Meet Vanessa! Experiences as a Latinx student.
I met with Vanessa Luna, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, and asked her about her time on campus. Below is her advice on finding community, studying abroad, and exploring the Bay, including tips for starting off a semester — valuable wisdom for any Cal student, whether this is your first semester or your last!
How did you adapt to living in Berkeley?
I’m from a town that is primarily Latinx in Ventura County, so adapting to living up here was a bit of an adjustment. My freshman year I roomed with my best friend from elementary school and I had some friends I already knew on campus, and adjusting was easier thanks to them.
The biggest change was the weather for me. It’s cold over here and I’m not the biggest fan of that. It feels almost like a different state because California is so big. But overall it was a pretty easy adjustment!
What’s your advice for students as a new semester starts?
Give yourself time. At the start of a new semester, everything is new — your professors, their teaching styles, and your classes. For the first two weeks, focus on understanding how your professors work, and how the school year is going to go with the classes you are taking. Getting your footing in a new semester and new routines takes time, and that’s okay. Also, go see your classrooms before classes start so you’re not running late trying to find the classroom.
“Getting your footing in a new semester and new routines takes time, and that’s okay.”
I try to sit in the same area in my classes. That way others will start to recognize and remember you. I recommend talking to those around you. It’s also a new semester for them; you’re trying to figure it out and so are they. It’s a nice opportunity to meet new people and find common interests outside of class.
For other students who are from SoCal or a different state — understand the privilege that public transportation gives you, but also lower your expectations a bit. Yes, the public transport is great, but sometimes it can be a little unreliable. It’s not a big deal so long as you plan ahead and keep this in mind when traveling. And don’t be afraid to use your Clipper card to go somewhere. One of the fun parts of being here in Berkeley is being able to explore the city we go to school in and also the cities around the Bay.
One last thing — don’t feel like you have to change who you are when you move here. An example is I’m a big Dodgers fan, and said I was never going to become a Giants fan. I went to a Giants vs. Dodgers game, and it was fun to support my home team even though I was far away from home. There are ways to still be you and be connected to your hometown, because you’re bringing you, your culture, and community with you when you come to Berkeley.
“There are ways to still be you and be connected to your hometown, because you’re bringing you, your culture, and community with you when you come to Berkeley.”
How did organizations help you find community on campus?
I recently rejoined Ballet Folklorico, and it’s nice to be in clubs where there are people that look like me and have similar backgrounds. On a campus that isn’t a historically Hispanic-serving institution, it’s really important to find those groups of people who share these similar backgrounds. Finding clubs or classes like that have really helped me meet other people like me.
I’m a Chicano studies minor, and a lot of Chicano studies classes (which I highly recommend by the way; they’re very interesting) have allowed me to meet a lot of people that I still see around campus. It’s nice to have a common thread.
“It’s really important to find those groups of people who share similar backgrounds. Finding clubs or classes like that have really helped me meet other people like me.”
Where did you study abroad? Do you recommend it?
I studied abroad in London at Queen Mary’s College. It was a summer program, which was nice because I didn’t want to miss more of the traditional school year that had been impacted by the pandemic. I was there for six weeks, and it felt like the perfect length. I took two classes for three weeks each: British Horror Films and Global Shakespeare.
The program wasn’t too academically heavy, which gave me time to explore outside of classes. It was warm, which was a bonus. Summer was the perfect time for me to do it. I didn’t feel like I was “missing” the school year, and it was a great opportunity to explore, meet new people, and broaden my horizons.
Deciding on a program for me was easy. I have always been a huge fan of the Beatles and I have a friend in Scotland, who had previously lived in England, so I had that interest and someone I wanted to visit. (I was able to hop on a train and visit her in Scotland while I was there!)
“Summer was the perfect time for me to [study abroad]. I didn’t feel like I was “missing” the school year, and it was a great opportunity to explore, meet new people, and broaden my horizons.”
If you could go back and tell your freshman self one thing, what would that be?
Join more clubs. My freshman year I decided to focus on getting my bearings and join clubs the next year. But the pandemic happened that next year, which prevented me from joining clubs my sophomore year. If you’re interested in a club, try it early on.
I came from a really small campus with minimal clubs, so coming to Berkeley and feeling like there was a club for everything was a great change. I think the variety of options is what got me motivated to try out a bunch of different clubs. All of my social circles are filled thanks to clubs and organizations!
Any hidden Latinx gems around the Bay you want to recommend?
I’ve found that Oakland has a lot of good spots. Recently I’ve been going to Fruitvale for specific things. I wanted to find a Mexicana blouse, and I went down to Fruitvale to look for one. It really looked and felt like home. Exploring outside of Berkeley to find those hidden gems is key because there’s a lot out there. I wish I had explored earlier — I started doing it more post-pandemic.
You have a Clipper card, so don’t be afraid to use it!
Melissa Mora-Gonzalez is a third-year at UC Berkeley majoring in English and minoring in Journalism.