The Berkeley Atmosphere

How courage and curiosity are contagious

When people come to Berkeley, they first and foremost come to pursue their academic careers. But once you’re here, you might realize how studying in the heart of the Bay Area is more than that: While growing as an academic, you also grow as a person. And after just eight weeks on campus, there’s no doubt I will leave with new career perspectives ahead—and a new courage to try things while embracing any chance to fail.

As a current screenwriting student and Fulbright Scholar from Germany, I came to Berkeley to expand my professional writing focus from fictional to nonfictional narratives. Not only does Berkeley have a renowned Graduate School of Journalism and offers the typical "American campus life experience" (which both convinced me from the get-go), but it is also situated in one of the most exhilarating centers of the U.S.: the Bay Area.

This has a great effect on what being in Berkeley feels like. And on what your main takeaway from studying here might be.

Talking campus atmosphere: My favorite spot is the Faculty Glade.

Even if you are not seeking an entrepreneurial boost for your future startup or diving into academic research, the proactive mindset that students and professionals share is contagious. The Bay itself is a place where innovations in all areas are at the forefront. This fosters an energetic atmosphere and curiosity, which I often find all over Berkeley’s campus. It is something you actually feel—either in conversations with students or when it comes to the accessibility of study resources and industry connections.

As a creative professional, I have been surprised by how Berkeley challenged me to work on my people skills as much as it has allowed me to work on my hard skills.

Doing new things also included wild camping in Yosemite—100% worth the hike.

If you are planning to come to Berkeley, here are some things you might inevitably learn, no matter what you are majoring in:

1. Talking to people. The art of small talk is a Californian mastery. When you’re here, you’ll learn more about it every day. No matter if you’re grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s or grabbing a book from the Main Stacks, everybody’s asking how you’re doing and they very much expect an answer. You’ll be meeting new people everywhere you go.

2. Asking questions. If there’s something you don’t know, go ahead and ask. That’s the best thing you can do. It connects you to people and often sparks conversations that expand beyond the classroom.

3. Putting yourself out there. People want to listen to what you have to say. Usually, professors invest a lot of time to cultivate this reassuring atmosphere in their classrooms. That’s probably also why course participation is very high in general.

4. Aiming to learn rather than to succeed. Sounds counter-intuitive, but people here showed me how embracing failure allows you to succeed the most. Being curious about your possibility to fail is quite liberating. It frees you from any sort of perfectionism, which we all tend to fall into.

5. Trying new things. This goes hand-in-hand with "aiming for growth," and Berkeley is the perfect place to pursue that. There are several extracurriculars you can join, whether that’s a DeCal, a student organization or one of Berkeley's Adventure classes. All of them will give you a chance to repeatedly engage in something new.

Cal Adventures offers a Level 1 Sailing class. I highly recommend getting involved in things off-campus.


In general, the teaching methods and structures of Berkeley differ almost entirely from my solely project-driven studies back at home: In Germany, I have not written a proper exam for the past two semesters. Not only did Berkeley flip that around, but it also gave me new insights into what studying, researching,and connecting on professional and personal levels can mean. And that alone is something that will influence all of my creative projects in the future.

For me, trying new things during my semester at Berkeley academically means exploring several forms of journalism and nonfiction writing. Personally, it means trying new sports and exploring new places. That also includes my first-ever sailing class, which comes with a high chance of being dunked into the bay water. But whenever you do catch a breeze, you will be rewarded with mesmerizing views of the San Francisco skyline. That alone is worth every try.