Hi there! It has been an incredible experience to live at International House as an exchange student in Berkeley. Here are ten insights that will probably be useful for your stay at UC Berkeley.
1. It doesn’t rain all the time and summer happens in September and October
I was told, when I applied to Berkeley, that it was a cold place where it was constantly raining. I even thought about choosing UCLA or Santa Barbara just for the good weather. However, I soon discovered that Northern California can be a great location to enjoy the sun, especially in September and October, when the summer takes place in the Bay Area. On my first semester here, I only remember two days of rain.
Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay, seen from the Big C (a great short hike!)
2. There are Coffee Hours every Wednesday night
I also wish I had known that I-House offered so many activities as it does. Every Wednesday night we have resident-organized Coffee Hours, with special food and items from different countries every week. In my time here, I had the chance to attend some of them, such as the Arab Coffee Hour (with zaatar, labneh and henna tattoos), the Balkan Coffee Hour (with delicious baklava, burek with spinach and pepper spread ajvar), or the Chinese (with traditional snacks and dumplings), among others like the Oceanian, Norwegian, Iranian or Mexican. We also organized the Spanish one (you can see our previous blog post here).
Henna tattoos from the Arab Coffee Hour
Learning traditional dances during the Balkan Coffee Hour
3. The dining hall is known to be one of the best in Berkeley
At I-House, we have the convenience of living in the same place as we eat, so we do not need to go elsewhere for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And the food is really good! Compared to other dining halls that I have tried, it is without any doubt the best. Additionally, it is served in a buffet style so that you can try anything you like. It also features incredible themed dinners, such as the Chinese New Year celebration.
Lion Dance show during the Chinese New Year themed dinner
4. The Re-Use Room
It was great to discover that I-House has a recycling room, where residents can leave those items they are no longer going to use. This is especially useful and valuable in a place where people just live for a period of their lives and then fly far away. I have found a lot of valuable items in this room, such as hangers, books, and an inflatable mattress. Some of my friends have also found sandals and shoes.
5. You can actually play the Carillon at the Campanile
One of the best experiences during my stay at UC Berkeley was the opportunity to play the carillon on the top of the Campanile and be heard by all campus. I never knew this was a possibility, but now that you know, I highly recommend it to you. You just need to enroll in one of the DeCal courses, that are imparted by students, choosing “MUSIC 98/198: Learn to Play the Sather Tower Bells”. With a little bit of luck, you’ll soon be practicing in the Practice Rooms inside the Campanile and you will play whatever you want on the final recital at the end of the semester. I decided to play a song from my province in Spain, Murcia: “La Parranda” by Francisco Alonso. It was very special to play this music far away from home, knowing that hundreds of students were listening to it.
6. I-House sponsors tickets to many events such as La La Land in Concert, Cal football games Warriors games
Another incredible part of living at I-House is that the Program Office offers discounts to many activities or events. Thanks to our group discounts, we have been able to attend Football Games on campus, excursions to SixFlags, weekend and Spring Break ski trips in collaboration with Rotary Club, visits to SFMOMA, La La Land in concert, or Hamilton musical, among others.
Some of us had the good luck to meet the composer of the La La Land soundtrack, Justin Hurwitz, after attending La La Land in Concert with I-House-sponsored tickets
7. You can play sports in teams and compete
Another incredible thing about Berkeley is that it encourages students to join in teams and compete in sport competitions. There are many to choose, including soccer, basketball, volleyball, or badminton! This year, the I-House team did great in soccer and won the first place in the Intramurals Cup.
8. You can take classes with really good professors
Although I did know that Berkeley was a great university with incredible professors, I did not expect to be with them as closely as I have this year. One of the best classes I took was “Wealth and Poverty,” instructed by Robert Reich, who was the Secretary of Labor in the United States during the Clinton administration. It is great to hear about his experiences during his time in office. Highly recommended!
9. San Francisco is 50 minutes away and you can go for free in the F Bus
It is great to have the chance to visit San Francisco on a sunny weekend, and we can actually do this with the F bus! It stops right in front of I-House and all Berkeley students get a public transportation card to go for free in these AC Transit buses. It is a very easy way to get to the City and have fun being a tourist (including, for instance, a day trip to Alcatraz!)
10. You can actually do research as an undergraduate (also in exchange) at UC Berkeley
Doing research at UC Berkeley is a very good opportunity that you can apply for. I recommend taking part in the URAP (Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program), which opens every semester, and will give you the chance to apply to different research projects (in almost every field of knowledge) and also, hopefully, make your resumé shine!
(Extra) It’s going to be a great year and you will meet people from every part of the world.
From the Middle East to Latin America and from Africa and Europe to Asia, you’ll meet hundreds of good friends and some very good ones, believe me, you will finish this amazing experience with a lot of beds to stay around the world and a full heart! It will be a year you will never forget.
This golden land is waiting for you!
How about you, our dear readers? What things do you wish you had known before coming to Berkeley and I-House? What advice can you give to our new residents? We await your comments!