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University of California-Berkeley

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All right, first off I would like to say that my experience at UC Berkeley overall was NOT positive - to say that I am dissatisfied would be a gross understatement. I know that you are probably looking at my rating and saying to yourself "what? really? this guy is just over-exaggerating and being unreasonable because he didn't like it - does anything REALLY deserve kind of rating?" I kid you not, if I had to rate UC Berkeley, I would honestly rate it 1/5 stars for the experience I had there. Why, you ask? Well sit down and I'll tell you my story and about my experiences. I'm about to give you a very detailed account about basically everything that happened - maybe the most detailed account that you have read thus far - and probably everything you need to know about Berkeley. This is a story about how I, the most level-headed, happy, optimistic person you might ever meet, was literally driven to insanity at that school by the bay. First, let me give you a little background. I was a really smart and creative guy from a small town in a close-knit high school in Southern California. My future was looking bright. I had a 4.66GPA, a supportive family, a really cute girlfriend, tons of friends and hobbies, community involvement, lots of awards/accomplishments, and I was happy - maybe a bit naive, but still happy. I was excited to go to college. I sent out my applications like most of my classmates and decided to go to the top-ranked one that accepted me. I also chose Electronics Engineering and Computer Science as my major ("EECS" is what they call it) because I loved science and building gadgets - I was a tinkerer. For my high school senior project I built a musical tesla coil, and built things like pulse laser pistols in my garage. I did experiments for fun. I was that kind of nerdy kid, but I wasn't the kind that was socially awkward or out of shape or anything. On the day everybody got their college acceptance letters, I remember everyone was buzzing about where they got in to - back then, it was sort of a status symbol. Kids gloated or kids cried based upon where they got in - and I was at the top! I remember another one of my friends had been accepted to both UC Berkeley and UCLA - I was glad he got accepted to UC Berkeley too, and looked forward to seeing him there. When I talked to him, though, it was clear that he had other plans in mind - "are you kidding me??" He said. "What? Why wouldn't you go to Berkeley? It's ranked higher than UCLA!" I said. He replied by just saying "you will see." At the time, I just sort of brushed off whatever he said about the school - he was known to be a pretty conservative kid, after all - he probably just didn't like the fact that people in Berkeley were supposedly pretty liberal. "I can handle it! Big deal - I have an open mind and can think for myself! Besides, I'm taking like 6 AP classes - how hard can Berkeley be?" I thought to myself. Little did I know what I was up against - nothing could have prepared me for how much Berkeley screwed me over. Hands down, out of all of the stupid things I have done in my entire life, choosing Berkeley was the WORST DECISION I HAVE EVER MADE. I did the Berkeley overnight stay program to get to know the campus before actually going up there and stayed with a couple of guys in Bowles - the all-boys freshman dormitory that is said to look like Hogwarts from Harry Potter (and indeed it does - on the outside at least). On the inside it looked okay, just sort of plain and dungeon-like. Anyways, I went in there with a few others carrying our sleeping bags and backpacks. Whooh! What a walk! Uphill too! This was my first taste of what it would be like having to walk everywhere around Berkeley. What a pain in the ass! I wasn't too exhausted or anything, but what really made things miserable was that it was raining. It was raining during the orientation, and now it was raining during my overnight stay experience. Coincidence? Not really. I should have gotten the hint at that point that in Northern California - at least in the "Bay Area" (they call the area around Berkeley and San Francisco the "Bay Area") it rains ALL THE TIME. Some seasons it seems like it rains like every other day. On the days that it does not rain, it is often really muggy, cold, and depressing out - quite a change from having lived in beautiful Southern California! (Or "SoCal" as they like to abbreviate it. I guess everybody up there is too lazy to say "California," lol). I remember that on the days that I visited home after attending Berkeley, the rain would actually seem to follow me to SoCal EVERY TIME. It was so uncanny - like I had brought a curse back with me. On the warmer days, I noticed that just walking around campus in the humidity made me feel all sticky