Hello there! My name is Sara Cheung and I am part of Haas’ Global Management Program in the Class of 2023. Currently, I am studying abroad in London with the Global Edge Program, so I’m not physically at Berkeley, but I will return in the Spring to continue my time at Cal!
I wanted to share a brief, but impactful story from my time so far in London:
I was on my way to Paris, or really, on my way to take a train to Paris, when a stranger approached me.
“Is this the right way to London Bridge?”
I answered yes, and pointed her to the sign of Westbound stops right in front of us. She laughed after recognizing how obvious the answer to her question was. And I was proud of seeming like a local, or at least looking like someone who knows what she is doing — not wandering aimlessly like a tourist or visitor.
“At least I think that’s the right way.”
Even with my obvious accent, she asked if I was from London. I wasn’t, and neither was she. She was from Manchester, and was also catching a train out of London. We were both foreigners, both quickly leaving to another foreign place.
“Is it just me, or do Londoners seem very reserved to you?”
I didn’t want to judge too quickly, or seem impolite, “Maybe it’s because it’s an urban environment?”
“I think I’ve had enough of urban environments.”
We laughed, and we traveled as familiar strangers together to the Northern Line, and parted ways as I got off on St. Pancras and she got off on Euston.
London is not like a college campus. Beyond the fact that it’s a new environment for me, it’s still full of unfamiliarity. At Berkeley, students are everywhere, and our shared identity is comforting. Walking around the city, I rarely see familiar faces.
I think the woman from Manchester was looking for something familiar. Surrounded by polite, cordial, and reserved Londoners, we were both looking for something familiar, or at least animated beyond the blankness of the face of a passerby. Ironically, we found familiarity through strangers, through the unfamiliar. In a foreign place, we turned to more foreigners (yet not the same kind of foreigners) to feel more at home. Because in a way, we were similar. Neither of us were comfortable with the newness and the fast-paced energy that surrounded us.
When I’m surrounded by students in Berkeley, I feel productive and eager to get my work done and keep up with the pace. The culture, or the culture of really any college town, is one of experimentation and newness, of failure and taking chances. Here in London, there is still an energy of productivity, but it’s different. It’s not as young and excited, it’s more reserved and directed. At Berkeley, people are productive so they can get a start on their futures, on their lives. In London, people are productive because they already have established careers and daily routines. Maybe that’s why they seem more reserved, or like they can’t be bothered. It’s not because they don’t want to talk to you — it’s maybe because it’s difficult to put a pause on life. To me, it feels like they’ve got everything under control. For a different reason, I feel more productive and energized, needing to keep up with the pace. But at the same time, I want to take my time and figure out my future at my own speed.
As I live in the bustling energy of the city, I’ve started to anticipate what’s to come in the next four years, and even after. I’m nervous that I’m not doing things quick enough, that I need to connect on Linkedin with alumni or start researching internships, or plan out which classes I’ll take in the spring and which clubs I’ll join. I’m trying to live out my future simultaneously as a student at Berkeley and in London. Rushing so far forward is thrilling, yet it scares me, because I don’t know what to expect.
I realize that if I don’t slow down my running thoughts, I’ll miss out on experiencing the new, exciting things London can introduce to me right now. Despite the pressure to live a fast-paced life, I want to savor the remaining time I have in London, and I’m learning that it’s okay to slow down and not have a plan. When I put away my Google maps and look up and see what’s around me, wandering aimlessly, I can take in more of my surroundings. And in doing this, what started out so indistinguishable slowly begins to look a little more familiar.