Advice for future Queen Mary students studying abroad at UC Berkeley, or in California more generally…

By Queen Mary Geography student, and Turing Scheme grant recipient Joel Bantick.

When I made my trip to UC Berkeley last August there was a rush of emotions; excitement for the new academic year ahead, sadness for being far away from home and the pressure to make new friends. While this was overwhelming at times it pales in comparison to the opportunity studying abroad at UC Berkeley has given me. Experiencing first hand American college life, for example, making lifelong friends, and having attended such a highly regarded university which looks great on your CV. So, after some reflection I want to give some advice that I hope will be useful for future study abroad students.

Securing off-campus housing
Securing housing will be one of your main priorities before leaving for your year abroad and with UC Berkeley being in the Bay Area, this makes it very tough and stressful. While you are given the opportunity to apply for on-campus housing, the reality is that priority is given to first year students, which makes your chances of securing on-campus housing slim. So, I would suggest looking for off campus options such as I-House which is full of international students from Europe and around the world who are on the same kind of exchange program as you. Alternatively, you can look into Cal Rentals to find roommates and private housing further off campus which is a great way to cut down on costs. Finally, I want to share where I stayed which was Wesley House, a private students hall which is a great option if you’re looking for convenience and being as close to campus as possible. Whichever option you take I would just say to start looking as soon as you know you are going to Berkeley; it will save you so much stress!

Cost of living and the Turing Scheme.
Being from a low-income background, a study abroad year can be financially daunting, so the Turing Scheme is a massive help to people like me who can’t rely on my parents too much for financial support. The Bay Area is one of the most expensive areas in the country, which means that the high cost of living is not just restricted to rent. Food, partying, going to events and almost everything you do will be more expensive and so it’s very important to save up as much money leading up to your time abroad as visa restrictions make it hard to find work out there.

Social life
While making friends can come naturally for most people, I found that attending the Golden Bears Orientation on your first week is a great springboard to finding new friends as you are all new to UC Berkeley and therefore in the same boat. Not to mention it’s great fun and very insightful to helping you navigate campus. I would also suggest looking at student organizations which you can find based on nationality, religion or just interests. I was a part of the Cal Climbing Club, and it eased my transition to life at UC Berkeley and was great fun!

Travel tips for the Bay Area
Take advantage of the Clipper Card that the university gives you; it gives you free bus transportation throughout the Bay Area and this means you can travel to and from San Francisco for free. But while the Bay Area has good public transport by American standards, it is still a country deeply embedded in car culture. So, if you can try and get your driving licence done in the UK before you leave and you can use car sharing apps like Zip Car which is found all around campus and means you can rent cars by the hour. For me having the freedom of renting an affordable car in America was game changing and opens you up to exploring so many places public transport doesn’t reach like the Berkeley Hills or the Redwood Forests in Marin County.

Academics and Choosing Your Modules
UC Berkeley is one of the top colleges in the US and it has built up a reputation for being academically challenging, which it certainly lives up to. However, it is certainly manageable if you have a more structured revision schedule. But what is very competitive and something that you should sort out as soon as possible is module registration during the start of each semester as from my experience, the most popular courses are filled by the first day – which can mean a change in your study plan, and hassle with modules not fitting into a schedule that works for you.

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