How Berkeley Has Taught Me to Work Hard and Play Harder

About me

My name is Yitong Zhang and I am a senior majoring in English at Hainan University in China. I am spending one year at University of California, Berkeley, through the Berkeley Global Access Program (BGA). I had already planned to study abroad for a year when I entered university and this program at Berkeley was a great fit for me. I submitted a visiting application to my home university sophomore year, but I had to choose between dropping it or postponing it because of the pandemic in 2020. Fortunately, I ended up choosing to defer my enrollment, which allowed me to come to Berkeley in my final year of college.

My First Week in Berkeley

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Everything is difficult at the beginning,” and this is a perfect description of my first week at Berkeley. After getting the keys to the apartment from the real estate agent, I looked at the empty house (and rent was not cheap at all!) and realized that buying furniture would be the most important thing I would do this week. My roommate and I went to all the nearby supermarkets and furniture stores. Little by little we bought the necessary supplies.

Aside from buying furniture, solving the problem of eating was something else I needed to think about in my first week abroad. I knew it was not practical or convenient for me to eat every meal out at a restaurant. So I started to learn how to cook in a pan and later I became familiar with how to use the oven. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve never cooked at home, but it was only after I came here that I started to learn how to cook on my own and it tastes pretty good! Although I do occasionally go out to eat with friends at restaurants, the sense of accomplishment of successfully completing a meal on my own is incomparable.

Experience of Choosing a Course

One of my favorite things about the BGA program was the freedom we had to choose classes from different departments on campus. Take me for example, although I majored in English at my home university, I am very interested in theater. I decided to take two courses offered by the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies this semester and was lucky enough to pass them both. In these two courses, I was exposed for the first time to theoretical knowledge about performance and how to adapt literary works into plays. I am very grateful for UC Berkeley’s course selection system, which gives me the opportunity to gain new knowledge in fields I am interested in.

Studying at Berkeley

A semester at Berkeley usually involves a very large course load. Basically each class has about 40 pages or more of reading each week. However, simply reading and the materials isn’t always enough; you still need to do some critical thinking. Also, there are many discussion sessions in my classes where professors will ask you in-depth questions that are very difficult to answer if you haven’t thought through the readings and essays. Although the study tasks are heavy, they can be accomplished if you learn to organize your time well.

Explore the Bay Area

Every weekend, I enjoy exploring Berkeley and the surrounding areas with my friends to hang out. So far I have been to the Big C, Tilden Regional Park, UC Botanical Garden, Berkeley Marina and Stonewall Panoramic Trail in Berkeley. I also enjoyed visiting China Town, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the SF Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in San Francisco. If you like nature, there are many hiking routes waiting for you to discover. If you like food, restaurants of various countries can be found throughout Berkeley. If you like art, there are abundant museum resources in the Bay Area!

Step Out of the Comfort Zone

At Berkeley, you will be motivated to constantly step out of your comfort zone—there are so many resources and opportunities here and you have access to them if you’re willing to try. In one of my classes, I presented the development of Chinese characters and the history of my hometown in front of many international students. I also participated in some student committees and sports clubs on campus, which allowed me to make friends from many different countries. Through these organizations and clubs, I feel a sense of belonging on campus and in the community. I am grateful to be able to participate in activities that interest me.

I really like the quote—

“College is a time to explore your passions, interests, and discover yourself all while having fun.”

At Berkeley, I am able to explore my passions and interests in order to discover what I love all while having a great time! My journey studying abroad is just beginning. Are you ready to start your next journey at Berkeley, too?