At the start of the Spring 2020 semester, I was excited to come back to Berkeley and pick up from where I had left off in the summer. I felt like Berkeley would at least be more familiar, and I hoped my acclimation to Berkeley would be easier than my acclimation to London. 

But there’s still a sense of newness coming back to campus. There are thousands more students than were here in the summer, and the student population of Berkeley feels to me as big as the population of London, especially if I trek through all the different tables on Sproul or cross through the aisles at Doe trying to find an open seat. Though the students at Berkeley look more familiar to me than the strangers in London, I still feel like a foreigner stepping back onto campus. 

Before I applied to colleges, I had a dream of going to a small school somewhere on the East Coast. Berkeley is the opposite of that vision I used to have, but I am grateful to have chosen such a big school. I remember talking with a GMP c’o 2022 student, who graduated from high school with a senior class of around 80 people. She told me she had similar apprehensions, but also realized, though you might not be able to make a small school feel larger, you can always make a large school feel more intimate. 

I recognize now that I will have to use the same diligence of finding familiarity in London, here at Berkeley. A part of me wants to stay in my comfort zone, resting on the fact that the life-long college friendships everyone talks about will take time to form and won’t come immediately. But the other part of me knows that I can’t expect to strengthen relationships with new friends or enjoy new experiences in college if I don’t put anything in. It’s easy to become another face in the crowd walking to class or in a lecture hall of 200 people, but it’s so much more rewarding to make the effort and find a genuine community (or communities) where you’re recognized and remembered, and can connect with others.

Berkeley being so populated and diverse means that there are multitudes of communities I have an opportunity to engage in. At the same time, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where I fit in or find which interests I’m truly interested in. Experiencing the different microcommunities within campus has shown me that Berkeley is as unified as it is extremely diverse. It’s exciting to meet new people who look at ideas or problems in different ways than I do, or interact with challenging topics that I’ve never thought about before. If I don’t engage myself with exploring new things on campus, I’ll miss out on the diversity in thought which makes the Cal student body so strong, vibrant, and innovative.  

Watching the sunset with my new floormates.

Coming back to Berkeley is foreign to me not because there are new places to explore or new foods to try, but because there are so many new ideas and perspectives to be open to. I’m excited to explore Berkeley in the same way that I journeyed into 11 different cities studying abroad last semester. As I put myself out there and veer off the path of what’s nearly too safe or too comfortable, I discover that I enjoy and am energized by these “foreign” unfamiliarities. I’m gradually and thoughtfully becoming more open to new experiences, like getting a meal with a new stranger turned friend, or not rushing out of class so I can start up a conversation with my classmates. Soon, if I make an effort to show up, I think those long-lasting college memories that everyone talks about will show up for me too.  

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