10 weeks, 3 courses, 2 finals and a tradeshow later and my time at U.C. Berkeley is up and it’s been a fantastic Summer. I’m not sure what my expectation of Berkeley was but I definitely didn’t expect all the experiences I’ve had, the amazing people I’ve met and the food, so much food. Let’s start from the beginning.
The flight, 10 or so hours goes by fairly quickly if you can get some shuteye or indulge in some great new blockbusters, of which I got neither so it dragged along into what felt like years. However, this experience was quickly forgotten upon landing in California, it wasn’t my first time but it was my first time alone. I chose to get a taxi to Berkeley, I still wasn’t confident using Uber at this point and BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transport) was unbeknownst to me, so a taxi seemed like the safest bet. 45 minutes and $90 later (oops) and I was finally in at the dorms, a modern building that would house several hundred students over the Summer, I was later told that I was lucky and Martinez (the dorms) was probably the nicest offered. I quickly unpacked the essentials and headed to the cafeteria, just over the road. The food they offered was great, pizzas, pasta, build your own burgers or sandwiches, salad bars, a selection of desserts, drinks machines, and new options brought out every day breakfast, lunch and dinner (oh, and it’s all you can eat). I had a meal plan which gave me around 800 points to spend through the session, entry to the cafeteria was 7 points for Lunch, 8 for dinner and 6 for breakfast. In short, on campus was where I spent most meal times, and for good reason!
The first weekend I spent getting to know the area by foot, a roommate and I took a hike up to the Big C, literally a big yellow C on the hillside overlooking the campus, a gift left by the classes of 1907 and 1908. The campus is magnificent, towering above is the Campanile, a defining feature of the university. The 100-meter-tall clock tower is visible for miles around and is a local landmark announcing Berkeley to the world. The university’s different departments boast world class facilities and lecture theatres, and one morning I stumbled upon a life-size T-Rex in the Zoology building, not something that I expected to come face to face with on my commute to class.
The classes themselves definitely lived up to the reputation preceding the university. I took ME 110, Introduction to Product Development, ME 40, Thermodynamics, and C85, Solid Mechanics. My timetable was fairly light, two 2.5 hour classes every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 til 5 and discussions on Wednesday, this was perfect as the amount of coursework and tests gave my time a great work-play balance. The structure of the classes was new to me, the grading was curved to fit the grade boundaries and to spread the marks amongst the class and we took midterms throughout, both pretty alien concepts to me. I don’t remember what I was expecting the workload to be like, but in reality it wasn’t anymore difficult than what I’ve done in Soton. The classes were compressed to fit in the shorter Summer semester, however they didn’t feel rushed in any way, in fact it actually helped me retain more of the content, the pacing was perfect.
Living in the Bay Area allowed for a lot of different excursions, from day trips into San Francisco and Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square, there is really so much to get out and do. One of my favourite days out was visiting the U.C. Botanical Gardens, a short hike up towards Strawberry Canyon. Hundreds of different species and spectacular views made it a great day out. Entry was free with a U.C. student ID, so another reason to check it out! Another of my best trips was to Yosemite Valley, maybe my favourite place in the world? It’s the birthplace of the US National Park system and also the rock climbing culture in America. Although I didn’t really fancy scaling the northwest face of Half Dome (bit high up for me) we did take the Four Mile Trail to Glacier point and the Panorama Trail back down via the Nevada and Vernal falls, it took us about 8 hours of solid walking on maybe the hottest day of the trip – it was awesome.
In summary, during this Summer I’ve done a lot, learnt a lot and eaten a lot. I’ve become proficient in Uber-ing myself around (I can’t wait for this to get a bit bigger back home), I’ve learnt some Thermodynamics, I’ve seen a humpback whale up close and tried my hand at being a local for the 4th of July. Thus Summer may have been the shortest of my life and I’ve loved every second, thanks Berkeley, see you soon! Go Bears!
P.S. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in the Study Abroad office at Soton, without whom I would not have had this amazing experience.
P.S.S. Also, if you’d like some more detailed information about Berkeley life or American college life in general please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org !