Back on Campus After Nearly Two Years!

My name is Anna Zheng and I’m studying industrial engineering with RWTH Aachen University in Germany. After postponing my exchange semester due to the pandemic, I’m now very happy to be studying abroad with the Berkeley Haas Global Access Program (BHGAP).

Preparing for Berkeley in Three Months

Dining Hall at International House

In the past I have procrastinated, but applying to Berkeley Global three months prior to the start of fall semester was a whole new challenge. I was originally set to go to California in late 2020, to the partner university of my home university. However, when the pandemic hit and the exchange was postponed, I started contemplating whether I should have applied to Berkeley instead in the first place. I hadn’t applied previously because I didn’t think I would get in. I finally decided to apply one week before the application deadline. What could possibly go wrong?

Luckily, with the help of the German agency College Contact, I managed to gather all documents in time to submit my application a few hours before the deadline—and I was accepted two weeks later! This is definitely not the way to go though; I was just lucky that I had already done an English TOEFL test, and our bank process was rather quick in issuing proof of funding.

First and foremost, after receiving the acceptance letter, I had to get a student visa. Booking an appointment as soon as you receive your form I-20 from the university is essential, because you never know when the next slot is open. If the appointment you receive is after the start of the semester, you can (in some countries) apply for an emergency appointment or you can always reach out to  International Student Services at Berkeley Global for support.

Next, I had to find housing in Berkeley. Fortunately, there was still space in the International House, which is a student dormitory with around 600 students. Seventy percent of these students are international and 30 percent are American, so you get to know people from all over the world. Living at “I-House” is an incredible experience and I would definitely do it all over again. It is important to be aware that because there is always so much going on, you will have to really work on your ability to focus and say no sometimes.

Besides I-House, there are many other student dorms you can apply to. If you decide against student dorms in general, there are Facebook groups where you can get to know other prospective students who might want to search for an apartment together. Most of the people I know had a place to stay before they arrived in Berkeley. Don’t panic if you don’t—some people stay in a hotel or hostel for the first few nights and search for housing in person. However, chances are that at this point you will have to make concessions and won’t necessarily find exactly what you are searching for at a reasonable price.

What I would definitely recommend everyone do is make use of the advising opportunities Berkeley Global provides students. There are many advisers who each specialize in certain fields and they are always happy to help or point you to someone who can help. Appointments are very quick and easy to make!

Being Able to Enjoy Classes in Person

Studying at Memorial Glade

What’s special about this semester is the fact that the international students are not the only “new” people who are so excited to explore and get to know Berkeley. One can really feel that all students and professors are happy to be back on campus after sitting in front of a laptop for nearly two years. 

Most of the classes are in person again, except for very big classes. Besides the fact that we must wear masks during class, while studying in the library and in other indoor facilities, everything basically feels like it’s back to normal again. While there are countless different libraries to explore at Berkeley, I recommend studying on Memorial Glade next to Doe library, to enjoy the California sun.

Joining Student Clubs

Cal Football Game

In addition to excellent academics, there are a variety of student clubs at UC Berkeley. All these clubs spend the first one or two weeks of the semester “tabling.” This means they have little booths all over campus to expose their clubs to new interested students. Be prepared to receive a lot of flyers!

In the evenings during these first few weeks, student clubs often host information sessions or workshops so you can get to know them better. Most of them require a relatively low workload, if you’re not an executive member, meaning around five hours per week. This makes it quite manageable to join without sacrificing your grades or free time.

If you are interested in joining a student club, I’d suggest you take advantage of the “tabling” and info sessions. This is a great way to get to know some of the club members and general atmosphere of the group, as well as their projects and expectations. Otherwise, it might be difficult to decide which club is the best fit for you. For example, which of the 100 consulting clubs to apply for. Also, timing is essential. Most clubs recruit early in the semester and are adamant about their recruiting deadlines. I’m sure that with the number of different clubs, everyone could find something interesting for themselves.

Getting to Know the Bay Area

As soon as you arrive in Berkeley, you will be presented with countless opportunities to explore the Bay Area. Every weekend there will be people going on trips and visiting amazing places. I can only encourage everyone to make the most out of their time in California! Of course, this doesn’t have to involve driving or flying to different places every weekend. There is a lot to enjoy in and around Berkeley, too.

Hiking at Pinnacles