I thought it would. Once classes started, I realized that my fears were misguided. Most people I met in my new classes didn’t know anyone else, even those who had been on campus in fall. I had not missed my opportunity to meet new friends because the largeness of this campus prevents that opportunity from ever closing. Everyone I met was in the same boat as me, and it didn’t matter which semester we first came to campus; our classes were the same amount of hard regardless.
Joining clubs and campus organizations helped a lot, too. The people were really nice in the organizations that I joined and I caught up quickly. In fact, being a semester behind really helped me — I think — get into the clubs and activities I wanted, as the applicant pools to most activities were smaller. The people who started in the fall might have already figured out what they wanted to do, but that ended up leaving space for me to find out what I wanted to do, too.
Spring admits have access to a vast support network on campus. A lot of the time, returning students can give tips that they learned when they were lost around campus their first semester, ultimately saving me from having to make a lot more mistakes along the way.
To all the spring admits and starters out there like me who started this semester with nerves that haven’t quite subsided yet, I promise you it can be okay. You can find your people, even if they already have other friends from a previous term. Don’t be afraid to join things and shoot your shot because doing things you love to do on this campus can make it feel like home. You’ll get used to the millions of people on Sproul Plaza — or maybe not — but, as you spend more time exploring your new home, you can always find routes that avoid the chaos during the day if you need to.
And next semester or the semester after that or the semester after that, when the next cohort of new people to campus get to Sproul Plaza on the first day and are overwhelmed, they’ll see you, and they’ll think, “Wow, that person is on a mission. They have all their friends, and they know what they’re doing.” And that will be true for you.
Berkeley can be and will be your home. It is for me. You just have to stick with it.
Contact Kate Finman at [email protected].