Legal Studies Global Access Program Ambassador Simin Yu

Fall 2019 student details her studies in Berkeley

I am Simin Yu from Beijing, China. I graduated from Beijing University of Chemical Technology and I am now studying Legal Studies here at UC Berkeley.

This blog is about:

How to prepare for coming to Berkeley?

What did I expect before I got here

What did it feel like during my first days in Berkeley?

What advice do I have for future students on how to prepare before arriving?

How to Prepare?

I dedicated to learning English before I attended this program. Because legal studies program needs stronger English reading and writing skills, I signed up for a class to prepare for my TOFEL test. In the class, Richard—my teacher and my friend—told me how to read the difficult passages and understand their logic within only a few minutes, which helped me a lot after I joined the class in UC Berkeley.

What I Expected?

I expected to have my colorful campus life in UC Berkeley:

  • Talking to professors after class and dropping in the office hours
  • Chatting with Berkeley students and cooperating in a study group
  • Enjoying the fantastic view of Berkeley and the whole Bay Area
  • Having a great campus life without any regret

What I felt like during the first day?

Everyone was excited to have a brand-new life here.

I felt excited, tired and a little bit nervous at that time. I was fully charged with passion. Also, I needed to get over the time differences, which made me feel tired. Moreover, I did come across the nervous feeling because I have never been here before, let alone studied in UC Berkeley with the most brilliant students and teachers. Being at a new environment is a mixture of feelings.

Advice for Future Students

Here are 5 tips for having a good life in UC Berkeley:

1. Never be afraid of talking to people

2. Keep exercising regularly

3. Join a study group or set up a study group

4. Be brave to communicate with your professors and advisers

5. Keep in touch with your family!


After Auditing Berkeley City Council Meeting


What Is Berkeley City Council?

At the beginning of this September, I went to Berkeley City Council. I needed to take a bus to arrive there from campus. City Council is the local legislature of a city in the United States, where people propose issues of interest within this city, discuss how to settle these issues, and approve solutions and regulations to act in practice. Berkeley City Council focuses on local issues and legislation, handling matters from native social problem (e.g., juvenile vaping issues and homelessness) to local constructive issues (e.g., street lights construction).

In my view, I feel like the Berkeley City Council plays both a legislative role and an executive role among all the Berkeley institutions. For the legislative role, it is obvious that Berkeley City Council is a place for all citizens in Berkeley to discuss and approve regulations, which may be the lowest level of law in the United States. For the executive role, comparing with the legislature in China, Berkeley City Council discusses more issues about practicing regulation, which is mainly discussed in the executive branch in China. In China, the local government will hold public hearings for natives to discuss the issues met in the practice.


The Most Interesting Thing I Found

The dynamic balance between the spirit of freedom and the compliance with procedure. This dynamic balance is reflected both externally and internally.

In the external format, I notice that there was a rainbow flag behind the council members, which reflects the openness and freedom of California, Berkeley. In addition, the people who came to the meeting were from diverse backgrounds, regardless of education and work experience. All people can drop in to the meeting without checking their bags at any time after the meeting began and before it ended. People can sit in chairs or on the ground and stand in the back of the room, with signs held in their hands.

On the other hand, there was a host to keep everything going in order, which is the signal of compliance for this formal meeting. Though people can sit in any posture or hold boards with any word, if they interrupted the council member who was talking or did anything disrupting the procedure, they would be warned by the Mayor. For instance, there was a protest named “Where Do We Go” in the Berkeley Council Meeting that day. The city council members gave every protestor one minute to give a speech and people could talk about everything. (If they want to curse or say the “F” word, I bet they can do it.) However, some people wanted to extend the time, which related to the whole procedure. The only way to get an extra minute is to get it from other protestors and obey the procedure orderly, instead of asking the city council to extend or breaking the process, which may strike down their own interests. All in all, as shown in this meeting, people are free inside the procedure with a dynamic balance.

For the internal spirit, this interesting balance focused more on the speech addressed by protestors from “Where Do We Go.” This protest aimed to reflect the difficulties of homeless people in Berkeley and oppose the inefficiencies and omissions of the city councils’ work. The content of the speech mainly focused on homeless people having no freedom without shelter, which shows the desire for freedom. In the speech given by a female protestor, she mentions there was a man who just got out from a 36-year prison term and wanted to live a better life, but without shelter and protection from the institution he was constantly harassed. The homeless people in Berkeley are desperate for freedom and a better life; therefore, they chose the city council meeting to address their demands and hopes, instead of robbing or harassing other people in the city. Their speech and momentum to protest formally shows exactly the balance between freedom and compliance. Moreover, these moving speeches help me understand the quote from Voltaire better: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Everyone has the right to make a speech or to raise a protest, as long as you follow your obligation orderly.

Combining with another experience in San Francisco, I notice that Americans are quite active in political campaigns. In 28th September, I went to San Francisco China Town and joined the campaign for Asian Americans at the International Hotel, where we met Senator Kamala Harris there. She addressed her political slogan as “for the people.” Interestingly, there were many people just passing by the street also joining the campaign, holding posters for Kamala, which rarely happened in China where everyone stays far away from the politics.

This indicates the political foundation for adversarial legalism, a characteristic of the American legal system. Moreover, based on this active political culture, the American legal system focuses more on litigants instead of judges, where litigants and their lawyers conduct the argument and examination. Like Senator Harris holding a political campaign, lawyers and litigants do the same thing in the courtroom, lobbying their own interests and trying to convince the jury and the judge, instead of waiting for the judge to conduct this legal procedure in an inquisitorial way.


Suggestions for Auditing City Council Meetings

I strongly recommend that for those who want to interact with city council meeting for the first time, you should be active and strong when arguing and representing your own interest. 

First, be active. Without a positive holding to push an institution, it can be harder to propose your interests since the institution won’t help you actively.

 Second, be strong. Use factual evidence to support your argument and arrange your argument in a logical way, which helps strengthen your argument. Moreover, practice your speaking skills and make your speech clearly to the audience.

 Last but not least, be orderly. Find the regulation before taking part in these activities to make sure you are advocating for your interests legally.