and gross - perhaps I was just used to the fantastic Southern California weather, but for me, the weather in Berkeley was not something that I found to be pleasant. Oh, some other slang words from the area that people like to use are "hella" and "sketchy." The "Asian Ghetto" is a food court near campus. "Frat Row" is a street where most fraternities are located. "Bart" is some train thing that takes you places out of town. "Telebears" is what you use to sign up for classes online. "Ninjacourses" is what you use online to compile class schedules. When people say "Cal," they are usually referring to UC Berkeley, (initially I was confused about this) not California. "Dwinelle" is a building that is said to be like a big internal maze by "Sproul Plaza.” "The Campanile" is the big clock tower. "Sather gate" is the big rustic looking gate on campus which is also by "Sproul Plaza," and "Berkeley Goggles" are, well... I'll get into that in a minute... Anyways, back to my experience. So I roll out my sleeping bags, hoping to have a nice conversation about Berkeley with these guys that I was staying with. They were all doing homework and studying ALL NIGHT. I did some all-nighters in High School, but man, from the looks of things, Berkeley was intense! They still managed to chat a bit and give us a few pointers - they were pretty nice guys from what I could tell. The first thing they told us straight off the bat was "don't choose Bowles!" They all had girls on their minds, like any college-aged group of guys. They complained that the dating scene was pretty horrid, especially for engineers (I would soon find out myself) - choosing BOWLES the ALL GUYS dorm, no doubt, would make socializing with girls even more difficult. They warned us guys about some other things like "beware of Math 1B and skip it if possible since it was the most failed freshman class (I actually ended up taking it, and both my roommate and I failed it on our first go)" and "don't take classes with Ratner, Speliotopolous, or Hilfinger" and ranted about having "Berkeley Goggles. "What are "Berkeley Goggles?" I asked. They gave a brief explanation. Essentially, in Berkeley, one has to lower their standards due to the options available and one gradually learns that people are often not as attractive there as were in one's hometown. I have my own theories for why this phenomenon exists. Perhaps Berkeley college students are too obsessive about academics to put much effort into dating or appearance, or the weather is so dreary that they don't expose their assets, or perhaps the dorm food is too fattening, or perhaps things there are so stressful that people don't exercise as much, or perhaps the more attractive people are the ones who are less likely to be super smart and get into a top-tier school like UC Berkeley, or perhaps due to the "diversity," students there find that the ethnic group that they identify with or are most attracted to is not as prevalent as was in their hometown. Whatever the reason, I found this to ring true for me as well. I didn't really care though. I had a cute girl back at home that I really cared about! Plus going to Berkeley would basically make me a badass, right? Well, my girlfriend and I broke up - I won't go into the details because it's not really too relevant here, but like any long-distance relationship, things were strained (plus she was emotionally needy and blamed me for not being around and even became suicidal at some points!!). I went to Berkeley for a year and during the Summer we got back together, but guess what - at the beginning of my second year, we broke up again. This means that virtually the entire time I was in Berkeley I was single. It was hard finding cute girls to get to know. I would say that most girls there aren't around to date or get to know guys - that's the last thing on their mind. They are there for academics and to make a difference in the world. That's great, but it's sort of hard to date if all you do is study and further your career (me included). Also, these aren't the type of girls that are easily impressed by guys or care too much about how they look (or perhaps don't have the luckiest genes) - they are really smart. It's sort of intimidating to be honest, and it's hard to fill the dominant male gender role that females are generally attracted to like that. Many of them tend to look down on you. In my systems and signals class, there were only like 3 or 4 girls in the class out of a lecture hall of several hundred!! The best place to meet girls would probably have to be in the dorms - but there, it's pretty hit-or-miss. There were about two or three sort of cute girls on my floor. Two had boyfriends and one was a lesbian, political extremist, and studied in the library 24/7. I know it sounds like I'm making a big deal over this little issue, but I believe that in today's society, college is a pretty important