Sunday, January 23, 2011

From a Cal Bear from ECHS

Now that my first semester is over, I’d be glad to share with you my thoughts about college and my “new life” as a Cal student.

My first semester at UC Berkeley has been one giant rollercoaster ride. In just one semester, I’ve gone through a lot of struggles and stress; but to compensate, I’ve had lots happy and fun moments as well.

To start off, here is a description of what it’s like to dorm at Cal. Ever since August, I have been living in a triple at Clark Kerr, with a freshman and a junior. Although it’s quite far from campus compared to the other units, Clark Kerr does have its advantages. First and foremost, almost all of the buildings have been recently renovated. The rooms are very spacious compared to the other dorms, and sometimes, a triple at Clark Kerr is even bigger than a double in the Units. For example, while Units 1, 2, and 3 have bunk beds for those who live in a triple, most of the residents at Clark Kerr have single beds and still more room in between. The food at Clark Kerr is also very delicious, and as many say, its quality is much better than the food served in the Units. Not to mention, within each building on every floor is a lounge and a study room! While some lounges have a billiards table, couches, and cable TV, others even have microwaves and a piano! With such accommodations, it really feels like I live in a grand hotel with all of the necessities one could ask for.

My floor-mates and roommates are all very friendly and supportive. We occasionally go out to dinner together and I always find time to go with my two roommates. Being an only child has had its advantages but having roommates has made me realize how much I really enjoy having company.

Despite living in the dorms, I always look forward to coming back home on the weekends to visit my family. I come home once every two or three weeks, which I find both relaxing and sometimes distracting. Although a part of me does wonder how my life would be in a more distant college, I am very glad I chose to stay near home and my family where I am still able to be independent, while always having the opportunity to go home whenever I need to. Nevertheless, I’m glad I have this chance to live in the dorms Freshman year and I recommend it to students who have the option between staying home and living in the dorms, because it’s a great way to meet new people and essential in experiencing the “college life”.

Academic-wise, it is very understandable why Berkeley is consistently considered the number one public university in the nation. Aside from the amazing professors and opportunities offered at Cal, the students are what ultimately make the school so unique and profound. The atmosphere is filled with people who are not only smart, but very enthusiastic and passionate as well. Although high school did have its competitive moments, being “top of the class” is not as challenging as it is in college. Even so, it is always a shock to realize that I am one of these hard-working students, which goes to show that dedication, perseverance, and effort will get one far in life.

Without my experience at Yale during the summer of 2009, I would never have been able to succeed here at UC Berkeley. Although UCB is not an Ivy League school, it definitely is still very prestigious and challenging. In fact, the competition here reminds me well of what I experienced during the Ivy Scholars program. The intensity that I struggled with in the two-week program is exactly what I experienced again this past semester. Furthermore, being around so many intelligent students who have accomplished even more than I have in their lifetime is very intimidating. Yet as many students cannot handle the pressure of being around such competition, it is due to my prior experience at Yale that I have learned to use the successes of others as inspiration for me to keep going and to not give up on my dreams.

Another similarity to my experience at Yale relates to a book we had to read for the Ivy Scholars Program. I cannot even count how many times I’ve referred to the book “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi, but his message is simply astounding: success in life (and even in college) tremendously depends on whom you know. In other words, networking is the key to success. That being said, I’ve been doing my best going to my instructors’ office hours, and making sure I am noticed among the other thousands of students in the same class. I am also trying my best to meet lots of students in my study groups, my dorm, and the few clubs I have joined.

This past fall semester, I took a total of thirteen units (the minimum for my college of Letters and Science), with a course load of Chemistry, Math, and Western Civilization (a Reading and Comprehension class). Although thirteen units may seem quite little compared to what other students manage, these three classes kept me constantly studying and busy. At times, I felt quite overwhelmed, but knowing that I had once felt the same way at Yale and remembering the feeling of accomplishment after that intense program, I continued to do my best and never gave in.

As much as education means to me, college life would not be the same without extra-curricular activities. Within the first week at Cal, the student body put together something that reminded me of “Club Day” at El Cerrito High School, where clubs recruited students to become members. This yearly event is known as “Calapalooza”. With my enthusiasm towards volunteering and dedication to the Interact club ever since Freshman year in high school, the first club I immediately joined was Rotaract (the college level equivalent to Interact in high school, and Rotary for adults). Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to show my true dedication to volunteering this semester because I was still in the process of readjusting to a new learning system but I do plan to help out more in the spring. On the other hand, one club that I did commit to this past fall is the UC Rally Committee, which is well respected by the entire campus. As a part of “Rally Comm” (for short), I am able to show my Cal spirit by attending sports games and cheering on our Golden Bear teams. With our blue and yellow striped rugbies, Rally Comm is like one big family of passionate and energetic students. I enjoy being a part of the club because the people I have met are amazing in that they show dedication to both their studies and to their school.

As for my advice to future college students, I must first start off by saying that Freshman year in college is a period to get acquainted with the new system and to readjust. The teaching style, number of students, and even the atmosphere are very different – so for many students, it will take time to adapt to such changes. I, for one, have come to notice that Cal really stresses the importance in understanding concepts, especially in subjects such as math and science. Secondly, like Yohanna mentioned in her story of being a Yalie, I, too, agree that even though getting into the desired college is very promising, what really matters the most is what you make of your experience at the college you end up going to. Every college has its benefits, and I know that each and every one of us has the potential to do well and be successful; so in the long run, it really comes down to whether you can see yourself in that college in the future and ultimately what best suits you. If this is followed, you will never regret your decision about the college you go to, and you’ll be as happy as I currently am at Cal.

It’s been a pleasure being a part of the Ivy League Connection. My experience at Yale not only made me realize how much I wanted to stay close to home, but also taught me everything I need now to do well in Berkeley. I now have the knowledge to make the most of my college experience, and I could not have done it without your help. As usual, I cannot thank you, Ms. Kronenberg, Ms. O’Brian, Don Gosney, and all of the wonderful sponsors, supporters, and chaperones enough. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and the best of luck with the future ILC students.


Jessica Ong

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