A Full Academic Year at Berkeley

Reminiscing on a magical time

Hi! My name is Hannah and I am 22 years old. I spent an academic year at UC Berkeley through the Berkeley Global Access Program! I am a comparative literature major with a minor in languages, media and cultural studies at Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität (Munich, Germany).

I am in my seventh and last semester—all there’s left to do is write my final thesis, but I’ll also attend some classes and work in the International Office (which coincidentally hosts the partnership with UC Berkeley). Before coming to Berkeley, I studied in Germany for two years, but the majority of my classes were held online due to the pandemic.

On Studying at Berkeley

Hannah Boettge standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

I’ve known for quite some time that I wanted to study abroad in the U.S., ever since visiting a university campus in Indiana and attending a football game when I was 14. Unfortunately, my university doesn’t offer any U.S. visiting-student agreements, so I decided to take the initiative and figure something out for myself.

Berkeley is one of—if not the best—university for my major and in the humanities in general. The Berkeley Global Access Program offers a couple of main advantages:

1. I was able to take any and all classes offered with very few restrictions that were not applicable to me.
2. The classes are also attended by matriculated students, which means that I got the “real” university experience while interacting with both U.S. citizens and international students.

All in all, Berkeley was an ideal choice: The university offers amazing academic and professional opportunities; an outstanding campus community; and liberal, progressive values. Of course, getting to live in the San Francisco Bay Area was also quite nice!

I took six different classes over the course of two semesters:

1. French Reading and Writing Skills
2. The Renaissance
3. Gender, Race and National Identity in Global Popular Culture
4. Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature on Realism and Media
5. Psychoanalytic Theory and Literature in French
6. Interpreting the Queer Past: Methods and Problems in the History of Sexuality

To a lot of people, the class names may be somewhat misleading as they do not nearly encompass all that was talked about.

French is my third major language—I also speak German and English—so I wanted to focus on deepening my language skills by discussing and analyzing literature, and then applying that acquired knowledge and skills to psychoanalytic works in French.

Hannah Boettge sitting in front of UC Berkeley Doe library

The Renaissance class allowed me to fulfill a requirement by my home university. It was a class about the theological writings of Martin Luther and their socio-historical and literary relevance. I wrote a longer paper for this class on top of the regular class work.

The Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature also made sense for me to take because, by German three-year-program standards, I am a senior. I also learned an incredible amount in that class and am still talking to my professor. Those two classes contributed to my major requirements.

The Global Popular Culture and the Queer Studies classes both work toward my minor concentration of media and cultural studies. Fortunately, my university is relatively lenient with the subjects studied if it aligns with your major/minor and you have enough assessments.

I was able to transfer all of my credits by doing some good preparation and a bit of insistence on my part.

On a side note: I highly recommend all of these classes and the professors that taught them—they were truly amazing!

Berkeley vs. Germany Classrooms

The main difference is the strong contact with professors, faculty, advisers and fellow students. In Germany, I rarely attended office hours—maybe four times in two years. In Berkeley, I saw each professor more than four times each. It builds a level of trust and confidence in your academic work.

The professors really care about you as a human being: One time, I had a cold and when my professor noticed, they  told me to take the day off. That would never happen in Germany, so I was quite shocked and actually stayed home that day.

Another difference is the topics studied as Berkeley classes are much less Eurocentric. I got to delve into Japanese, Middle Eastern, Korean, Latin American and North African media and cultures. Plus, Berkeley is at the forefront of the field of critical theory, which is very noticeable in the way debates and discussions are held and how open teachers are to any ideas or thoughts I had.

A similarity is in the class size: In humanities courses, classes and seminars have relatively few students, which allows for a familiar environment. A lot of my classes in Munich also relied on English texts, so I was prepared for that! Another similarity is that most of my teachers are experts in their field and can offer insight into their research to answer any questions I might have.

Taking Advantage of Extracurriculars and Travel

Hannah Boettge and friends attending a Berkeley Cal football game

Of course, I took part in some extracurriculars, such as a research apprenticeship at the Institute of European Studies, some French tutoring and editing work for Vagabond Journal. I was also quite in touch with my scholarship organization—the German Academic Exchange Service—which really provided a lot of amazing events and activities.

