One of the best ways to figure out what school is right for you is to hear from other students about their experiences. I interviewed Zhoushu, a student at University of California – Berkeley, who told me about the incredibly diverse campus, his inspiring classes, and his best advice for aspiring applicants.
Here is the full interview:
College: University of California – Berkeley
Class: Freshman (Class of 2017)
Why did you decide to come to college in the United States?
I honestly do not know what I want to do with my life yet, so I wanted to keep expanding my horizon and explore the many disciplines offered at a liberal arts college. Pursuing multiple interests is something you cannot really do in Japanese universities (not as freely anyway).
Why did you choose Berkeley?
The diversity and its liberal attitude really appealed to me. I heard that many things were very cutting-edge, which is something that I have found true being here and am enjoying very much. Imagination, creativity and pro-activeness are encouraged a lot. I like the daring attitude here. When I heard the opening speech at the orientation, I really felt like I belonged here.
What do you like/dislike about attending a large public university?
I had mixed feelings about attending a large public university having been at a very small high school, but I have come to really like it. You meet so many interesting people! It is quite refreshing and stimulating.
Did you experience any culture shock in the United States?
I did not really experience any particular culture shock since I knew more or less what to expect. I do nevertheless miss Japanese food a little bit, but I can easily get some if I wanted to, which is nice.
What do you think of Northern California and Berkeley in particular?
I am loving it here at Berkeley! [It has] perfect weather. Though I’m sure some people would disagree with me, I really like how it is very hilly and foggy. It is very inspiring and creates an inexplicable mood, which is very pleasant to be immersed in. I do think it is a good area and country to attend college. Even the little snippets of conversation I hear just walking down the streets are always quite inspiring.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Japan and the United States?
It is much more casual here in America than it is in Japan. People shake hands instead of bowing. People don’t take off their shoes here. At the university, it feels like the students and the professors are really together, fellow seekers, in this perpetual pursuit of knowledge. Pursuing multiple interests at the same time is something you cannot really do in Japanese universities (not as freely anyway).
What is the extracurricular scene like at Berkeley?
There are so many out there! I am actually not really involved in any extracurricular activities on campus at the moment. I really wanted to join the Jazz combo groups, but their practice times did not work with my current schedule. I am also thinking about joining the Kendo club. My roommate is in a Rubic’s cube speed cubing club, which I think is pretty cool. My friend and I are planning on starting a film club as well!
How would you describe the student body?
The student body is very diverse I think. I was impressed. They come from all over the world. I feel that there are a lot of Asian students compared to some schools in the Midwest.
How do fraternities and sororities affect the social scene?
I suppose they are fairly popular. I know a lot of people go to frat parties, but they are not really a dominant presence in the social scene. I honestly don’t really have an opinion about them. I guess I don’t really have anything against them, but I certainly would not join one. I just feel like there is too much commitment and I wouldn’t have time to do more interesting things.
Describe your social life in college.
Weekdays tend to get a little busy with schoolwork, but I usually have time on the weekends to just chill and hang out with people. Even on weekdays, I always have at least a bit of time to relax with my friends. I try to jam every weekend with my roommate. Perhaps I do not meet and mingle with as much people as you would in the other units just because they are much bigger and there is a lot of traffic there. I still meet a lot of people all the time!
Describe your typical weekend.
On Friday nights, I usually go out for dinner (not in the dining hall) with friends, and hit the gym. Every Saturday morning starts with a sleep in. I try to finish as much homework as possible and then just take it easy.
What has your academic experience been like so far?
My academic experience so far has been very stimulating and enlightening. I feel perpetual intellectual growth day by day. I have a mix of big classes and small classes. Some lectures like chemistry have 300 students while my Latin class only has 9 people. I like most of professors. [They are] very entertaining and inspiring.
I find the students in my classes also very inspiring. It is quite fun to contemplate the diverse backgrounds and aspirations of all the students in one classroom. Some students are in the class just to fulfill a requirement, while others are majors in that subject.
What are your favorite classes?
My favorite class would have to be the University Baroque Ensemble. I am also enjoying the ancient philosophy class very much. I love the Baroque Ensemble class because we literally just play music and concerts for class! And the [professors] are amazing! I’m liking Ancient Philosophy because the ideas discussed are very interesting to me. I also really like the fact that the philosophy class does not have a final exam!
What do you think of Berkeley’s campus and the surrounding area?
The campus is absolutely beautiful! You can definitely walk across it, but it takes some time. If you are in a hurry, using the bus might be better. I’ve only been to San Francisco once so far, but I do go to downtown Berkeley and other college towns around the campus every now and then. I mainly go to town to eat or to check out what’s out there. I also go to concerts in town. So far, I’ve been to one of the San Francisco Symphony’s concerts and one baroque ensemble concert.
What is your housing situation like this year?
I live in a suite [with] four rooms [that] share a communal bathroom. It is great. I really get along well with my roommate so it has been really fun.
What are the housing options like after freshman year?
You can apply for university housing throughout your time at the university, but a place is only guaranteed for freshman year. I know upperclassmen find a roommate and rent apartments. That sounds like fun.
How is the food?
The food is quite good. There are lots of places you can eat. I don’t think I’ll get bored with the options. There are just so many different kinds of places out there.
Do you know people that live off campus? What is that like?
I know people you live off campus. I think they figure that it is cheaper to rent an apartment and self-cater than to rely on university dining and housing. Plus, actually living in a town sounds more exciting than living in a college dorm.
What are the most awesome parts of Berkeley?
The multitudes of amazing resources that are available and in easy access. The liberal atmosphere and the beautiful campus are awesome features of Berkeley.
What has been the worst part of Berkeley?
Some of their websites are questionable. The website for signing up for courses is quite a pain to work your way through.
What are some of the things you think Berkeley does really well?
I think Berkeley recruits diverse students well. It offers a wide range of course offerings quite well too I think.
Did Berkeley’s prestige play a factor in your decision to attend?
Yes, I think prestige somewhat played a factor in my decision. I suppose it matters in that it keeps me motivated and makes me want to do better.
What kind of person do you think would do the best at Berkeley?
Someone who is proactive and is not afraid to do the “impossible.”
What advice would you give to high school students abroad considering the United States for college?
In terms of choosing the right school, I would say that websites can be rather misleading at times, so talking to people who have been there would be beneficial. In terms of admissions, I’d say just be yourself as much as possible. Don’t try to stand on your toes to sound impressive. Just be yourself and the right place for you will open its doors. In terms of adjusting to the university system and culture, I’d say you should be prepared to be fairly outgoing and don’t forget to smile!