time for dating and finding that "special someone" to start life's journey with - afterwards, it becomes a bit difficult with work and it's harder to find places that adults congregate besides bars - plus, I don't want to wait until I'm like 30 or something where most of the available girls have been with like 10 guys already by that time, lol. Let me say that everyone has features that they find make people more cute or attractive - that just makes people human. Unfortunately, I would say that I'm attracted to people who are fit, artsy/creative, not too political, down to earth, family oriented, redheads, care about their appearance, and have freckles (I don't know why, just find it cute, lol). I'm not saying that I care only about appearance or that I couldn't love someone else, I'm just saying those things are like bonuses to me. Unfortunately, it was EXTREMELY hard finding someone who had any of those things!! Most of my friends in Berkeley had similar difficulties or just continued dating whoever they were dating before coming to Berkeley. My first year I stayed in one of the UNITS. The Units are big concrete tower structures scattered around the campus perimeter. I made the monumental mistake of picking a three-person room. The room was way too small even for two people! It really was ridiculous - I felt like a sardine in a sardine can. There was no privacy, and to make matters worse, both of my roommates went to the same high school and were best friends! Talk about awkward - it was a classic case of third-wheeling. When I say small, I'm not just complaining or have high standards like some sort of Beverley Hills diva. I visited many other college campuses besides Berkeley, and let me tell you, Berkeley's dorm rooms are small compared to other colleges'. It's almost like the folks down in Berkeley just don't give a shit and were like "all right, let's just cram 'em all in there." I tried applying for a 1-person room and even got a doctor's note detailing a specific need to have one, but it's nearly IMPOSSIBLE to get one, and they wouldn't accommodate. They say that in general, the units are more social while the other dorms are not as social. Horse-shit in my opinion! The only difference in socialization I saw was that in the units, the floors were segregated by gender, whereas in the other dorms, there was no segregation, and when you try to sleep and you are living in the units, you will often be annoyed by the sound of drunk frat boys yelling outside in the streets. There is always construction going on around campus too, so if the noise of that annoys you, good luck! I was also woken up by the sound of an annoying-ass truck (not related to the construction) that made a really loud beeping sound every morning extra early - you know, that same beeping sound sometimes made by forklifts or some vehicles that are backing up? Why the FUCK would that be acceptable?? That's really inconsiderate to do that really loud right outside of the windows of a dorm full of sleep-deprived college kids. Do yourself a favor and invest in some heavy-duty ear plugs. Again, I'm not over-exaggerating or being too sensitive here - a lot of people I know had similar experiences and bought ear plugs too. My second year, I stayed in Foothill, which, in my opinion, was a much more pleasant experience. Engineering classes were very close by (class was a long uphill hike from the units), it was more quiet, it was co-ed, it was more lush and beautiful, the workout room didn't JUST have cardio equipment, and the dorm food seemed to be of higher quality. Almost all of my friends complained about the dorm food, said that it was dull, and some seemed offended that some ethnic dishes that were made were "insults" or "not made right." I, however, thought that the dorm food was really great and a nice change from the food that I was used to at home. My second year, I was smart and only chose to have one other roommate instead of two. Problems still arose though (like there was no privacy for phone calls or when needing some "alone time," and one time my roommate came home drunk carried by two frat brothers. I told him that if he was going to puke, to puke into the trash or something, just not on my side of the room, and then he went and puked all over my side of the room anyways almost purposefully!). My roommate loved to stay up late and turn on lights before sleeping and always let his alarm go on and on so that sleeping in was always impossible. I guess you risk that sort of thing any time you have a roommate though, and I can't really say that it is Berkeley's fault, but I'm sort of pissed that they didn't really have many one-person rooms, and the ones that they did have weren't too affordable. I decided to invest in a face mask as well as the ear plugs at that point - and heavy-duty sound-cancelling earmuffs. Often times, especially during midterm season, and