Touchdown in California
It was love at first sight. If you can’t see the shiny landscape, I’m referring to Berkeley, California.
A short intro, I’m Wen Tat, an exchange student to UC Berkeley(UCB) from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). I still remember when I first arrived at San Francisco (SF) International Airport, I was smiling stupidly at everything. I was just standing there smiling at the security guards, the customs officers, the revolving doors… even when they took me for an extra security check (Probably cause I was standing there smiling at everything). When I took the bus down to Berkeley, the sights and sounds stupefied me. The skies looked different, the buildings looked different, heck, even the plants looked different! My excitement in my heart grew by leaps and bounds. All I can think of was – an adventure awaits!
Fast forward 3 weeks later, and I
• Paraded in the Pride Parade
• Biked across the Golden Gate Bridge
• Fought my way in the 4th of July sales
• Watched spectacular fireworks on the same day
• Visited Alcatraz Island
• Bought a LP vinyl record
• Got harassed by a strange old lady (more on that later)
And a whole bunch more. But first, let me talk a bit about California
Life at UCB is great!
It was truly a mind warping experience to be in the US and at UC Berkeley. First off, the people there are a whole lot more expressive than in Singapore, or Asia in general. Don’t be surprised if you find that strangers started talking to you about the weather, about the food, about the school etc. etc. It is part of their culture to be friendly with anyone, cause a stranger is really just a potential friend. The students in UCB would also participate actively in class, and answer the questions posted in lectures. Surprisingly, Piazza is active there! California has a really friendly atmosphere in general, and I made a lot of new friends amidst it.
Weather is really great. As a South East Asian, I’m totally fine with the 20+ degrees temperature combined with the cool summer air which reminded me of the Highlands back in Malaysia. I can’t really complain about the food either, as I live in International House and am provided with buffet meals with a really good spread. If I’m bored with the food at I-House, a short walk will take me to the abundance of eateries down at Telegraph Ave, where you can find everything from Korean-Japanese fusion to tantalizing pizzas and Mexican tacos. You shouldn’t get bored with so much variety. At least I’m not Om nom nom nom.
Transport is also convenient, albeit a little bit confusing, but you’ll get used to it after a while. You can take the Transbay Bus or BART to get you across to SF during the weekends, and from there you can access the various attractions by the different modes of transportation, such as cable car and electric streetbuses. SF is a really interesting place with its steep slopes and cable cars and their fantastic attractions. You can bike the bridge, hike the hills, visit the carnival-like piers, shop (or eat!) till you drop or even do whale watching. There is no end to the slew of activities that you can do in SF!
Despite me painting an extremely rosy picture of California, there are still some things to be cautious of in the US. Remember the strange old lady who harassed me, well, be prepared to face people in the US who will ask you for money. Generally, you can give them some spare change and they will go away, but you shouldn’t be pressured into doing so. People in the US could also possess a weapon easily; hence you should also beware of staying out pass midnight around here to prevent getting robbed. Anyways, Berkeley does provide excellent services to safeguard you, such as campus police and escort services. General tips: be more expressive, be more well-mannered and stay alert, and you should be able to take care of yourself in the States.
Not to be missed in California – Biking the Bridge
This is by far, one of the most enjoyable activities in SF (the other is visting the Musee Mecanique – you should check that out). The road to Golden Gate Bridge via cycling is an interesting one, you get to take photos of the bridge across marshland, across fields, across beaches, on the piers and so on. First things first, where to rent? Ambitious people could rent it on the fisherman wharf and cycle here and add an extra 2 hours of cycling “fun”, but for beginners, the better place would be renting from Sports Basement at the Presidio. Its quite reasonable, about $8 per hour and from my experience, 3 hours is just nice from Sports Basement to the bridge, with ample time for you to take photos and just enjoy the view.
Along the way, feast your eyes upon the Golden Gate Bridge (its always right in front of you) and cycle first to Fort Point, where you get to see the view under the bridge. Then you can backtrack and start to cycle the bridge itself. You will be joined by a lot of serious cyclists, since the tourists will usually just walk along the bridge and you can cover the 1.6 mile bridge length in about 15 minutes. Regardless of whether you are walking or cycling, be warned that the bridge is super cold due to the wind. However, you will be rewarded with magnificent views if you cycle slowly, and keep to the right lane of course.
That’s all from me and my very short write-up on Berkeley and life here in general. I think that part and parcel of the exchange program is to immerse yourself thoroughly and interact with the locals, open your eyes and learn all you can from your time there!