This won’t hurt a bit: Transferring to UC Berkeley

Illustration of a woman donating blood into a backpack
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

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Last weekend I donated blood as an excuse to get out of the house. Even though I knew the value of what I was doing, my expectations were full of anxiety. While sitting in the reclined chair, trying to stay calm, the nurse began asking me questions to take my mind off things.

He asked me about my day and how I was faring under the shelter-in-place orders, and eventually, he asked me about school. I told him I was attending UC Berkeley, and as I explained my experience as a transfer student, I began to realize that the process of donating blood was surprisingly comparable. 

“It’s going to be hard. It’s going to feel bad. But, in the end, you’re going to be fine,” my peer advisor told me a week before my first round of UC Berkeley midterms. And you know what? His straightforward honesty was the best advice I received.

Not unlike the process for blood donation eligibility (finger-prick hemoglobin test), just applying to UC Berkeley felt like it should’ve been the most painful part. I’m going to be completely honest with you: UC Berkeley was not my first choice. I hadn’t even put it on my list until I was facing the UC application portal — not because I wasn’t aware of its stellar reputation, but more because the idea of me and the UC Berkeley sharing a future hadn’t even registered as a possibility.

Getting into the No. 1 public university in the world as a community college transfer student felt like the plot of a comic book or an anime, but I was still torn between being swept away by the magic of it and panicking over the reality of what my next two years would look like. 

Alongside the congratulations that my teachers and friends gave me came a sobering dose of warning: This was going to be hard. I was heading toward a much bigger pond with much bigger fish. Was I sure that this was an environment I could succeed in? Once the joy of passing the hemoglobin test subsides, you realize what’s coming next: a big needle.

After classes had begun it was clear that most of these warnings were dead-on — my grades were lousy and I was more stressed out than I’d ever been, but I didn’t want all of those people to have been right. I didn’t want UC Berkeley to be too much for me. 

Was I sure that this was an environment I could succeed in? Once the joy of passing the hemoglobin test subsides, you realize what’s coming next: a big needle.

As you sit in an uncomfortable position watching your life force drain out through a tube, lizard brain going wild, it can be easy to feel like you’ve made a bad decision. Are the promise of free snacks and the satisfaction of having saved a life enough as incentives?

I found my UC Berkeley motivation in the classmates I bonded with. I learned quickly that the feelings of being overpowered and ill-equipped were sentiments shared by many. Everyone is so smart here, which can be intimidating, but almost everyone is also panicking, struggling and suffering in the same ways that I am and there’s a cool kind of solidarity in that.

When donating blood, often you’ll be advised to clench your large muscles (butt cheeks) so you won’t pass out. At UC Berkeley, I suggest finding communities in which you feel welcomed, allowing you to clench your social muscles (also sometimes butt cheeks). I found mine through opportunities like sports, research and fellowships — hobbies that were key to my adaptation to the campus. It was the wisdom from these groups — coming from a place of experience, but without the intention of scaring me — that I tried to take most to heart.

Now that I’m beginning to get my bearings on campus, I’m realizing that the incredible parts of attending UC Berkeley almost always outweigh the scary and daunting parts. The opportunities that exist at this school are so numerous, I’m convinced it would take me a couple of lifetimes to do all of the crazy and incredible things one can do here. 

Even if needles still scare you and watching that bag fill up makes you queasy, there are a lot of great reasons to be a regular donor (free Nutter Butter cookies, for example). My biggest mistake going into my first semester was allowing other people to get in my head and scare me, even if their intentions were good and even if they were completely right. Remember: “It’s going to be hard. It’s going to feel bad. But, in the end, you’re going to be fine.” And I would argue that, in between, there will be plenty of moments when things are downright amazing.

Contact Megan Sousa at [email protected].