especially in the units, some asshole will decide to pull the fire alarm really early in the morning (like 4am) just to piss everybody off. Everybody will know that it is just a prank, but you will be FORCED to leave the building IMMEDIATELY and if you don't, you will be severely punished. If you are taking a shower, tough shit - you had better wrap yourself up with your towel and walk yourself out into the cold for 45 minutes (actually happened) while everybody waits for the firemen to arrive who are the only ones who have the key to turn the alarm off and who are able to give the "all clear." This often isn't just a one-time occurence either - it often happens multiple times. The dorms are good places to meet people. You will need friends to get by, let me tell you. In spite of this, I still found the dorms to be a bit isolating. People are studying all the time, and most of the guys spend their non-study time playing popular computer games like LoL or WoW or whatever. I feel like there is a lot of immaturity and snobbery among Berkeley students there (worse in the frats). Oh, and even if you are 21, you will be treated as if you were a high school student. NO ALCOHOL IN THE DORMS. I'm not a drinker besides maybe a bit socially, but who are they to infringe on my personal choices? A few RA's actually spend their Friday and weekend nights TRYING to bust people for partying and things like that. I had a string of LED christmas lights that I hung over my bed - one of the RAs actually looked through my window from way across in another dorm building, came over, and busted me for it citing it as a "fire hazard!!" They also make a big deal about piracy and take it way too seriously. There have been instances where kids have gotten into huge trouble downloading things "illegally" through their internet connection in the dorms. In my opinion, this is a big violation of privacy. Their job should be to house me and give me what I'm paying for, not snoop around and bust my ass for downloading some music videos! IT'S NOT THEIR JOB. Why they feel so compelled to target poor college kids who are already stressed out and struggling is beyond me. If it's really just some self-righteous campaign against theft or something, go after the host, not the user as I would say. Who really knows what is legal or illegal to download online these days, and really, who cares? For what people pay to stay in the dorms, they should be treated as adults and with respect. Not only are students ripped off paying for the dorms, but the whole meal-point system (which I believe at first is obligatory) is rigged to make students pay way more than they should for food and groceries. All right, I'm done bashing the dorms for now. Let me talk about the surrounding area. Crime is a really big issue in Berkeley, probably because it is next to Oakland. People know that Berkeley students are vulnerable, so they continually take advantage of them. If you bring a bike to school, you can bet your ass that unless you have a really good bike lock and make sure to lock both the body of your bike and the front and back wheels, you might as well kiss the bike goodbye. It actually happened that a friend of mine had his bike stolen because he failed to follow these instructions exactly. Hey, at least they gave him the courtesy of leaving his bike's back wheel right? What assholes. They have no mercy; if you leave one wheel unchained they will take the wheel and leave the rest of the bike. If you just walk around campus it is not uncommon to see bikes chained to the bike holder things missing parts. If you walk into the dorms, sometimes there are recent crime reports posted on the wall - TONS of unsettling things like "woman assaulted," or "robbery." Don't think it could happen to you? I was walking back to Foothill one night, and I actually saw a guy get robbed with a shotgun. I heard stories of friends having miscellaneous things stolen like laptops or bags or books. During my short time at Berkeley there was also a shooting and a bomb threat. The shooting was during a protest that I will talk about later, and I'll talk about the bomb threat a bit later too. Don't think that crime is restricted to being out in the city streets! A friend told me a story of how a naked homeless man (Berkeley has a HUGE homeless population) got into the dorms and was lying on one of the couches. I have also had a lot of clothes stolen from the washers and driers in the dorms (which, by the way SUCK - often times you need to dry a load like 3 times! In the units there is also a major design flaw. Whoever designed the driers decided that it would be okay to dump all the steam from one of the driers in use into the drier(s) above it, making whoever's clothes are in there damp and in need of being dried AGAIN!! Washers and driers went out of order all the time. Maybe the engineer who designed them went to UC