Jennifer Fei, from Canada, is studying political economy at the University of California, Berkeley. She tells us about how life in the San Francisco Bay Area has encouraged her to up her game.
Berkeley is my dream school. I visited during my junior year in high school and just fell in love with the campus. It’s a word that gets thrown round a lot, but it is genuinely diverse. There are always at least 50 things going on every day!
Sproul Plaza, at the heart of the university, is amazing at noon. It’s flooded with people talking about their ideas, meeting up with their friends, or on their way to class – you can really feel something in the air; there’s so many people, so much energy.
Vancouver, where I come from, is a beautiful, relaxed city, where no one’s in a rush. The difference here is the pace. While it’s not quite New York, here everyone’s motivated, and working on something. I love being a part of that. It motivates you to do better – there are people here who are working on some genuinely amazing things. Having lunch with people like that is very humbling.
Culture of entrepreneurship
Being near Silicon Valley, there’s a huge culture of tech and entrepreneurship. While the careers service at the university arranges placements for you all over the country – I went on a program to DC last summer – this obviously creates a lot of local opportunities. This year, I joined Berkeley Consulting, a student-run consultancy which works with everything from local start-ups to Fortune 500 companies on real life situations.
Other than that I’ve interned at the student government, as you can’t really get elected as a freshman, and I wrote for the Daily Californian (I was given free rein on the blog, which I used to have some fun with the Californian approach to rain – try going to Vancouver sometime, guys!). I had to quit lightweight crew because it was taking up too much time, but I play intramural volleyball instead now.
I also take part in the student-facilitated course program, on which you can build a course, pitch it to a faculty sponsor, and then teach it as a legitimate course. Mine is called the Development of Kanye West’s Music and Film. That may sound like a lot, but I’m not an exception here – there’s no way you watch these opportunities pass you by.
More about universities in California >
Crossing the Bay
It’s easy to get comfortable in Berkeley, but my friends and I try to go across the Bay to San Francisco twice a month. There are loads of university events, and things to do there. If you visit, it’s definitely worth doing all the tourist-type things, which in San Francisco are quite cute and never too crowded.
There’s always something happening in Union Square, the San Francisco MoMA is meant to be a great art gallery, and the Mission District is the place to be if you’re a foodie. Last year, I cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge – I’m terrified of bikes but it was a great experience. And it’s not just tourists that do it, either!
If you live in Berkeley, San Francisco will be part of your life. Berkeley is a city, for sure, but it’s not a big one, and sometimes you just need that big city experience. That said, there is plenty of stuff to do without crossing the Bay. The Elmwood area in Berkeley is the cutest strip of small, family owned stores and restaurants. It’s very diverse, as you’d expect of Berkeley – you can get Italian food, Greek food, Indian food, Chinese food, Japanese food, Korean food…the list goes on.
Shattuck Avenue has a similar sort of vibe and Telegraph Avenue is a great reminder of the city’s hippie history. It’s worth just walking around to get a feel for the culture of city, both the student side of things and that 60s counterculture vibe. Oh, and a couple of miles from the campus, there’s a pizza place called Cheeseboard, which has the best pizza ever – definitely worth the walk.
Berkeley and San Francisco are two different places, sure. But the really significant divide in this part of the world is between north and south California. The Bay Area is a unifying factor here, and culturally, it’s all pretty similar – when you get back on a plane, it’s very much a case of being back in the Bay.
So, would I recommend studying here? I can’t even explain how amazing it is…