Kelcie - University of California (Berkeley)

B. Engineering (Honours)/Mathematics
Semester 1, 2018
I travelled to Seattle, Portland, Lake Tahoe, The Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Colorado for skiing, San Luis Obispo for surfing, LA, and the New York City.

Academic experience

I took two courses in Engineering (Advanced Control Systems and Mechatronics Design), and two courses in Mathematics (Abstract Algebra and Partial Differential Equations). All of the course I took were upper division. My math classes were smaller in size (~30 students), whilst my engineering courses were more of a similar size to UQ. I enjoyed the interaction with professors. My mechatronics design course was a capstone course for all students in the Mechanical engineering major at Berkeley. This course involved designing and building the control system for a machine of our choice, and was a group project. This meant I got to interact with many Berkeley students and get to know them well on an academic level. Berkeley is a challenging university; with a grade of 70% in a course being equivalent to a pass. However, class grades are often curved due to the difficulty of assessment and content. You will need to work hard, so if you are aiming to travel on exchange, do not take four technical subjects. Also, I recommend going over with a plethora of electives to choose from as some courses are not offered in the semesters they are originally advertised for. I had to change my subjects 4 times in the first 4 weeks of my exchange. Some faculties also have restrictions as to what courses exchange students may take so be careful to research what restrictions may apply to you depending what major you declare for your time abroad.

Personal experience

The university was so incredibly supportive of students in the UCEAP program, and made my experience invaluable. It truly demonstrated to me why UC Berkeley is so highly regarded around the globe, and the opportunities to make friends and seek out extracurriculars you are passionate about are endless. I lived in a house with 150 people known as Cloyne Court, and many of my friends were made during my time here. I was able to connect and form long standing friendships with many Cal students. Before and after my exchange, I had the opportunity to do some research in a lab at UCSF, and I travelled to Seattle, Portland, Lake Tahoe, The Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Colorado for skiing, San Luis Obispo for surfing, LA, and New York City.

Accommodation

I lived in a student cooperative (“Coop”) known as Cloyne Court. Coops are low cost, affordable, student run democratic housing in which all residents contribute 5 hours of work shift (chores) a week to maintain the house. I had a room shared with two other females who have become two of my best friends to date. I highly recommend the coop system as you meet so many students and learn how to look after yourself in a big share house setting. It is the cheapest housing in Berkeley you will find, and the friendships you make are so worth it.

Costs

My rent was so cheap at $3500 USD for the semester, with food included at my coop. I am coeliac and did have to be very careful with dietary requirements but maintained a very good relationship with the students that ran the industrial kitchen.  There are coop options where apartment style living is offered, but you do not gain the same experience. However, living elsewhere can be very expense so SAVE if you do not want to live in a coop. International house is $8000-9000 USD with food for the semester, and leasing an apartment will cost you ~$1300 USD a month if you want your own room (a double room with another person may cost ~900 USD a month). You will need to pay for insurance at UC Berkeley, which does cost $1500 USD so be sure to budget for this. You will also need to take into consideration the cost for a US VISA, and flying down to Sydney to see the consulate prior to your departure. If you are going to Berkeley, or any of the UC campuses, I would recommend budgeting at least $15,000 AUD.

Challenge

My largest challenge was managing the course work with some illness that I had on and off during my time abroad - 4 technical electives was very difficult but the university are incredibly supportive of their exchange students.

Professional Development

Be sure to take advantage of all of the networking opportunities available at Berkeley and get to know your professors if you are in smaller sized classes. The connections you make there can stand you in good stead if you wish to pursue a career or graduate school in the US. You will also form connections with students who are incredibly bright and driven, which can be so beneficial for your future career network. This exchange has inspired to pursue either a masters or PhD overseas in the future.

Highlight

This is incredibly difficult as all of my experiences were so unique. I would have to say my key highlights would be all of the connections I made with UC Berkeley students, my time during research, the campus itself, and my regular trips to San Francisco on the train (20 minute train ride!).

Top tips

Make sure to plan your travels in advance as your semester will be busy (it is not a walk in the park, you will have to study a lot). Make sure to be clear about it what it is you want from your exchange before going. If you are a STEM major, be sure to get involved in the latest tech developments coming out of Berkeley, and if you love live music, check out the events that are going on in the Bay Area as the music scene is fantastic. Also first Fridays in Oakland is a must!