An Inside Look at a BHGAP Global Ambassador's Semester Abroad!

Dutch student Dien van Dijk talks about her Berkeley experience and stepping out of her comfort zone.

Living and studying in the Netherlands has always brought me a lot of pleasure. I love my Dutch friends, my Dutch family, the Dutch system, the Dutch food and the Dutch culture—Basically, the entire Dutch way of living. So then why leave? That's a question I asked myself approximately one year ago.

I was very comfortable living in Holland. However, I knew that there was so much more outside of my comfort zone. So I decided to take a risk and I apply for the Berkeley Haas Global Access Program (BHGAP). Surprisingly, I was accepted. So then, what was next? Leaving everything to take a nine-hour flight to a completely another continent? It sounds scary. But I have to say this is one of the most remarkable experiences of my life thus far. I enjoyed my life before going to Berkeley, but I have to say that living here has opened up my eyes.

Berkeley Campus

When I arrived in Berkeley, I couldn't help myself from smiling. I walked by UC Berkeley's tennis courts, swimming pool and hockey fields. Almost every person I saw was wearing "Cal" merchandise. It reminded me of a movie I once saw about American university life. But actually walking through campus made it even more extraordinary. Berkeley's campus is insanely big and beautiful.

One of my first mornings in Berkeley, I walked onto campus. The sun shined directly through the leaves of the trees. The campus was still entirely empty and I took this photo. It literally gave me goosebumps.

A new way of studying

In Holland, I completed my bachelor's degree in communication sciences at the University of Utrecht and my master's degree in media and creative industries at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. So while choosing classes here at Berkeley I thought it would be interesting to take a leadership communication course through the Haas Business School. While I already studied communications, this class is very different from any of my courses during my undergraduate program. Why? Because UC Berkeley's professors help you to get out of your comfort zone. Exercises such as storytelling and persuasive speaking have really taught me how to communicate and confidently present myself. Another class I am taking is Introduction to Entrepreneurship. For this class, we had to come up with a business. We did a lot of research and created an app. This type of classwork was different from what I was used to. At first, starting a business really scared me, but we received a lot of help thoughout the project. Here at BHGAP, I am learning more than any book could ever teach me about being an entrepreneur.

Social life

On one of the first days on campus, my friend from back home asked me if I had already made some new friends. I jokingly told her that even the people in the coffee line in front of me were not safe. I just started to talk to every single person. And the great thing about Berkeley students is that everyone is so open and approachable. So when you ask someone in line "What drink are you getting today?" you will end up having lunch with a group of people you have never seen before. While Berkeley has a lot of serious students, these same students are also always up for doing fun things. My friends and I have been able to explore San Francisco, visit Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, and take a roadtrip to Los Angeles along Highway 1. And the fact that there are so many different nationalities in the Bay Area makes my study-abroad experience even better. Every different person has an interesting story and all are inspiring in their own way.