Berkeley, lol). Someone needs to take initiative and clean up this town! It sort of makes me wonder what the police are doing all day?? Actually, let me tell you what they do. They are mostly there to keep students in line. They crash private frat parties and during peaceful protests they... beat students! I'm dead serious - this isn't just during the 60's either, it happened while I was at Berkeley, too. Before I get into that, though, let me finish talking about the area. The city is pretty dumpy and dirty - covered in concrete. In Berkeley, there is almost nowhere to park unless you pay someone a ton of money, so you shouldn't count on bringing a car, which, in my case, would have probably just been used as a way to get out of Berkeley as frequently as possible to try to preserve my sanity. For those who do drive in Berkeley, you can expect to see a lot of asshole drivers. Think I'm exaggerating again? I was actually crossing the street from the unit I was staying at with some friends to "Crossroads" (the mess hall across the street). Instead of slowing down, the car that was approaching actually SPED UP as if to try to hit us or something! On a different day, I was crossing the crosswalk as usual, and a car almost hit me, screeching to a halt halfway across the crosswalk! I guess the drivers are used to submissive study-all-day Berkeley kids not having the balls to keep walking down the crosswalk and taking their right-of-way when they see a car approaching. I'm not the only one to notice this either, others have commented on this, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was an accident sometime in the near future. One thing I find interesting is the campus's strong dedication for keeping small businesses alive. I sort of appreciate that, but people in Berkeley tend to take political ideas a bit too far at times... For a college town, it would have been nice to have a big chain supermarket really close by instead of having like 5 smoke shops back-to-back. I suspect that whoever was doing the city planning wanted to subtly give off the vibe that it is better to do drugs than to eat (maybe he or she graduated from UC Berkeley?). I think that a few years ago they wanted to put a "Panda Express" in Berkeley near campus, but for some reason there was a big protest against it and they were forced to build elsewhere. That's sort of hypocritical, seeing as there is a SUBWAY in Berkeley already, and they serve crappy orange chicken in the dorms anyways, so why would Panda Express be much different? I guess it's too "capitalistic" or something for Berkeley's intensely rigid leftist political atmosphere. There is a CVS or something like that, but the prices there are often a bit high, and, like a lot of other nearby shops, they aren't a "full store" (they are a mini store with restricted merchandise). Students can spend "meal points" at Peet's Coffee, but for some reason that isn't a "full store" either. They have gift cards there, but you can't buy them if you are using meal points. WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE IF I SPEND MY HARD EARNED MONEY IN THIS SHOP, BUY A GIFT CARD, THEN SPEND THE SAME AMOUNT AT ANOTHER PEET'S COFFEE???? I think that it might be because they are trying to rip students off by charging more at the Peet's in Berkeley or want you to have a bunch of unspent meal points at the end of the semester that you can't redeem. Let's see... What else can I say about Berkeley itself? Well, I was once walking around Berkeley, and I kid you not, I saw a giant rock statue of a dick. I guess it's a public monument and supposed to be art or something, haha. Maybe whoever made it thought it would be funny since dicks get "rock hard." It made me laugh at least, but it's sort of inappropriate I think. Just another example of how people in Berkeley often take things too far and why the city/campus is sometimes referred to as "Bezerkeley." Having access to San Francisco is pretty cool - I visited there a few times. After visiting San Francisco, I can sort of see why Berkeley is so crazy - a lot of the crazy people come from San Francisco!! The first time I visited, I was greeted by a mob of naked men nonchalantly walking down the street with signs to vote for someone for mayor (I'm not gonna vote for him now!). As I continued walking, a homeless man popped out from behind a fake bush and tried scaring me! (apparently he does this over and over to tourists for money). As I approached the beach, I have to say, it was not anywhere as beautiful as the beaches in Southern California. In "SoCal," they have the sense to not build RIGHT ON THE SHORE and leave the beautiful sandy beaches in their natural state for tourism - not so in San Francisco! They have AMAZING chowder though - definitely check that out. On my walk back, I had the privilege of visiting a robotic public bathroom stall that made me feel like I was in Star