Andrew - University of California (Berkeley)

Bachelor of Science
Semester 2, 2017

Academic experience

I took courses in Biochemistry, Physiology, Drugs and the brain and introductory computer science (CS61A). CS61A was the best course I’ve ever taken and was taught by an amazing professor, Denero, who runs it very well despite it being the biggest course in the history of Berkeley with 1700 students! I enjoyed all my courses there and it was great learning from professors who were at the top of their fields. Berkeley also has chill student run courses on a wide variety of topics, these are called Decals. They have Decals in Archery, Harry Potter, VR etc. I took one in Data Science. 

The workload and continuous assessment was the biggest challenge. Each class had 2-3 mid semester exams scattered throughout the semester so there was always studying to be done. The advantage of this is that the final doesn’t count for much. In the end, I came to like their system and felt like I had learnt a lot. Most courses also aren’t recorded but that wasn’t much of problem as the professors usually supplied good notes. At first, the classes can seem daunting but, after a while, you’ll get used to it and manage to find plenty of time for socialising and travelling.

Personal experience

The best part of my exchange was making great friends and meeting amazing people. Together we explored the west coast from Vancouver to Tijuana in Mexico, covering the major cities in between like Seattle, San Francisco, LA and San Diego. In the month before the semester, I travelled with friends across southwest America and the east coast. Grand Canyon and New York were some of my favourite places; there is just so much to see in America. California has beautiful landscapes like Yosemite national park, Lake Tahoe and Muir woods. In SF, I enjoyed the quirkiness and food of the Mission District as well as the nice views from Twin Peaks and Lands End. 

Everyone is driven and that rubs off on you. I found myself studying harder, travelling almost every weekend and getting involved in more clubs and activities. At the Berkeley Art Studio I took a class on Black and White Film Photography. I also learnt Yongmudo, a Korean self-defence martial art, at the Recreational Sports Facility and joined the Human Powered Vehicle team and a Neural Engineering club. The bay area is notorious for its tech scene and there I got to tour Facebook and did the Cal Hackathon, my first hackathon. Some of my fondest memories are of spontaneous decisions like randomly going to LA, grabbing Boba (bubble milk tea) at night and playing with sparklers in SF. There were just so many opportunities that it was hard to pick what to do. I found myself getting better at time management, prioritizing and getting things done. Living abroad also benefited my self-confidence and meeting people from all over the world improved my social skills.

Accommodation

I lived at International House, across the road from campus. There are about 500 international and American students there and everyone eats at the dining hall. This made it super easy to meet and get to know people over a meal and is how I met most of my friends. They also organise events and provide a great atmosphere for making friends. Living near everyone else made it easy to spontaneously decide to do something together. Although a little expensive, I can’t imagine exchange being nearly as good had I not lived there so I’d definitely recommend staying there if you can.

Costs

International House was $10k AUD for the semester which covered food and accommodation. Expect Visa, Health Insurance and the return flight to Brisbane to cost $2-3k AUD in total. Local buses are free and ride share services like Uber and Lyft are relatively inexpensive in the states. For travelling within NorCal, car rental and Airbnb worked well. All in all, you should expect to spend $15k AUD or more over exchange if you are in Berkeley and likely less if you are elsewhere in America. The US is expensive so I got a $6.5k OS-HELP loan and $3k exchange scholarship that was very helpful for covering these costs.

Professional Development

My experience at Berkeley has given me a more global perspective. It has also made me more ambitious, driven and confident. When you are around amazing people, it feels as if you can accomplish almost anything. People also look positively on the exchange experience and it was helpful in getting into my current research lab.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was the people. The friends I made and the experiences and fun we shared is somewhere that will stay with me forever.

Top tips

Just do it! You’ll surely have a great experience. 

Before you leave, get a Citibank Plus card, it has the best exchange rate and practically no fees. When you’re there, meet as many people as you can, visit a bunch of places and get involved in as much as possible.