Ching - University of California (Berkeley)

Bachelor of Economics
Semester 1, 2018

Academic experience

1. Courses I studied:
I took Corporate Strategy & Valution, Startup Consulting, Financial Modelling, Business Analytics at the Haas School of Business, and Topics in Economics Research at the Department of Economics. 
2. What I enjoyed most about a diff academic system:
All of the courses I took were upper division, so class size were relatively smaller and did not exceed 30. I really enjoyed the direct interaction with professors, and getting to know every classmate. Most of my assignments required group work, which is pretty different from my experience in UQ where I only had one group project throughout my three years of study - but maybe thats just because I am studying a BEcon. 
3. What were some challenges and how did you overcome them?
Each course had two lectures per week, so with five courses plus research work I was constantly studying (if you want an easy exchange, don't take all technical courses).
4. Explain the enrolment process:
Although I took 5 courses, I only ended up with 14 units. 15 units is the minimum for a full time load. So here I am back in UQ for another semester. The enrolment process is pretty straightforward, and the school gave really good guidance during orientation. However, as UC Berkeley is the "#1 public school in the world", spaces are very limited. Plan early, have a full load of electives, be flexible, if you are on the waitlist and you really want to take a course, attend all of the classes in the first few weeks, let the professor know that you are only here for a semester and is really interested in the course.

Personal experience

I am an international student, and English is not my first language. One of the challenge I set for myself was not to speak my first language (Mandarin) for the entire duration of the exchange. I am proud to say I am very confident with my English skills now, I would even say it is on par with my Mandarin (or maybe its just that my Mandarin deteriorated haha). As for interpersonal skills, I live in a house with 150 people (more about this in next paragraph), I had tons of opportunities to make friends - especially as one of the few exchange students in the house they were really interested in my experience abroad. Before and after the exchange program, I went on roadtrips to Tahoe, Lassen, Yosemite, Sierra, Death Valley, Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, LA, Joshua Tree, and flew to NYC for a week. I am a big fan of National Parks, and it was one of the main reasons why I chose to do my exchange in California.

Accommodation

I lived in Cloyne, the largest student cooperative (coop) house in North America. Coops are low-cost, democratically run housing in which all residents take on different labor positions to run the house. I had a triple room, shared a bathroom with 5 other people, and contributed 5 workshift hours a week. If you are fine with the living conditions above, I cannot recommend the Coops enough. It is the cheapest housing you can find around Berkeley and I personally would not be able to survive Berkeley's hectic workload, travel to the places above, or in general have such a good time, without the amazing people I met there. Other options for housing are International House, Berkeley residence halls, or leasing an off-campus apartment.

Costs

My rent was incredibly cheap at USD3500 for the semester, food included. For comparison, International House is about USD8000 with food, Residence Halls are around USD9000 with food, leasing a 2-bedroom apartment in Berkeley will cost you around USD3000 per month. A typical meal costs around USD12. Gym membership and transport on buses around Berkeley and surrounding neighbourhoods are included in the tuition fee. As for travel, a BART ticket to San Francisco costs USD4, I have rented car for as low as USD50 per day, and you are allowed to drive in California with an Australian driver license. I also bought a National Park annual pass for $80 instead of having to pay $35 each time I go, plus it is an incentive for others to bring me along on trips too haha. I would recommend to budget at least AUD15k for the exchange.

Professional Development

My career goal is to work in Management Consulting, so I gave myself a 'mini MBA' by choosing the courses listed above from the b-school. Through a lot of networking, I was very lucky to have landed a research assistant position with a professor during the semester, and a summer internship at an Economics consulting firm after the exchange. Academically, I am so inspired by the students in Berkeley, some of the people I met are truly passionate and determined to be the best in their field of study, and believe that they can change the world through their research. This exchange helped me in my decision to pursue the BEcon Honours program next year.

Highlight

This is so hard to choose. I would say my highlight is: finding travel buddies on Lonely Planet before arriving in the US because I literally have 0 friends living in the US then having to stop a fight on Day 3 and sit in awkward silence on a 7-hour car ride to Las Vegas where I got dropped off without accomodation for the night.

Top tips

The exchange is what you make of it. Set clear goals before going, be it academic, professional or your travel bucket list. Challenge yourself to something new everyday, there's no time to be shy as the semester will be over before you know it.