Trek or something (if you have been to SF, you know what I'm talking about). Berkeley is full of crazy people, and you will find this out quickly. Often times you will find yourself walking down a street and all of the sudden you will see a homeless person YELLING obscenities at the TOP OF HIS/HER LUNGS, obviously in a violent stupor. It isn't the same person every time either. This has happened many, many times. I was once walking down the street wearing a normal button-up shirt (the same shirt that Marty Mcfly from "Back to the Future" wore under his puff vest in the movie) like a week before Halloween, and I started to notice that I was getting all these weird looks - like I was an alien or something. Out of nowhere, this homeless man comes up to me and says; "HEY! What, are you tryin' to be a rich boy or somethin?!" I was beginning to understand why I was getting all of those weird looks. A button-up shirt was clearly offensive because it gives off the vibe that I am a "successful rich white male" which the Berkeley populace tends to revile as some sort of oppressor. I explained to him that it was just part of my Halloween costume that I was trying on, and chatted with him a while. He claimed that his name was "Rainbow" and I proceeded to take him out to lunch. Afterwards, he offered to smoke weed with me sometime and disappeared. On a different occassion, I was walking through campus when I spotted a booth for a communist organization. I decided to chat with them just because I find the extremist views that some people endorse fascinating. I listened to them try to explain their ideology to me for a while, and after they were done, it sounded to me like they were a terrorist organization! They spoke of the need for a violent revolution, the elimination of the police force and prisons, and society that operates on (forced) goodwill. Clearly, the utopian society that they were describing to me was not feasible. I politely went on my way, my mind once again blown by how far some people in Berkeley take things. One of my professors was even an ardent communist! I remember the first time I ran into Yoshua. Who is this interesting character who stands outside on Sproul Plaza shouting at students every day? Well I don't know who he is, but he sure as hell scared the shit out of me! Apparently he is trying to be Nostradamus and thinks he knows when the end of the world is, even though he's been wrong multiple times already! He just stands out there shouting at everyone with a chalkboard that has a big number written on it, presumably the number of days "we have left." He tries to use the Bible as a reference, but his calculations are completely baseless and he basically just multiplies random numbers together to arrive at whatever date he feels like should be the end of the world. Everyone in Berkeley knows this character. I can't believe that he is actually serious. Things really started to get out of hand when the school announced that they were going to enact MORE tuition hikes, sparking a campuswide protest (seriously? and at the time they spent SO MUCH MONEY on a stupid new football stadium??). Now THIS was a cause that I really DID feel strongly about, especially since it is crucial for people to go to college in today's society to get decent jobs, and putting so much pressure on students and their families just prolongs the time that they are without a job and hinders economic recovery while also discouraging people from finishing or starting school in the first place. I joined the protest. Helicopters were buzzing around everywhere - reporters were in the streets. Students marched up and down - classes were canceled; there were demonstrations and mobs. The protest was peaceful, however. I joined in the protest, blaring the Beatles' song "Revolution" through my megaphone at the forefront of one march down the streets. I think that this was about the time that the whole "Occupy" movement was happening as well. Then, as I mentioned earlier, the police came. They pushed students back, beat them with batons, claimed that the use of megaphones was forbidden, and that there was no loitering allowed on Sproul. Without respect, the police kicked down the tents of students camping outside of Sproul Hall and said that it was not allowed either. It was sort of funny, though, some students noted that the officers said that encampments were not allowed on the grounds around Sproul or something, and decided to fill a bunch of tents with helium and let them float over the grounds instead (pretty funny). During this time, the Chancellor was on vacation somewhere far away like China while his school was falling apart. At first, the Chancellor derided students and defended the officers' behavior stating that the students should not have provoked the officers, but later changed his mind (probably to cover his own ass and try to remedy some of his