Becoming ‘the’ Berkeley student

Off the Beat

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Let’s just say that high school wasn’t exactly the easiest time for me. Beyond problems in my brain and in my home, everything that I did felt like it was wrong. Turns out, that was the one thing I was right about because I graduated high school with a 2.0 GPA, never went to a party and felt miserable the entire time. What made it worse was watching all of my closest friends go off to schools such as UC Berkeley, Northwestern and pretty much every Ivy League school, which left me feeling abandoned at home. At least I had my mom and my cats, I guess. So off I went to the local community college. 

After my two-year detention at my local community college, I was surprised to find out that I had gotten into every college I had applied to (except for CSU Northridge). Despite my confusion over the CSUN rejection, I was elated. I went from not feeling allowed to apply to the UCs to having multiple schools fight over my attendance. I felt like I was finally doing something right and coming out of the shadows of my high-achieving friends. With UC Berkeley being the holy grail of colleges in my eyes, I happily enrolled.

Throughout my time at UC Berkeley, I’ve heard some opinions that transfer students have it easy because our classes tend to be less demanding and the acceptance rate is higher. Hearing that people feel this way kind of hurts, but not because it’s wrong. It was easier. I got a 4.0 at my community college, but my English 101 class spent three lectures explaining what brainstorming is — not like in a philosophical way, but like “brainstorming is when you think of ideas for an essay.” I did have a higher acceptance rate as well. The transfer acceptance rate for fall 2020 was 25.3% compared to the freshmen’s 17.6%. Still no parties, though. Regardless, as a transfer student, I felt that I cheated (figuratively) my way into UC Berkeley. I felt like I’d done something wrong and somehow didn’t deserve to be here. Despite these feelings, however, I thought that UC Berkeley accepted me for the person I would become through its pedagogy and community rather than my past failures and achievements. Though, as the saying goes, cheaters never prosper.

Since being admitted to UC Berkeley, I was fixated on being “the” Berkeley student. I was going to replicate my “success” of my community college days while redeeming myself from my failures in high school. I was going to dive headfirst into my studies, get straight As, and be an active member of the Golden Bear community at large.

You know how in the movie Parasite, the dad says, “왜냐, 계획을 하면 반드시 계획대로 안 되거든, 인생이”? I should have listened, “because, when I planned, life did not go according to plan.” Alas, I do not speak Korean.

Rather than transforming into an Oski incarnate, I never went to Zoom lectures, got a few Ps, Bs and Cs (and the occasional NP) and made zero friends. Now, I’m going into my senior year and entering the city of Berkeley for the very first time, with an already tainted name. The expectations thrust upon me by my professors, my mother and myself didn’t pan out. Despite my seemingly poor performance, however, I was keen to notice that I was understanding the material in my classes — to a higher extent than I realized.

On my first ever paper at UC Berkeley, I got an A! Though, my joy was quickly extinguished when I saw what my GSI had commented:

“The structure & grammar of (Kino’s) prose occasionally detracted from (his) otherwise excellent reading.” I’ve thought about that comment every single day since. What did it mean? It gave me a sort of identity crisis. I’ve always been proud of my writing style, and for somebody to say that it detracted from my work was baffling. Though, I realize now that while there are certain criteria that we are graded on, reading and interpretation are subjective acts. Some philosopher said that once I write something for somebody else to read, it’s no longer my story; the story belongs to the reader. It would make sense, then, for my words and thought processes to seem muddled across the page for some readers. 

If my message is to be invariably misconstrued, I may as well say it how I want it to be said. I do not want to write what or how that GSI — or any GSI, professor or any other party — wants me to write. I like what I have to say and how I say it. I don’t want to treat Michel Foucault like the gospel or Friedrich Nietzsche like scripture. To quote Nietzsche, “I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity.” Despite all of this seeming antithetical to the typical UC Berkeley student, I would disagree. I may fit this fake and idealistic illustration of a Golden Bear by knowing how to read and understand whatever is in front of me. Though, as a real person who existed before and who will continue to exist after UC Berkeley, I don’t necessarily like or care about what I’m reading, and that’s natural. Even though I’ll never be “the” Berkeley student, I’m more than satisfied with being a Berkeley student, so I guess I did something right.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.