When I originally started my freshman year at UC Berkeley in fall 2020, I already knew COVID-19 would stop me from having a normal college experience; the hopes that I would find my core friend group — or really any friends — through orientations, dorms, classes, clubs, etc., were put in jeopardy from the start.
While I was fortunate enough to spend my first year on campus in the dorms, I still felt like I was the same person I had been in high school — spending Friday (and Saturday and every other night) alone, eating dinner to the sounds of Netflix or others’ conversations instead of having one of my own.
As the school year progressed, it was barely a month into the spring semester of my freshman year, yet I kept hearing various conversations among my peers regarding the various housing tours they had planned for the upcoming weeks.
Although it was early in the semester, they weren’t really being all that premature. Most students live in campus housing their first year, but since UC Berkeley doesn’t have guaranteed campus housing afterward, students often make the subsequent years’ plans in advance.
However, whenever I’d partake in these conversations about housing plans, they would always include the inevitable question:
“Have you started looking for housing yet, Stella?”
Upon hearing the inquiry, I’d freeze. I actually had been looking — only, my version was equivalent to a few Google searches and the ultimate conclusion that I neither had the money nor the roommates to figure anything out at the moment.
So instead, I’d say: “Yeah, I’m figuring it out.”
Searching for housing in the Bay Area is already stressful: Places are expensive, get rented quickly and typically have leases that start before the fall semester actually begins. Especially as a student who was barely 18 at the time, even if I did have money for a deposit and rent, I knew I didn’t have the resources or co-signer necessary to be approved for a property.
As I watched those around me find one another and sign leases, my panic grew; in contrast to my peers, who seemed to have everything figured out from location to money to roommates, I didn’t have a tentative — or really any — plan in mind.
Although it may sound overly privileged or silly, one of my biggest anxieties surrounding housing grew beyond simply cost or necessity: I would also have to confront my “unpopularity” without any friends with whom to make the housing search.
Still without housing prospects by the end of the spring semester, I went back home to Los Angeles — which only made the Berkeley housing search all the more frustrating. Unable to schedule tours, sign forms or talk to people in person, I was even further limited.
Despite constantly perusing sites and reaching out to potential roommates online, whenever anyone asked me why I hadn’t found housing yet, I would simply pretend I hadn’t been looking. I mean, was I supposed to be honest and tell them that, despite having had the privilege to live on campus that year, I still didn’t have any friends or strangers willing to live with me?
It wasn’t until June that, when scrolling through yet another page on Craigslist’s “rooms & shares” section, I saw a listing for a shared double bedroom in a Southside Berkeley home. The ad described the house as occupied by two rising sophomores at UC Berkeley, who also had a cat — so, naturally, I responded.
Within a few days, I was texting and FaceTiming the people who would become my future roommates; and within a few more days, we made the agreement that I would move in come August.
Since my roommates had already found the property (on Craigslist, I might add), the process for me was fairly simple: They told the landlord I would be moving in at the end of the summer, and I started making rent payments after that.
As straightforward as it was, though, actually finding housing was anything but easy: The process took months of searching, calling and reaching out to others, faced by endless rejection by both peers and landlords.
At the end of the day, though, this experience is not unique to me. Since starting my sophomore year and getting to meet a plethora of other people at UC Berkeley and beyond, I’ve realized — while it may have felt like everyone around me had somehow been able to complete the simple steps of “find friends, find a place and find parents to pay for it” — that is far from the reality for most.
I ultimately recognize, though, that I am extremely fortunate to be able to afford any housing in Berkeley to begin with. While that’s not to say my anxieties and fears surrounding affordability and socializing aren’t valid, this isn’t uncommon: Not everyone has a smooth transition into college, meets their best friends right away or integrates into the community seamlessly.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve discovered that while having concerns about housing and the social aspects that accompany it are justified, not having met my best friends or roommates after one semester, two or even four doesn’t define my worth. Even though that doesn’t erase all of the other, more stressful factors that go into finding housing, it is at least one anxiety from which I can try to alleviate myself.
While I might not be living in the same place or with the same roommates next year, I know where I’ll be living in fall 2022 — and yes, I found it on Craigslist.