First Month @ Cal

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Make the Most of Your First Weeks at UC Berkeley

Enveloped in the blazing gold of summer sun and the endless blue of sea and sky, I snoozed my alarm on the fourth day of Golden Bear Orientation. Some of my older friends had told me that the first weeks at Berkeley were enervating because students had so much work to do. No one mentioned that the work would mostly involve silent disco, group karaoke, picnic lunches, and a day trip to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. My roommate giggled from across the room and joked, “Our first snoozed alarm of the year—I guess we’re real college students now!”

My first month at UC Berkeley was a packed collection of moments like these. Where I initially feared that anxiety and imposter syndrome would override any sense of belonging, I mostly remember being utterly exhausted from having the literal time of my life. Here are my highlights and reflections on starting at Berkeley to help prepare you for the chaos of those first few weeks.

Key Moments

Move-in day. My favorite part of move-in day was when I decided to knock on doors with my roommate and introduce myself to the people living in our hall. That’s actually how I ended up meeting two of my closest friends! When you’re moving into your residence hall, remember to breathe, look around, and talk to people; everyone you see is just as new to this as you are. Find out what students think you should bring and review Berkeley Housing’s move-in checklist to make sure you have everything you’ll need, and remember to bring water and snacks for when you’re waiting in line to check in or use the elevators.

My mom and dad dressed up in Berkeley colors to celebrate Move-In Day!

Golden Bear Orientation (GBO). The first week at Berkeley is meant to ease your transition away from home. And for me, this was the best week ever. We toured the campus, learned its history, met incredible people, and figured out the bus system. For me, the key was to stop worrying that everyone was going to hate my guts, peruse the sample schedule so I had an idea of what to expect, and allow for connections to grow authentically over time with the people in my GBO group.

First day of classes. My sense of direction is awful, so by the time your first lecture rolls around, you’ve hopefully gotten a bit more acclimated to the layout of campus than I was! Either way, don’t be embarrassed to ask for directions to class; if you’re a bit more introverted like me, you can use Google Maps or the Berkeley campus map to get around. I was surprised by how much detail my professors put into their syllabi. Every single homework assignment, exam, lecture topic, and due date was given to us within the first few lectures. Putting that information into a planner saved my life that first month!

Things I Expected

Amongst the uncertainty of the first month of college, it was comforting to discover some experiences I could count on.

My roommate and I bonded so quickly. In our case, it helped that we’ve known each other for a few years from high school, but we both still had so much to learn about each other. I had been worried that I’d miss my solitude, but I actually found a lot of comfort in her presence and sharing a space with a roommate quickly became an incredible experience.

My roommate Garima is like family to me; I don’t know what I’d do without her!

I didn’t miss home as much as I thought I would. I was too busy waking up early, walking the steep inclines of Berkeley’s streets, laughing until I cried, and craving chocolate chip cookies from the dining commons (I would check the dining menus obsessively to see if cookies were on the menu). There was no time to focus on anything but the present moment.

Berkeley feels like a small town where everybody knows everybody. Even though I knew the student population was large, I had a feeling that it was going to be tight-knit. I got comfortable at Berkeley within the first month because I loved being surrounded by people my age. It made the campus a lot less intimidating, and I quickly found that I would somehow always run into a friend when walking around!

Calapalooza piqued my interest in countless new academic subjects and recreational activities. During Calapalooza, student organizations set up tables in Sproul Plaza to introduce themselves to new students. As I walked through the plaza, people thrust flyers into my hands and held up posters advertising their clubs, their passion inspiring and infectious. Perusing the complete list of student orgs can be overwhelming, so I loved discovering clubs through seeing cute flyers or chatting with current club officers during Calapalooza. I discovered so many new interests that I joined clubs that have nothing to do with my major, and I love the new people I’ve met and things I’ve learned.

Things I Didn’t Expect

I was so tired. It was challenging going from a relaxing summer break to nonstop activity for weeks. Where during high school I saw chatting with friends as downtime, at college it was a social interaction and I needed energy for it. Now that I’ve adjusted to college life and made really close friends, I don’t need a lot of time to myself. But during that first month, it was important to let myself find the solitude and rest I needed to enjoy the whole experience.

People changed after orientation week. Even though my first month went by so fast, every week felt like it had lasted a year. Consequently, during that time it also felt like everyone’s personalities had shifted and evolved from what they were during GBO; but the good news is that I was changing in tandem. Now, when I catch up with someone from my orientation group, there’s less urgency in the way we speak to each other, less of an end goal of friendship. And that actually allows for a deeper, more authentic connection.

My dog is absolutely unforgiving. He used to love napping under my desk at home while I worked nearby. Since I moved to campus, though, he’s been holding a grudge against me—the door to my room stays closed when I’m gone, meaning my desk is no longer accessible to him. I went home one weekend in early September and he refused to even look at me!

Refusing to curl up under my desk, Snowy instead stared at the door of my room stubbornly, demanding escape.

Making friends can be easy. I don’t really consider myself an extrovert, but there’s something about the Berkeley community that makes it so easy to make new friends. Everyone is smart enough to help you with your homework or funny enough to spark a conversation, and that makes it miraculously simple to find an icebreaker that can lead to a great connection. Plus, through attending cultural events, start-of-the-year mixers, and residence hall get-togethers, I was able to bond with the five girls that are now my closest friends.

It took barely two months for the six of us to become like family. We all went to ISA’s garba night together!

Welcome to Cal!

During my first month at Berkeley, I sometimes felt like a guest on campus, someone who didn’t really belong but was invited to the group activities anyways. By the end of September I had found a routine and a family and a brand-new version of myself. I have so much love for Berkeley and the life I’ve gotten to build here, and I’ve connected with so many people who inspire me that I’m starting to think I might just belong here.

From the very first day, Cal has surprised me with more excitement and opportunity than I could even think to wish for. Here’s to that same experience for you.

Reva Gokhale is a sophomore at UC Berkeley majoring in society & environment.

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