Exploring Excellence Beyond Boundaries

A Reflection on my Berkeley Haas Global Access Program experience—navigating diverse horizons, personal growth

I am Lucy Zhang, a fourth-year student at the Central University of Finance and Economics in China, and was recently a global ambassador with the Berkeley Haas Global Access Program. Reflecting on my fall visiting-student program, this transformative experience has not only exposed me to excellent multidimensional evaluation criteria, the warmth of education and openness, but also fostered harmony transcending space and culture.



Lucy Zhang sitting on the grass outside of a brick building

In the river of life, age and background are not constraints on your life experiences.


During this period, I made numerous friends from different countries and explored the beauty of nature and diverse cityscapes in my leisure time. Participating in this program was truly enjoyable for me.

The Quest for Excellence: Beyond Grades and Recognition

Lucy Zhang taking a walk on the Berkeley campus

Outstanding evaluation criteria are never singular. In the beginning, I found myself trapped in the pursuit of excellence solely based on grades and professor recognition. While this "positive" attitude wasn't inherently bad, it often led me into a cycle of perfectionism and self-doubt.

Excellence goes beyond GPA, honors and awards—it's not confined to a single assessment standard.

During a classroom discussion, the professor prompted everyone to share their memorable experiences. It was then that I truly grasped the diversity of excellence. Some classmates were models in the fashion industry, others were parents returning to campus for further education and some had extensive professional experience before returning to school. It dawned on me that, in the river of life, age and background are not constraints on your life experiences.

Education: A Dialogue That Touches the Soul

As a non-native speaker, every step—from struggling to comprehend to expressing myself—has been challenging. Enrolling in CS course CS170 was a significant challenge for someone with a non-computer science background and as a non-native speaker. However, this course has been the epitome of what education means to me.

Understanding my doubts in discussions, the happiness of heading home in the sunset, I seemed to find the essence of education and knowledge.

From initially understanding nothing to later queuing up to ask professors and TAs about the concepts I didn't grasp, every week's homework party and office hours became moments of happiness. Abstract thoughts turned into mathematical symbols on paper, and even when my head was pounding, I couldn't help but ponder whether the algorithms were effective enough.

Nurturing Mental Well-Being: Quirky Comforts at Berkeley

Lucy Zhang hugging a dog on a grassy field

Berkeley places a strong emphasis on students' mental health. What's particularly endearing is that this university, known for its academic pressure, always finds quirky ways to comfort students—such as the naked run and the llama in front of the library. Indeed, the gentle llama blesses every student during finals.

The Journey of Growth: Words in Books and Paths Beneath Our Feet

Another reason I love Berkeley is its breathtaking natural landscapes. During my free time, I enjoyed hiking, waking up at 4 am with friends to watch the sunrise from a mountaintop, witnessing California sunsets at Big C, taking two hours during breaks to quickly explore the third-largest botanical garden in the U.S., and walking two hours to Emeryville to see wetlands and the sea.

Every step I take is a part of my personal growth.

Holidays and Adventures: A Tapestry of Exploration

During the holidays, I traveled with companions or explored many cities across the United States on my own: watching Broadway shows in Times Square in New York City, savoring lobster in Boston, touring the Capitol in Washington, D.C., experiencing the film culture in Los Angeles, and feeling the ocean and the library from Harry Potter in Seattle.

It's been more than a month since the program ended, and as I write these words, I still feel grateful for the opportunity to come here and experience a completely different life. It is here, at Berkeley, that my determination to explore a larger world in the future has been strengthened.

The journey continues, and every experience at Berkeley has become a chapter in my book of personal growth and exploration.