First Impressions: Then and Now
Written by Ryan Senense.
What was life as a Cal student really like? What did it mean to be a golden bear? What does “Go Bears” mean? And why do all classes and meetings begin ten minutes after their official time?
These were some of the many questions I constantly asked myself when I first arrived here at UC Berkeley. I just figured that with an institution as old as Cal, being surrounded with rumors, traditions, and reputations was inevitable. Still, one of Haas’ four principles is to question the status quo – so I wanted to do just that.
Back in high school, I would hear that Berkeley was a competitive and cut-throat environment, there were too many students, and you needed to be independent and determined in order to thrive here. I heard from friends and teachers that Cal was an unfriendly place, cold and unwelcoming, much like the freezing spring showers and winter winds that greeted me at the start of this semester.
While the weather was indeed harsh, I found the raindrops that fell on the glass roof of VLSB beautiful, and the drips from outside my bedside window often lulled me to sleep. Even if an endless storm formed over the university, my friends and I always pulled out our umbrellas and hot drinks. Besides, the ageless forest that surrounds us might enjoy a healthy soak. It really wasn’t that bad.
Though most people bustle quickly around campus, it is often because they are busy, not uncaring. The steep hills and winding walkways on campus can get tiring and confusing, but they’re covered in the footsteps of countless others who were once finding their bearings. Luckily, most people are usually happy to help with directions to a specific building, or the nearest café. While the ten-minute tardiness of “Berkeley time” once puzzled me, it was only after taking back-to-back classes that I truly understood its usefulness. Time is valuable here, and it passes quickly when there’s so much to be done.
Now, I find Cal a lot more welcoming than people thought, but there is still a touch of competitiveness. While there is not exactly a lot of hand-holding, this only encourages people to put themselves out of their comfort zones and discover new experiences.
I still remember the first time I was given a tour of Berkeley Haas, right around Cal day. The campus was decorative and chic but remained simple and streamlined, without excessive flair. People filled the courtyard and mingled like close friends. Many of the classrooms had microphones embedded in the desks and it was emphasized how Chou hall was the first zero-waste building on campus. It was the emphasis on sustainability and responsibility that sold me. At the time, I wasn’t completely sure what career path to pursue, but I knew that if I were to study at Berkeley Haas, I would gain a better understanding of how to apply what I learned in the classroom to create a change in the world.
I find that the most rewarding aspect of Cal is that I’m constantly surrounded by intelligent and kind individuals who are happy to speak about their experiences and lend a helping hand. The incredible people that I have met and the kindness that they’ve shown me have made me proud to be a golden bear.