When your feet don’t touch the ground

By Peter Rowan (UC Berkeley)

Have you ever lived so fast that its felt like the weeks pass like seconds?

You never have any time, and yet when you look back, your history is bursting with a million different phenomenal experiences?

  And did you like it?

If so you should come here: to UC Berkeley, where time flies, and you go with it.

It’s been over two months since I arrived here at Berkeley, and yet it feels like its passed like a flash. I’ve travelled to gorgeous reserves, experienced a diversity of culture, been intellectually stimulated and explored myself spiritually.

Culture

The SF Bay area is one of those places where things just happen. Culture abounds in all its forms, exhilarating and alive.

My British readers might appreciate the instance when, four hours before the show, my friend passes me on the street and casually invites me to Rudimental’s final US concert in San Francisco. I run back, change, jump in a cab, and find myself in a ball-room style hall, watching one of the UK’s biggest bands in a crowd of just 200 people! The following night I’m standing in the centre of a Greek-Style Amphitheatre, listening to the relaxing tones of Beirut. And Sandwiched in-between is a day in San Francisco watching an air show with thousands of San Francisians, where jets fly at each other at 400mph, turning at the last minute to narrowly miss each other and soar across the Bay.

But then that’s just how it is here, there’s never a dull moment. Last week I was Salsa dancing, this week I am taking part in the Berkeley Project, Berkeley’s biggest Public Service event with thousands of others. Who knows what next week will bring?

Travel

I have a certain philosophy on travelling here: I can always travel in the US, but I can never repeat College Life. Thus I have done less travelling than others might perhaps choose to do. Nevertheless I have travelled, mostly with my fraternities, and mostly to some of the most beautiful places in California.

Lake Tahoe was quite an experience. I would love to talk about the crystal blue lake, or the rolling mountains, but I really can’t. You may have heard of the Northern California fires; well the smoke from those rolled hundreds of miles over the landscape, and so for the hours we drove through the mountains where everything was shrouded in a smoky mist. It was magical and ethereal, I have never seen anything like it.

Redwoods was wonderful. This is a national park famed for its gigantic redwood trees. I spent a Saturday blasting through the park with great music on full volume. We swam in glacial melt water, clambered up stunning valleys, and meditated against the ancient trees.

Then there was Hike 4 a Cure in Yosemite. A few Fraternity Brothers and I embarked on a 23 mile hike to Cloud’s Rest, at an altitude of 10, 000 feet, overlooking the famous half dome. We raised $290 for a very worthy charitable cause, which you can read about here: http://www.active.com/donate/h4ac2015/sigep15

Yosemite really is one of the most striking landscapes I have seen, and we all agreed that it was spiritually uplifting. And how did we come down the mountain? We ran!

Outlook copy

 Intellectual

Berkeley is intellectually stimulating. And it’s not just the courses, where I cover everything from a history of Western Political thought, to South American and Californian history, to Post-Colonial analysis of the Modern World. There’s also events going on all the time. Just this week I attended an event with Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the ex-Mayor of Mexico City and son of arguably Mexico’s most influential president. He is lobbying for a new Mexican constitution which limits the influence of neo-liberalism, and had much to say on the infamous Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As part of my professional fraternity, Delta Phi Epsilon, I am intellectually challenged every week. With this network of people, I can debate and discuss some of the most important and pressing international issues, with incredibly intelligent and diverse opinions and arguments. I am also blogging for them, on the construction of the European Migration Crisis, which you can read here:

PETER’S IR BLOG

Spiritual

 When, by chance, you walk into a Free Palestine protest, where thirty people are lying on the ground to represent the Palestinian dead and pro-Israel protestors walk between them bearing Israeli flags, you can’t help but reflect on your place in the world. They say ‘start with the end in mind’; but for that to work you need to know what end you want. And so I have been reflecting a lot on myself and my future. Its definitely one of the most terrifying and most exciting things to do. Hopefully by the end I will have some answers.

Palestine

I have however been able to make meaningful contributions here. Last week, I and others packed up books to send to prisoners across the US, tomorrow I will be doing service work across Berkeley.

Prisoners

Who knows what next week will bring?

This is Bear Territory

By Peter Rowan (University of California, Berkeley, or Cal for short).

 

Find a Special Announcement at the bottom!

——————————————————————–

I’m a Bear. A Berkeley Bear. Or so I have been told.

Whether it be at the Greek Amphitheatre with 10, 000 students screaming and dancing, at the football singing our anthems, or in lectures with world-renowned professors, they tell us:

“Welcome to the number one public university in the world. You are now a Bear.”

So let’s talk about what it means to be a Berkeley Bear.

cal-bear

Welcome to Berkeley…

It was blisteringly hot as we sat above the huge amphitheatre. Over the rippling air the band struck up with the Star Wars Imperial March and UC Berkeley chorused with screams as the Chancellor walked to the stage, and welcomed us to Bear Territory. I remember little of the substance of what he said now, but the message of the event was clear: pursue excellence in all things, live life to the full and enjoy.