Other than that, I traveled a lot! I went to Mexico with my roommate; visited pretty much every part of California south of Saint Helena; and visited Hawaii, Seattle (to represent Berkeley at a Model EU Conference!), Las Vegas and New York City.

I went to all Cal football games and a lot of the basketball games. I met friends and went out and explored the Bay Area. I also really enjoyed the diverse gastronomy, especially Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Mexican food. Take advantage of the variety while you’re in Berkeley—my not-so-secret favorites were probably boba and matcha lattes.

A few of my favorite places to explore are North and West Berkeley, as well as College Avenue. I also really love the campus, so I spent a lot of time just wandering around there. If you’re willing to go a bit further, the Mission and Castro Districts in San Francisco were favorite parts to explore. It is also really fun to look for new Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints: I recommend Hawk Hill!

I also really want to emphasize that my time in Berkeley would not have been the same without all the lovely friends I made and my amazing roommates, so kudos and lots of love to them.

Hannah Boettge and friends at Yosemite National Park

My Top 5 Things to Do In the Bay Area

I cannot possibly make a comprehensive or ranked list, so here are five random things that brought me a lot of joy:

1. Walk around the entire city. Berkeley is very walkable (or ride the buses!) and there are so many things you miss when you only drive around. Go into the little nooks and alleys and find your favorite spot, whether it’s a café or a thrift store, or simply a cute spot on campus.

2. Go to Chinatown and find a cute bakery or Dim Sum restaurant and order whatever looks good. Those kinds of places are usually pretty cheap and they have—to me, at least—very authentic food. You might make a wrong choice once or twice, but that’s part of the process. Just go with the flow, dare to try new stuff and make sure to order the sesame balls.

3. Visit SFMOMA and take advantage of free museum days—yes, humanities major speaking here! San Francisco has a lot to offer in terms of exhibits, I really loved “The Visitors.”

4. My favorite thing to do in Berkeley was either sitting in the sun on the Glade, watching the sunset from a rooftop or basking in golden-hour light. It’s the simple things: Just get yourself a snack or your favorite drink, and enjoy the fact that you’re in an amazing place.

5. One of my all-time-favorites is Valencia Street in the Mission District. It has a lot of cute little shops, thrift stores and Latin American food places, and is also close to street art spots such as Clarion Alley Mural Project or Balmy Alley. Nearby is Mission Dolores Park, which has amazing views of the S.F. skyline. The popular Dandelion Chocolate is also located near there (in case you are European and miss good-old European chocolate; this is almost nostalgic), so make sure to check that out!

My Future Goals

Hannah Boettge walking away from the camera at sunset at the Santa Cruz beach

Ridiculously and contrary to what a lot of people are trying to do, I hope I’ll still be in university five years from now. I want to go into a master’s program in 2024, and then possibly aim for a Ph.D. or some kind of academic career. I also believe that you might find me living abroad again because I loved it so much my first time around in Berkeley. In any case, I hope I will be in a happy place, still in touch with my friends from Berkeley and maybe with a book in hand!

I Offer You This Advice

Take advantage of everything you possibly can. Your time in Berkeley will be over sooner than you want it to be:

  • Travel.
  • Go to sporting events.
  • Eat new dishes.
  • Attend classes, lectures and discussions that take you out of your comfort zone.
  • Say yes to unknown opportunities.
  • Meet all of the amazing people in Berkeley.
  • Enjoy life!

If you welcome Berkeley into your heart and life, Berkeley will welcome you right back with open arms. I know that studying abroad all by yourself can be scary and overwhelming, but just remember that you are not alone in this. Take your chances and benefit from this experience, whatever that might mean for you!

Don’t stress too much, trust that the pieces of your hard work will fall into place and be open-minded!

Also, buy yourself that Berkeley sweater if you can. I have heard “Go Bears” from strangers in five different countries by now, and you’ll want that experience, too—trust me.