Danish Student Gets the Full UC Berkeley Experience Through BGA Discover

Dan Pham traveled from Copenhagen to California for his semester abroad

Editor's note: BGA Discover is a study-abroad experience that places international students at UC Berkeley for a semester or a full academic year. The name “Discover” means students in this program have access to the UC Berkeley course catalog and are able to discover courses on new subjects or expand on what they’re studying at their home university. This post originally appeared in Danish on the Studysea website. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Dan Nguyen Pham is a graduate student studying biology and biotechnology at the University of Copenhagen. He spent his semester abroad in California at UC Berkeley, which is regularly ranked as one of the world's top public universities. What is it like to come from the small country of Denmark and study with the world's best students? We interviewed Dan to gain insight into the experience and student life at UC Berkeley.

University of California, Berkeley, is one of the most recognized universities worldwide, with a global reputation for fantastic professors, consisting of several award-winning faculty members. Famous alumni include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and to date, 22 UC Berkeley faculty members have won Nobel Prizes. UC Berkeley is especially strong in physics and chemistry, with these departments accounting for many of the university's Nobel Prize winners. It makes sense then that especially for students interested in subjects like the sciences, Berkeley is simply the best place to study. As a biology and biotechnology major, this was one of the things that attracted Dan to the school.

With the help of Danish agency Studysea, Dan was able to take classes at UC Berkeley through BGA Discover, a study-abroad program that places international students at UC Berkeley for a semester or a full academic year. At Berkeley he took classes in molecular immunology, bioenergy and sustainable chemical synthesis and metabolic engineering, and lab courses in physiology and cell biology. "I ended up getting all my priority classes that I wanted to take, so I am very happy about that," Dan told us shortly after the start of the semester.

BGA Discover student Dan poses with UC Berkeley mascot Oski bear

Enrolling in Berkeley Courses as an International Student

With some exceptions, at UC Berkeley and the other universities in the University of California system, it is not possible to preregister in courses before you arrive on campus. This is because students who study at Berkeley for their full degree (undergraduate- or master's-level degrees) have first priority in selecting their classes. So what do you do when you're from Denmark (or a similar university system) and your university requires pre-approval for your courses months in advance in order to receive credit? We recommend that you make a list of courses you are willing or need to take, that includes of 34 times as many courses as you actually intend to enroll in. UC Berkeley staff and their partner agencies have insight on whether study-abroad students are generally approved to take these courses and can provide feedback on the list. Once you have your full course list you can submit it for pre-approval at your Danish educational institution.

"By getting pre-approved for more courses than you really intend to take, you are guarding against the risk of ending up having to take a new course that you cannot get approved," says Mimi Tran, a student counselor at Studysea who worked with Dan on his UC Berkeley study-abroad application.

A Competitive Study Environment

When studying at one of the world's best universities, you'll study with others who are also academically motivated. You will be in an ambitious study environment with bright and resourceful students from the United States and the rest of the world. It affects the study environment and students who study at UC Berkeley must be prepared for the challenge. “I'm really happy to go and I got a lot out of it. Berkeley is so different from the University of Copenhagen and American culture is different too. The academics are really tough and I understand why the school has a reputation for stressed out students. However, I also was able to do more than study, like play soccer and watch American football and much more!" 

"The greatest experience was the study environment and the way universities work in the United States. It was exciting how there were midterms and not just a final exam that counts for 100% of your grade. It was also fun how competitive it was in relation to Denmark. The workload was huge which surprised me a bit, but gave me an interesting academic experience that I had hoped for.”

Located in the San Francisco Bay Area and Close to Silicon Valley

UC Berkeley is located in the Bay Area, which is America's technological hub. You will find the UC Berkeley campus is located in the town of Berkeley just under 20 minutes from San Francisco and near Silicon Valley and San Jose. The area is home to several of the world's tech giants such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple and Netflix. Via UC Berkeley Extension, it is also possible to study certain subjects in downtown San Francisco. Dan chose to study abroad because of his love of travelgoing to Berkeley meant combining his hobby while studying at the same time.

The Three Best Things

According to Dan, the best things about studying at UC Berkeley is the university's campus, which he describes as being "wonderfully beautiful" and with "so many facilities for the students, such as a fitness center, swimming pools, libraries, sports courts, e-sports center, etc." In addition, many of the professors are "very skilled and recognized researchers, so you become a part of some good networks.” Dan also talked about the many talented students at Berkeley that "provide a strong and competitive academic environment. Go Bears!" There was no doubt of Dan's dedication to Berkeley's sports team—the California Golden Bears—all the photos Dan shared with us from his time in Berkeley featured him wearing clothes with the Cal (another name for UC Berkeley) logo. With all of his Berkeley pride, it was difficult to tell Dan apart from other Berkeley students!

Life Outside of Academics

Game day football field at UC Berkeley

There is no doubt that attending Berkeley requires quite a bit of study time, but fortunately for Dan, there was time for other experiences. "I played in two different soccer teams in a campus tournament, which was the most fun thing I did outside of my studies." He adds, "it was also great fun to experience game days where they played American football. College football is huge in the U.S. and the stadium was almost full for all their games. In general it was fun to watch Berkeley's various sports teams play against their rivals including Stanford, UCLA and the University of Southern Californiastudents and even a lot of alumni come together for these big games and it gave a sense of unity and community at the university. Go Bears! There are also a lot of social activities and student clubs you can join on campus, which means that there is definitely something for everyone. In addition, there is always a lot of life on campus with dance, singing and sports happening during in many of the gatherings at the university.”


Many thanks to Dan Pham for giving us insight into life as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, and to Studysea for putting together this interview.

Learn More

BGA Discover is a study-abroad experience that places international students at UC Berkeley for a semester or a full academic year. The name “Discover” means students in this program have access to the UC Berkeley course catalog and are able to discover courses on new subjects or expand on what they’re studying at their home university. Learn more about BGA Discover.