Studying Abroad at Berkeley: Insider Tips and Advice From an International Student

From phone plans to grocery stores, what to do when you arrive

Sixiong Peng attends university in Japan and is a graduate of the Berkeley Haas Global Access Program, which brings international students from diverse backgrounds to study business and entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley. This post originally appeared on his personal blog. It has been edited for clarity and length.


Hello. I'm a graduate student who studied in UC Berkeley through the Berkeley Haas Global Access Program. I am originally from Japan. I  would like to provide useful information for those who want to participate in this program! I'll introduce the program and provide some information that may be helpful to prepare for studying abroad at UC Berkeley.

What exactly is BHGAP?

Sixiong Peng smiles at the BHGAP graduation ceremony, alongside co-director Alex Budak.

The Berkeley Haas Global Access Program (BHGAP) at the Haas School of Business consists of:

  • A structured curriculum through the Haas School of Business
  • Start-up focused classes through a Silicon Valley perspective
  • An international classroom consisting of students from nearly 20 countries
  • Options to study for a semester or an entire year in the program

There were over 70 students in the Fall 2018 term. It consisted of mostly international undergraduates, with some graduate students and some already in the workforce. Most individuals hail from China but there were also people from many other countries, including Germany, Belgium, Brazil, Lithuania, and Singapore. I was one of four Japanese students in my cohort. I studied in Berkeley for 4 months for the Fall term, but if I had wanted to include Spring term and a summer internship, I could have stayed in the United States for a year, plus eligibility for OPT work authorization, for a total of 2 years.

Among my classmates there were diverse reasons and motivations for joining the program, including the desire to enter the field of entrepreneurship, preparation for a career change and the opportunity to live and learn in Berkeley and experience the San Francisco Bay Area in general.

Preparation for Study Abroad

I already knew that the process of preparing to studying abroad would be difficult, so it was no surprise to me when I discovered that it was just as—if not, more so—difficult as expected. What to bring, where to live, food, visas, money, mobile phones… there are so many things to check off!

I want to share only the five most useful tips and advice that I learned from my experience.

There were diverse reasons and motivations for joining the program among my classmates, including the desire to enter the field of entrepreneurship, preparation for a career change, and the opportunity to live and learn in Berkeley and the Bay Area in general.


Tip 1: The International House Experience

A look into the historic architecture of UC Berkeley's I-House dining commons.

The International House (I-House) is a student dormitory mainly for foreign students, and about 20% of the BHGAP participants live here. You request to live there by submitting a housing form on the I-House website. The rent is about $1,800 a month for a shared room with one other person. This provides unlimited access to the I-House dining halls, which are known to serve the best food on campus. You can get free tickets for events sometimes, and it's very close to Haas (10 minutes on foot), as well as libraries, study spaces, relaxing lounges, cafes, et cetera. Especially for me, it was quite attractive that there is a community of international students, and there are times when foreigners who want to study Japanese are seen together. It’s a first-come, first-served request system to stay here, so make sure to get on top of it if you’re planning on living there.

Tip 2: Finding Housing

Seventy percent of Berkeley students live in off-campus homes. Berkeley rent is twice as much as Tokyo, so most people share rooms and houses. Usually, single rooms are around $1,800, while a double (two people sharing one room) is half that. It is good to look at as much information as possible to find affordable housing. The following sites might be helpful:

Property information flows daily on Berkeley's Facebook group. I found a good home on Craigslist and I had a friend look inside, and eventually I made it into a home of my own.

Tip 3: Prepare for Bay Area Weather

When a tourist first imagines the Bay Area, they think of blue sky, temperate weather and cool breezes. Although there may be an image of this, in fact, it is usually cloudy, the sea is cold in San Francisco, and the mornings and evenings are usually cold. Be sure to come prepared with long-sleeves and pants, as this seems to be a popular option for locals.

...The mornings and evenings are usually cold. Be sure to come prepared with long-sleeves and pants, as this seems to be a popular option for locals.

Tip 4: Where to Find Japanese and Other Asian Food for Home-Cooked Meals

There are many options for international students craving Asian cuisine, especially when it comes to groceries.

There is a supermarket that sells a large amount of ingredients of Asian cuisine called 99 Ranch, and you can get seasonings and foods from Japan, China and Korea. There are quite a lot. I bought tsuyu-no-mushi there.

Tip 5: The Cheapest Phone Plans

If you want to stay for a long time, SIM card can be essential. Here, AT&T and T-Mobile are major carriers, and international students who arrive usually go to stores during their first week at Berkeley to buy SIM cards. When I went on my own I was offered contract for a personal plan. However, there is a cheaper option—a family plan, and a Chinese friend of mine formed a "family" with about five other individuals and included me in this plan. It’s easy to find other individuals who need a plan, especially since nearly everyone who is coming from another country and in need of a new or updated plan. I found a group of individuals at the BHGAP orientation, and many others find people early in the year. It’s not too hard!

I'm Here to Help

Throughout this article, I tried to provide helpful information and assistance on how to better prepare for international study in Berkeley. If you have any concerns, please feel free to comment below, I would be glad to help!


Special thanks to Sixiong Peng for sharing his BHGAP experience with us.

Learn More

The Berkeley Haas Global Access Program brings international students to UC Berkeley to study business and entrepreneurship. It also offers plenty to do and see outside of class.

Want to hear more student perspectives? Read more BHGAP blogs, or visit our website.