And I’d like to think that so far I have. In just about a month I have deconstructed Western Political thought, embarked on a personal quest for perfect balance, learnt the history of Mexico, committed to international service, and dived into the fantastic world that is California.

My head is spinning and my eyes are heavy, but the story so far is well worth recounting; to give a picture of what a first month at Berkeley is like, just in case you ever decide to enter the Bear Territory.

First Impressions… 

…A Berkeley Bear lives with passion.

They are passionate about their subject. I have been treated to many an inspiring conversation about the nature of black holes, economic equilibriums the nature of the human body and much more.

They are passionate about people. People here are so friendly and open and will, at a first encounter, genuinely want to get to now you. They are ablaze with smiles as you talk about interests and travels.

They are passionate about Berkeley, never more so than at the great Football Game Day. Three hours before the Fraternity street or ‘Frat Row’ exploded into life with parties: people wearing blue and yellow everywhere. Only after sliding down inflatable slides and impressing people with our accents did we head on up to the stadium, where the entire crowd stood atop benches.

Yes, cheerleaders are real, they do backflips and everything! And yes, there was a band in feather hats marching up and down the field. But that moment when we scored the first touchdown… I have never heard anything like it, it was a huge roar of 20,000 Bears shouting us on to victory. We’ve won our three games this season so far – strong start.

Foorball 1  party!Foootball 2

 

Life so far…

Studies

…A Bear is intellectually indulgent

Berkeley is famed for its academia, liberality and forward-thinking culture, and its safe to say that it really is a place of absolute intellectual indulgence. Yes, its intense; for each of my four courses I have two to three lectures per week, with hundreds of pages of reading to complement it – but its fascinating. In just four weeks I have covered:

  • Political Economy: A complete deconstruction of Western Political thought, with the major works of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Smith read already!
  • The Southern Border: A study in the US’s relations with Central America, thus far with a complete history of Mexico.
  • California: A complete overview of the state, so far having looked at its Native American and Settler history, industrial period and drought crisis.
  • Post-Colonial Geography: With Gillian Hart (a Geography heavyweight) – this one really messes with your head. It starting from Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations, a paper that proved influential to the Iraq war, it portrayed the world as pertaining to clear territorially bounded cultures that inevitably will clash. We have critiqued this simplistic view to the point where we are looking at Massey’s concepts of space and Coronil’s Occidentalism, and I am left to ponder what it even means to be a human.

Berkeley

Fraternities

… A Bear strives for excellence

What do you think when you see that word? Toga parties? Lots of drunk American ‘dudes’ calling each other ‘Bro’? To an extent you would be right… and Peter just joined two! But do not be deceived, amongst the ashes there are a few gems, and the ones I have found are really quite special.

Fraternity number one: Sigma Phi Epsilon. This is a ‘social’ fraternity, founded on the philosophy of the pursuit of the Balanced Man. By joining, I have committed to developing a Sound Mind, Sound Body and Sound Spirit through a journey of self-exploration and challenge along with my Brothers. It is a house of 70 of the most talented and motivated people I have ever met. From triathlon champions, to academic geniuses, to surfers, to guys who run a club devoted to doing medical work in a different country every semester.  As part of fraternity life, we share our specialisms through classes, pushing each other forwards to achieve total excellence.

sigep 1

Fraternity no. 2: Delta Phi Epsilon. This one is a ‘professional’ fraternity focused on international service. With members who have worked in embassies, governments and NGOs across the world and alumni in top law, IR and business grad schools, this really is an exceptional group of people. I have never had such interesting late night conversations… debating the Greek crisis in a national park at 3am is a very special experience!

DphiE

The Frisco Bay

A Bear explores

It’s safe to say that I live in a ridiculously beautiful state. I’m excited to explore it more, but the notable experiences I have had so far are:

  • Exploring the concrete jungle of San Francisco, and sitting on the dock of the bay and eating prawns from a rock heated to 500°C.
  • Swimming in the Pacific Ocean at Santa Cruz, where a few surprise 12ft waves forced us to swim right out… that got the adrenaline going!
  • Visiting the remote Lake Tahoe. While the great California forest fires were hundreds of miles away, the smoke rolled in over the mountains, bathing the lake and forest like some spooky grey mist…

To the future

…A Bear keeps going

I must admit, culture shock and fatigue have been difficult demons to fight off. Living abroad isn’t always fun and games, and I certainly hit a deep dip after the initial post-arrival adrenaline wore off. But after a bit of meditation on Bear Peak overlooking the San Francisco Bay, and some deep conversations with my new brothers, I have learnt a lot about myself and developed a much stronger resilience, and now I’m ready to go for the rest of semester one!

*SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT*

…A Bear challenges himself

In the pursuit of a Sound Body and Sound Spirit, on October 3rd my Fraternity Brothers and I will be hiking 18 miles across Yosemite National Park for Charity! 

After a brother died of a rare disease called histiocytosis, we are raising money to fund research into the disease.

Any donations would be very helpful, even just a couple of quid.

You can DONATE HERE: http://www.active.com/donate/h4ac2015/sigep15

Thank you for your kindness!

Farewell for now dear readers

Go Bears!