I live on the third floor of a creaky old house on Northside. It’s pink, and I have a balcony that looks out onto the San Francisco Bay. In the evenings, the silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge guards the skyline, barely visible among the pink and orange hues of a California sunset.
When I moved in one week ago, I put a cheap Ikea patio table on the balcony to feel more like an adult. Sometimes I sit there and drink coffee, pretending to be in Paris. Ah yes, the Campanile, my own little Eiffel Tower — although Berkeley is more magical to me than Paris. But how would I know? I’ve never been to Paris — or any city in Europe, for that matter.
I’ve lived in the Bay Area my entire life, but I was raised tucked away in a corner of the region. There, the houses of the city’s suburbs are built into the depressions of a valley, with only the yellow hills serving as a view. As high school students, my friends and I would attend parties on the tops of those hills, huddled together, squinting our eyes to get a glimpse of the city — all to no avail.
The one thing they don’t tell you about growing up is that you don’t realize it while it’s happening. Or at least, no one told me.
One day you’ll be sitting on the balcony of your new home, and no one will be calling you downstairs for dinner or yelling at you to turn down the television. You’ll realize that estimating how much salt your food needs is a lot easier than you thought it would be and that doing the dishes is oddly therapeutic. The milestones become markers of age and quickly become fond memories that present themselves as nostalgic anecdotes served during loud house parties. And somehow, all of it feels even more melancholic in light of the past several months.
Apparently there’s nothing profound about being a college student during the pandemic. It seems that every noncollege person has simply accepted it for what it is, and the constant statement of “an unprecedented time” has been accepted as reality. It is no longer unprecedented; it just simply is.
But in more ways, this is the worst part of this pandemic: the acceptance of reality, and what feels like a push to make it the norm. This is life now. Deal with it. I feel like a stranger in my own university, and no matter how many organizations I join or office hours I attend, I can’t seem to get the college experience everyone raves about. And that’s because I can’t.
In my first year of college, I couldn’t raise my hand in a classroom and immediately get my questions answered.
There were no whispers between me and the person sitting next to me, our confusion over the topic bonding us together.
And yes, even though it sounds terrible, there was no frantic sprinting across campus just to beat Berkeley Time.
Even if I get to experience all of that this year for the first time, I will still never get the classic college experience, and that will be one of the distinct markers of my age when I leave university far behind. But I can’t seem to stop wedging myself into the life of a UC Berkeley student, a life I didn’t get to live for an entire year. We will have to create more space for ourselves in this city — in its geography, its culture and its spirit.
Once again, droves of students fill up the apartments on Northside and Southside, and freshmen pile into their dorms. The streets of Downtown Berkeley bustle with people taking in the sights and sounds of this eccentric city. Memorial Glade is filled with rounds of spikeball and folks of all ages soaking up the sunshine.
But we come back to Berkeley with a new task on our hands. Unlike previous generations of students, we can’t simply look up to upperclassmen or the people around us to tell us how to assimilate into life here because the UC Berkeley experience is under construction. It’s a tough thing to have to do, and honestly, some days I wish everything could just be normal.
But that’s the most beautiful part of this. There is room for every student’s vision of a UC Berkeley student — and not a single dream and hope can be wrong. How we live and learn is, in a way, a reconstruction of our beloved city.
And now, the stage is set. In less than a week, we’ll open the curtains to another school year — hopefully, a better one.