First Impressions

I bought my first Berkeley T-shirt today.

I say ‘my first’ because everyone here seems to have at least twelve, all with some variety of ‘Berkeley, Cal, California, University of Cal, Go Bears (no matter how often people yell this latter phrase the bears never really seem to go anywhere.) etc etc’

This is probably down to people being proud of their university – a concept that, coming from the drizzly, bitterly cold, blustery Edinburgh streets, it is hard to comprehend – and want to show this as much as possible.

And I really can’t blame them, hence why I bought the T-shirt today. It’s a wife-beater style vest-top that I would never have dreamed of wearing back home, even in summer, due to both a pressing need to conserve body heat and self-image. Yet here, where no one cares what you look like, talk like, smell like, or where or when you do any of the above, and where even in late September I actually need to wear as little clothing as possible due to the baking hot climate, I just bought the thing.

This is what I’m learning here – act on impulses and desires, regardless of what you would have done at home and independent of the judgements of others, and everything’ll work out fine. Better than fine, actually: even though I’m over a month in to my time here at UC Berkeley, every day I cannot stop myself from feeling a sense of wonder at my new environment.

As I look out of my fifth floor window in my unversity apartment, I can see thousands of pin-prick white and orange lights spreading out in front of me, twinkling masses that represent some memory of what during the day I knew to be Oakland and San Francisco. I can see two tall towers of the Golden Gate Bridge protruding from the bay to my right, silhouetted against a just-set sun that still throws out a hue that looks like a giant petrol puddle.

Later tonight I’ll go up the hill, past Frat row and into the Co-operative house at which I eat my meals. Castro (the Andres Castro Arms) is a beautiful Julia Morgan house, every wall of which is covered by a splurge of psychedelic murals: children’s book characters, scrawled poems and non-sensical ideas of the inspired wanderers that have bounced through its halls in the past 60-odd years of co-operative living.

So maybe later we’ll go up on the roof that has an even better view of the bay than my room and we’ll sit and chat and admire the view. And people will bring up trays of snacks that they’ve concocted as part of their contribution to the smooth and pleasant running of the house.

The weekends here are long, chilled days followed by parties and gatherings or higher intensity frat parties, or raves and gigs in the city, or drinks rushed in at the bars of Berkeley with a relish that is heightened by the satisfaction gained by a mass of people who have worked intensely all week and used every ounce of their energy to develop and progress and enjoy.

That’s just a brief impression of Berkeley life. It wasn’t detailed and certainly encompassed very little of what you need to know, but it was a start and from there I can hopefully tell you a bit more: about student life during the the week, about people at Berkeley in all there bizarre colours and mental states, about the clubs, societies and activities that happen here in their hundreds, about what to pack in your bags here, what to worry about and what not, and generally, hopefully, anything to convince you to come here and to allow you to do so with ease and low stress levels!

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