“An experience like this is not possible under most circumstances; it’s more than studying or a holiday.”

Haym Singh Panesar studied abroad at the University of California, Berkeley. Haym is in his 5th and final year of an MSci in Physics with a Year Abroad. Haym reflects on his time in the US, of teaching London slang, and of how studying abroad can be a refresh for the mind…

Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve made. From the moment I’d got onto the plane for my 11hr flight my nerves were settled, and I knew I was in the right place at the right time. There was no doubt that, at first, I was worried and stressed out by the effort required to prove my year would be a success. But it was not wasted because once I’d arrived, I was able to focus most of my attention to meeting people and learning about where I was.

One thing that left an incredibly strong impression was the weather; I arrived in the middle of a heatwave and yes, it definitely uplifted my mood considering the English weather. UCB’s orientation was a great chance I had to meet students in a similar position to myself and marvel at what the campus offered – I ended up in the same class as some and even met another student from the UK on the same course as me during orientation.

This was my first time in the US, and my first experience living out. The latter came with its own challenges but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with the help of Berkeley’s international office, and advice from other students and the numerous student groups. It’s a good idea to get in-touch with a society/student group/student association that you think you’ll enjoy: I did before I arrived, and a student introduced me to parts of the campus orientation doesn’t extend to, and their friends in the society. Berkeley has a huge number of students and almost all of them will love your non-local accent and dialect (I had fun teaching people London slang and having them poorly repeat it to others).

Past the first few weeks of aweing at the sights the bay has to offer (like after taking a hike up the hills) and re-adjusting to student life, I was settled into a regular schedule of classes and student events. Berkeley is a college-town, so much of the area is dedicated to shops useful for the day-to-day. UCB provides a free AC Transit bus pass to all its students and there is BART subway station in downtown, which’ll get you to the neighbouring cities and towns. The train will get you to San Fran in about 40 mins but it does not go far into the city and the bus service there is not covered by the free pass, so it’s worth having extra money for travel around the city if you don’t want to walk.

I was surprised to find out that Berkeley accommodates vegetarianism and veganism quite well, and their Thai and Mexican food is great. There are a couple of really nice pizza places too, my favourite being Artichoke Bassile’s Pizza on Durant Ave. Even more surprisingly, as I am vegetarian, US MacDonald’s was nowhere near as good as UK MacDonald’s, but with Taco Bell and Chipotle right in front of campus, there’s no shortage of good fast food!

While I have barely scratched the surface of my experience and all the potential one can have from studying in California, let alone Berkeley, it’s important to remember that each person’s time at UCB is unique. My journey was preceded by mental health issues associated with my studies and other aspects of life but going to Berkeley was a refresh for me that meant I could enjoy myself and connect well with the people around me (even if it was cut short by a pandemic). It’s an opportunity to create a stronger network, great international friends, and lovely memories. An experience like this is not possible under most circumstances; it’s more than studying or a holiday.

If you’re interested in studying abroad in the US, or maybe even California, or if you have an offer to study at UC, and would like to talk to Haym, contact Study Abroad Manager, Jess Tan, who will put you in touch! (jessica.tan@qmul.ac.uk)

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