By Joshua Bradley-Bevan (University of California, Berkeley, USA)
So, I have been in California for three weeks now and I have been super busy which is why it has taken me this long to sit down and reflect on the time that I have had here. So this post will probably be quite long as a lot has happened!
Over the summer I had been working at festivals and so I had not sorted out housing for when I flew out to the States. The last festival I went to was Greenman Festival, and that finished on the 18th August, my flight was booked for the 20th and I had a mandatory orientation on the 22nd at UC Berkeley. The day before flying out I posted on Facebook groups saying that I had nowhere to stay and I had many responses offering free temporary housing from generous people already living on campus. After staying up all night packing and getting ready, I set off in the early hours of the morning to fly out from Manchester, where I had been studying for the past two years. The flight was long and still with no sleep, I arrived in San Francisco Airport late at night. The house that I had the details jotted down for and would be staying for the next few days was far, so I decided to kip it out in the Airport. I googled about sleeping in airports, and as it turns out someone had written a review for San Francisco airport specifically, so I found the cozy spot in Terminal 2 that was described online, then shut my eyes and said goodbye to the world for seven solid hours.
The next day, I awoke and the only currency I had was travellers cheques (awkward money) which before setting off I needed to get change and so I bought the most expensive bottle of water in my life yet, just to get some dollars in order to get anywhere. I then made my way to Berkeley using public transportation, which is way cheaper than a taxi, and I finally arrived at Marcella’s house, who was kind enough to let me stay for three nights. The wheels on my suitcase had broken just as I got there which was perfect timing. Whilst staying there, I had to attend many orientations at the International House, I made good friends with Marcella and also with her friends; all whilst still looking for permanent housing. It was only until I had arrived there that I realised how competitive and expensive it is to find housing near campus, which is why it took me so long to find somewhere. During the orientations I met other exchange students from all over the world; we went to San Francisco for a day, went hiking and ate out a lot.
Just before flying out, I had been speaking to another person, Will, via mutual friends on Facebook and he happened to be arriving in Berkeley on the Sunday which, coincidently, was the day that I had to vacate from the house I was currently staying at. So after the three nights were up, Marcella’s housemates came back and it was time for me to leave. I checked on Google Maps to see where Will lived and surprisingly it was only a two minute walk, which was convenient due to my suitcase situation. As I arrived, I realised that I was going to be staying in a fraternity house. I had no idea what to expect as I had never seen anything like it but it turned out to be really fun I have made a lot of new friends through staying there.
With lectures fast approaching I kept an eye out for housing whilst returning to the fraternity house every day and getting to know some of the ‘brothers’ there. I started to learn more about American culture and how fraternity houses have dated back over a hundred years and that it is based on the ‘Greek’ system and how it is all funded by alumni. In the meantime, I met up with people from the Longboarding and Surfing Clubs at Berkeley as I knew I was keen to get involved, and before classes even started I became an officer for the Longboarding Club and in addition, I will be helping to organise trips for the Surfing Club.
On the way back from a meal I checked the Facebook housing group and noticed a viewing just one block away from where I was, so I went to check it out. Within a few hours of viewing the place I had a call saying that they wanted me to move in, which was just in time as I had my first quantum mechanics lecture two days later. The people I had met at Phi Psi (the specific fraternity house) told me to come back whenever I wanted and one of them even drove all my luggage down to my new place that I’d be calling home for the next couple of months.
The first week of lectures was pretty intense as I hadn’t done much physics over the summer and I had a lot of general meetings with clubs and organisations. I kept finding myself returning to Phi Psi and meeting up with other exchange students I had met since being here. The days went by very quickly and then Phi Psi asked me if I wanted to ‘rush’ with them. I had no idea what this meant but I soon gathered it meant wanting to become a brother of the fraternity eventually and I didn’t really know what to expect, but very early on they offered me an official bid to pledge with them, so I didn’t think twice about it and concluded with ‘Why not?!’. Although I am only here for one year, I couldn’t think of a better way to experience American culture at its best.
There have now been two weeks of classes and the workload isn’t getting easier… not to mention the emphasis on problem sheets and the competitive atmosphere as the grades are all curved; this means only a certain percentage of students can get the top marks. In my opinion I don’t believe education should be a competitive field; however, I suppose there is not much that can be done when there are over 30 000 students attending a public college. The campus is amazing and huge, it’s very different from Manchester and I feel especially lucky to be here for a whole year; the weather made it feel like an extended summer holiday, however, reality has certainly kicked in and I’m still searching for my favourite library to study in.
I know that I have missed out a lot of things but this post has been really long, I will try to keep them short and sweet in the future! All in all, this has definitely been one of the best three weeks of my life and I can’t wait to see how this year pans out.