On Aug. 3, 2021, I came back to Berkeley after almost 17 months of doing my “study abroad.” Due to the pandemic, I had to leave Berkeley in the middle of spring 2020 and go back to my home country, completing sophomore year and junior year on the other side of the world.
Driving down University Avenue on my first day back filled me with a weird mix of emotions. I was excited to finally be back and finish my college experience in person, but it also felt strange that this would be my final year at UC Berkeley. In 10 short months, I will be graduating, released into the strange wilderness of adult life.
When I was preparing to come back, packing all of my bags and making the move across the world again, I’d felt so sure that the puzzle pieces would just fall back into place. There wouldn’t be the anxiety of learning a new place, making new friends and familiarizing myself with a whole new world. This wouldn’t be like freshman year, when I was younger and less prepared.
As a senior, moving continents felt bittersweet. Sure, I was once again getting the independence I had been used to, but I was also leaving the familiarity of the routine I’d built during this pandemic. Even if suddenly being back home was jolting at first, there was the sight of faces I’d grown up surrounded by and the city I knew like the back of my hand to reassure me. With no idea of what to expect in this transition back to on-campus life, I craved the familiarity of the Berkeley I had once known so well.
Looking out the car window on the drive from the airport to Berkeley, everything seemed familiar and different all at once. I remembered these roads and buildings, but it felt like the order was mixed. The more I looked at the once-familiar neighborhood, the more lost I felt. The pandemic had affected this city just as much as it had affected me, and we were two new puzzle pieces looking for that perfect fit.
Four weeks later, I still find myself crossing the bridge that connects Berkeley-me with pandemic-me. While campus feels like a map I memorized long ago, it’s the little adjustments that make me feel like I’m learning my way around again. Be it the new layout in Trader Joe’s or the change in restaurants at Asian Ghetto, these little tweaks remind me again of what I missed because of this pandemic.
Despite the change in my surroundings and the strange transition period, I’m grateful to finally be back. While doing school virtually for more than a year had its perks, it’s undeniable that there’s nothing quite like UC Berkeley at its finest (or even at its worst).
All that’s left to say is, well, Go Bears.