Someone to lean on: What it’s like to have a sibling who went to UC Berkeley

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Walking around campus on move-in day, I was no stranger to UC Berkeley. I knew about all of the Chancellor Nicholas Dirks memes, the iconic-ness of the Big C and the best things to get from the Durant Food Court. You may be wondering, how did this guy know all these things before arriving? Well, like some other students on campus, I am lucky enough to have a family member — my sister — who went to UC Berkeley before me. 

When I was in the fifth grade, my sister had just started her first year at UC Berkeley. When I started my first year at this campus, she began the process of finishing medical school. The eight years that had passed between our first years meant that she knew a whole lot of stuff about Berkeley — not just the school, but also the city.

Starting at UC Berkeley was definitely confusing. I had no idea how difficult classes might be and how to even start planning my schedule. Out of desperation, I decided to call my sister and ask her for recommendations on what classes I should take.

In just a few hours, she was able to not only help me pick my classes, but also give me general tips for living in Berkeley. She told me about what it was like to be a biology major since she was also one during her time at UC Berkeley. We talked a bunch about when to join clubs, what clubs to join, what classes I should expect to be difficult and everything in between. She even gave me a rough idea of what my four years would look like academically speaking. 

The academic perspective was not the only thing she helped me out with, though. After talking about classes and clubs, she moved on to campus life. She told me stories about how she spent time milling around on campus between classes, working in libraries and hanging out with friends. She visited a ton of food places during her time here, so all of my food recommendations have come directly from her, and they have certainly not disappointed. Even my friends — who I frequently go out with to try the food — approve of it all. The best part is, when her recommendations get a bit pricey, she’ll gladly Venmo me a couple of bucks (thanks, sis!).

For a lot of my friends, this is the first time they’ve been exposed to the UC Berkeley campus and city life. It can definitely take people by surprise and takes some getting used to. Having a sibling who went here, though, makes it all seem just a tad bit more familiar and way less scary. When things go south, like underperforming on a midterm, there will always be someone a call away who made it out and can vouch for how one failed midterm isn’t the end of the world. 

In general, my sister provides me with a sense of reliability and assurance, and without her, I know for a fact my time here at Berkeley wouldn’t be nearly as fun. For those of you with a family member or close friend who came here before you, take advantage of their knowledge and support. Take their guidance as a way to build your confidence in all things Berkeley and forge your own path here. Maybe you’ll be giving the future generations of your family advice!

Contact Hamzah Alam at [email protected].