Queen Mary Politics student and Turing Scheme grant recipient, Vicky Bedford, thought it would be useful to ask fellow study abroad students about what they wish they had known before studying abroad at the University of California, Berkeley. These were the most popular answers…
Obviously studying is a big part of the study abroad programme, and I thought Berkeley was so intimidating when I first started. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really academic school and people here work really hard, but there’s no reason to stress yourself out. The work here isn’t necessarily harder than at QM but the main difference is the workload. I took classes in the Political Science, History and Sociology departments and there were a lot more assignments and exams than at QM. Midterms come about halfway through the term and then finals week at the end, and you might have weekly discussion posts or reading responses depending on the classes you take. While it can definitely be overwhelming at times, it’s by no means completely unmanageable and you’ll still have plenty of time to do things outside of class as well!
Berkeley is really good at loads of things and has amazing facilities – it is, however, famous for never having enough housing. Granted I came during Covid-19 which made it even worse, but even in a normal year uni housing is pretty hard to secure. Definitely fill out an application for uni housing, there’s no harm in it, but also check out other options. IHouse is popular among international students and for good reason. It’s located right on the corner of campus, directly next to the stadium and on the end of frat row so you’ll never be short of entertainment or things to do. It also has its own dining hall, café and library so whilst campus has loads of places to study you can also stay in if you want to. Co-ops! Definitely check them out – they have loads of different ones – mixed, all-women, meatless, just about any requirement. They are much cheaper than standard housing but in return you have to do a couple of work shifts a week to keep the house running. Loads of my friends lived in co-ops and loved them so I would definitely check them out. Private renting – difficult, especially from overseas but not impossible! Berkeley has a dedicated website called Cal Rentals where you can (virtually) meet other people looking for housing or who have spare rooms and there are also loads of Facebook pages if you just search ‘Berkeley housing’. Housing can be a bit of a stress but there are loads of options if you know where to look!
Decals and URAPs
One of the great things about Cal is the academic breadth on offer. URAPs are undergraduate research apprenticeships and are great if you want to carry on to postgrad study. You apply before the start of each term for the program you’re interested in and if you get picked then it can count towards your units for the term. I did one in the Political Science department on police technology and it was really interesting and a great way to find out that research really isn’t that intimidating. Decals are one of Cal’s best offerings in my opinion! I had no idea they existed before coming here but they’re basically 1-unit classes that can be on anything from coding to salsa dancing to Pixar films. My roommate took one on backpacking and her final ‘project’ was an overnight backpacking trip to Big Sur. I would highly recommend checking these out!
Cal is a really international school so definitely make the most of meeting and making friends with people from all over the world. That being said, being this far from home can be quite daunting and sometimes you just want some home comforts and it’s nice to know people going through the same thing. There are loads of Brits at Cal! We started a group chat at the start of the year and just collected people throughout and it was so nice to have some people just to go for a drink with or hear a friendly accent.
While studying is a really big part of study abroad (obviously) if you can and are able, definitely try and travel for a bit. A couple of friends and I went to Mexico for spring break and also travelled around the east coast for 10 days in January. There are loads of places within a 2-3 hour flight from San Francisco and (work dependent) it’s much easier than you’d think to fit in a weekend trip to LA, San Diego, or Vegas! With the help of the Turing Scheme I was able to travel much more than I anticipated and I am so grateful for the funding I received!