Their Present, My Future

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Advice From Seniors

Now that my first year of college is drawing to a close, I’m looking back at all the new experiences I’ve had just over the past nine months and thinking, How can there be so little time left and still so much to do in college? I interviewed two seniors on the Berkeley Life Blog writing team to get their insights on the grand journey that is UC Berkeley, hoping to discover what experiences I might have ahead of me. Graduating this semester, Hosea Chen, majoring in cognitive science and minoring in creative writing and data science, and Preslee Vanlandingham, majoring in English and minoring in creative writing, share a little bit about how to make the most of every single moment, even when you don’t know what’s coming next.

Hosea Chen | Cognitive Science major, Creative Writing and Data Science minors

An Abundance of Opportunity

The first thing I wanted to ask Hosea and Preslee was why they chose to come to UC Berkeley. I was ecstatic when I received my letter of acceptance, but it was when I finally stepped foot on campus that I really knew this was where I was meant to be. Preslee said she experienced something similar:

“I chose to attend UC Berkeley because of their English department. I transferred my third year with the intention to study English and the prestige of Cal’s program ultimately made my decision. When I visited prior to committing, I also experienced a sense of excitement and potential belonging so intuitively I felt like I was making the right decision.”

Hosea said, “I thought it was a classic: a place of rich history, innovation, and excellence. Berkeley has fostered so much personal exploration and development of curiosity and strengths. The growth from my time here informs how I approach and navigate life.” That’s probably the most important lesson college teaches you: how to grow as a person. 

Preslee Vanlandingham | English major, Creative Writing minor

Preslee reflected on her most important realization from her years here: “You’re the only person who feels the consequences of your inaction or lack of effort. If you really want something, Berkeley has the resources, you just have to take the initiative and responsibility of seeking them out and using them.” Forming new friendships, taking interesting classes, gaining independence—it’s all part of a process meant to equip you for life during and after college. 

“I think there’s a common complaint that due to the large student body at Berkeley, there’s a lack of individualized attention,” Preslee said, “but I believe the lack of hand-holding, while also having support available to you, prepares you for life beyond college.”

Hosea added, “I have access to so much variety of scenery, activities, food, and social opportunities.” The possibilities are truly endless at Berkeley, as long as you’re willing to go out and look for them.

Personal Change

Given the plethora of resources at Cal and the newfound independence that comes with college life, I asked the seniors how they thought their freshman-year selves would view them today. Hosea said his freshman year self would “most definitely” be surprised at where he is now, in terms of both his accomplishments and hopes for the future. 

“It felt like I lived a different life every semester: different people, plot, environment, struggles, and lessons,” he reflected. “I am constantly evolving with my experiences.” It’s exciting to know that I can expect the same—to be always changing and exploring.

“My freshman year self didn’t imagine that Berkeley was ever an option, so they’d definitely be surprised,” Preslee told me. “The ways I’ve become involved, like through publications and Greek life, could not have been predicted by my freshman year self and how differently I feel as an individual from then to now. I also lived in a foreign country for a few months through Berkeley Study Abroad and the never-left-the-borders-of-my-small-town self couldn’t have comprehended that I would be capable of doing that.”

Even though I’m only in my first year, I can already feel the university changing me in surprising ways: I’ve become more extroverted, more independent and self-assured, a different version of who I was before college. Berkeley gave Hosea a chance to level up every single semester and flew Preslee abroad and out of her comfort zone. Here’s hoping that by the time I graduate, it’ll do the same for me!

The University Library bathed in golden light, just as the sun is setting. The sky is blue and spotted with clouds.

Golden hour at the University Library. Photo by Student Affairs Communications.

The Little Moments

College is made up of small moments, and I wanted to hear anecdotes from Preslee and Hosea, the kind you would tell future generations when they ask about your life in university. For Preslee, going to a music event with friends was one such experience.

“A core memory for me is when I hiked above the Greek Theatre to watch Daniel Caesar play. My friends and I had snacks and drinks and we just camped out. He’s one of my favorite artists and hearing him play live made me real emotional,” she remembered.

Meanwhile, Hosea recalled the academic adventures he’s had: “I audit classes I find interesting. Berkeley is filled with inspiring professors and knowledge, and auditing allows me to just learn for fun. I actually wrote an article about classes to check out at Cal!”

Berkeley students love good food and a cute study spot, and some of my fondest memories so far are from spontaneous trips to local cafes or late-night study sessions with my friends. So, I asked Preslee what her favorite places are, and a few names immediately came to mind: “Every time I want a little reward, I pick up poke bowls from either Poke Parlor or Poke Bar,” she said.

“If I need to study, I’ll either stay back late at Victory Point Cafe or head to Souvenir Coffee down College Ave.” 

Hosea said he loves the MLK Student Union because “it’s accessible in location, fun, and filled with good vibes.” And I couldn’t agree more—it was nice to hear that I can expect to frequent one of my favorite buildings on campus throughout the next three years.

Students studying at a table in the second-floor hall inside of Doe Library. A large painting hangs on the wall in the background behind them. Photo taken by Preslee Vanlandingham.

One of the most popular study spots on campus is the grand second-floor hall inside Doe Library. Photo taken by Preslee Vanlandingham.

Advice for New Students

From Hosea: “I think everyone should take at least one psych and one environmental science class in their life. These classes change how I view and navigate the world.”

From Preslee: “Go to office hours. Professors are brilliant in class, but you recognize just how fascinating their knowledge and thought processes can be when it’s a spontaneous one-on-one rather than a planned lecture.”

Past those core pieces of advice, I hope you’ll accept some from me: Berkeley is a place where you will always belong. I’ve only been here a few months, and the worldwide acclaim of the university is still a bit intimidating to me because our alumni have given us some pretty big shoes to fill. But all the people I’ve met here have an implicit drive to excel so similar to my own that in the face of academic curiosity, I have no room for imposter syndrome at Berkeley. And reflecting on their journey from being the newcomers on campus to the ones we turn to for advice, both Hosea and Preslee agree that Berkeley has a supportive student body that can make you feel right at home.

“It’s not as overwhelming as I initially thought,” Preslee summed up. “I haven’t experienced hyper-competitive-type energy from anyone. In my experience, students’ harshest critiques and competition is directed towards themselves. And obviously the student population is large, but it actually doesn’t feel that way. I see friends and mutual acquaintances all the time. The longer you spend here, the smaller it becomes.” 

Hearing about their journeys throughout their years at Cal, there was one last thing I couldn’t help but ask them: amidst all that Berkeley has to offer, given all the wisdom and experience they’ve gained, is there anything they really want to leave to the Cal community when they graduate?

Preslee said she does have a wish. “I hope that I reflect positively on being a Berkeley alumna after I graduate. I feel as though I owe every professor and lecture a representation or culmination of what I’ve learned through my future creative endeavors.”

Hosea put it simply, and his answer will stick with me for my next three years at Cal: “I hope to have been a contributing presence, in whatever form, to the people I’ve come across.” 


Reva Gokhale is a freshman at UC Berkeley majoring in Society & Environment. Cover images by Preslee and Hosea.

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