This summer I spent 8 weeks studying at the University of California, Berkeley and all I can really say is that the experience was amazing and I enjoyed every single moment of it, not once did I feel homesick.
I took 2 classes, the first was American history, from civil war to present, which lasted 8 weeks, and the second was Spanish literature, which lasted 6 weeks. I found the history class really interesting and definitely learned a lot about American society and politics. There was a lot to cover, especially in an 8-week period. The course included a lot of reading, of books and articles mainly, as well as two exams and two pieces of coursework.
The Spanish literature was taught completely in Spanish, which I found really insightful. I study Spanish in Southampton and I have only ever taken a class in translation, vocabulary and grammar, but I have never studied Spanish literature. I have never been in a class before with native Spanish speakers, so it was a challenge, however it really forced me to immerse into the language and my Spanish overall improved. I found it very rewarding. This course included two pieces of controlled assessment a week, in class quizzes, a presentation and an exam.
Berkeley requires you to take 6 credits overall in the summer, I took 7 in total. You have to take a minimum of 2 classes. Be prepared to spend all your time studying. I spent everyday in the library and the study room in my house. The classes are intense, especially in the summer as they are all condensed into a small period of time.
The students at Berkeley are all so lovely, and Americans love the British accent! I was stopped numerous times in shops and restaurants on people complementing my accent. I found that all the Berkeley students were very intelligent and every single conversation I had with them was intellectual, on topics such as politics, history and law. As I was in America during the presidential election, there was always something to debate.
Berkeley itself is a pleasant town, with many great restaurants, cafes and bars. There is good shopping too in Berkeley, but for more variety I went to Walnut Creek, Oakland and Emeryville, which are just a few stops away on the metro. The campus is amazing; every building is beautiful and modern and has a lot of green space. My favourite spot was the Doe library, it was incredible. The inside was like Hogwarts. It included a study room filled with sofas just for reading. The university also has a bell tower called the Campanile. It includes free admission for students. The views from the top were astonishing; you can see Oakland, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz.
The public transportation in Berkeley is really good; you can get the BART metro to San Francisco in 30 minutes. San Francisco is an incredible city with many sights to explore, although I didn’t get to visit it much as I was so busy studying. But when I did go, I went to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was unbelievable up close, Fisherman’s Wharf, which has many great shops and restaurants. I even went to the Mrs Doubtfire house; I am a huge fan of the film. I went to a baseball game, which was such a great American experience. I took a boat trip to Angel Island and Alcatraz, which are both very historical. However San Francisco is generally an expensive city, as all the major tech companies such as Apple and Google are based in the Bay Area, and San Francisco itself hosts and huge financial district. Be aware, even though I was in California, San Francisco was freezing although it was summer! Temperatures average from 8-12°C at night, and 18°C during the day. Nevertheless in Berkeley the average temperature in summer is 25°C, although at night it got as cold as San Francisco.
There were a few cultural differences I discovered whilst being in America. For example, when you buy something at a restaurant, they always add tax on after the original price. For example, if they advertise a burrito for $8, when you actually pay for it, it could be something like $8.34. I found this quite annoying especially when I had the correct amount of change. Furthermore, you have to tip at restaurants, always, even if you are just getting a coffee. It is custom over there.
They use Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, and converting it isn’t easy. They cut out the ‘u’ in words such as colour, favourite, labour, behaviour, humour and so on. Same applies for words such as centre and theatre, they spell it as ‘center’ and ‘theater.’ Furthermore, many words that we are so used to using in the English language are just unheard of in America. For example, if you mention words such a queue, a bin, a motorway or a boot, generally Americans have no idea what you are talking about.
In California and other parts of the States, the bars and clubs shut at 2am, which is quite early compared to Europe, however in Nevada it is a lot later. The shopping in America is better than in Europe, and clothes are normally cheaper, Apple products definitely are.
In America the public transportation isn’t that great, so you do have to drive to most places. Luckily I made loads of friends with cars so they would drive me round San Francisco, to restaurants and shops. Not only do they drive on the other side of the road, but also they all drive automatics and all have screens to show them how to reverse. I found life in America very easy, with a car you just drive and go. You drive to the mall, you park right outside and you are there. No paying for parking, no walking to the mall. They even have Starbucks drive-through. Furthermore, everything is super-sized, literally everything. From fridges to washing machines, to cars to meals.
In America you have a right to bear arms, which I found being the biggest culture shock, because the majority of the countries in Europe do not allow this. I have always been against the Second Amendment, but luckily there were no shootings nearby during my stay.
I managed to travel around the States before and after summer school. If you book a few weeks in advance, inbound flights are usually cheap. But don’t forget America is huge; it takes 6 hours to get from California to Washington, D.C., so be prepared for long haul flights.
Before my course started, I went to Santa Barbara which has some really nice beaches and Las Vegas which was so much fun, we saw Calvin Harris live! After my course, I went to Colorado, to Denver and Fort Collins, which has beautiful mountains. We drove down to New Mexico to Las Vegas, Santa Fe and Albuquerque. If you are a fan of Breaking Bad, I highly recommend Albuquerque. We visited all the filming locations and the town itself is so different and thriving compared to how it is portrayed in the to series. After that, I flew to Washington, D.C. There I spend some time visiting all the monuments and museums. I stayed with my family in Virginia and Maryland. Unfortunately I only had 5 days to travel before my course started and 10 days after, as I was tight on schedule from finishing my second year and then going to start my third year abroad in Barcelona, although I managed to squeeze in quite lot for such a huge country! If I had more time I would have gone to Florida, Chicago, Ohio and Boston, and maybe even a southern state. I couldn’t travel during my course, even to a nearby city, due to the intense workload.
I highly recommend studying at Berkeley over the summer. I have made friends for life and the experience is unforgettable. I learnt so much, from the people at Berkeley and my classes, I feel my knowledge has greatly expanded. I loved my experience so much that next summer I am either doing an internship in San Francisco or going to summer school again at Berkeley!