growing unpopularity) after the incident got on the Colbert Report. One other thing that sort of annoyed me was that the ringleaders of the protest started using the protest as a springboard to push their own unrelated agenda, assuming that everyone else agreed with their opinions (such as keeping affirmative action in place and instating communist ideas into practice). Look, I'm not a bigot or anything, but I just don't really agree with the premise behind affirmative action, and you shouldn't assume that there is only one side to the issue and that everybody agrees with you. Oh, and don't think that I'm a Republican. I'm not a Republican or a Democrat - I prefer not to think along party lines and I like to take everything case-by-case and objectively. There was another instance where the Republican club on campus had a satirical "bake sale" to make a point about affirmative action - adjusting prices based on ethnicity and gender. This made national headlines and the ringleaders involved got into BIG TROUBLE. Berkeley took a political stance (even though it is supposed to be an unbaised institution) and punished the students. I'm sorry, but no matter what you believe in - affirmative action or not, you, as an academic institution, should not punish students for their beliefs - especially when you have people spreading way crazier beliefs around campus than the belief that people should not be judged based partially on gender/race to get into a school (I believe that socioeconomic status should be considered directly instead rather than assuming that just because you are of a certain race, you are worse off. In my opinion, THAT is racist!). Let's talk about the classes. I would caution anyone coming to Berkeley not to take too many units per semester; especially during one's first semester. If your course load is heavy in the math and sciences, I wouldn't suggest taking more than 12 units per semester. Math and science classes are DAMN hard (for engineers anyways), and expect to spend more time in lab-based classes than regular classes. In Berkeley, classes are divided into lectures and discussion sections. Lectures are usually lessons taught by the big-dog professors themselves in lecture halls of several hundred students, whereas discussion sections are taught by graduate students as a requirement for them to graduate (forced labor). The teaching ability of your assigned graduate student instructor (GSI) or professor is highly variable - some will be okay or good, and others will be complete shit. Some GSIs/professors will teach in such way that it is hard to follow what they are doing, do not provide thorough explanations of how to approach all the types of problems you are required to understand (or any of them), or will leave you with more questions than you started out with. Often times, I found it more efficient to just skip class and go straight to 1-on-1 tutoring where I could be taught only what I needed to know directly by "A" students who have already taken the class. HKN honor society's tutoring services were FANTASTIC and they really helped me pass my classes (plus it's free!). I want to talk a bit about the last two math classes that I took in Berkeley - math 53 and math 54. In my math 53 class, I had a pretty decent professor (Auroux), and in my math 54 class, I had the BEST GSI OF ALL TIME (Peyam Tabrizian). I SWEAR this GSI was AMAZING!!!! The math 54 material was reasonably difficult, but Peyam taught us what we needed to know in a systematic and simple manner; going beyond his call to duty by keeping our attention with lighthearted humor, cake, cookies, and Legend of Zelda references. Peyam busted his ass and clearly cared about his students - compiling "cheat sheets" and having way more study sessions than were required for him to hold for students. The professor decided to throw a curve ball exam and put information that we weren't even told to know (I ended up with a 4% on the final), but Peyam, being the student advocate that he was, noted that the whole class bombed it and convinced the professor to curve it - and I passed the class! Why the professor felt the need to psych all the kids out like that doesn't make much sense to me - I guess that a lot of professors enjoy watching their students panic. In most math of science classes, you won't be as lucky as I was and have such an amazing GSI. Many classes are so hard that you will be doing work for them CONSTANTLY, and your dorm room will begin to resemble that of John Nash while you sit huddled up in the fetal position in the corner of your dorm room rocking back and forth chanting mathematical mantras. One kid in my math 53 class had a mental breakdown during the final exam. I remember it clearly - it was held in the RSF gym. Things were dead quiet as they often are during big exams as students stare at their papers diligently trying to make sense of the problems - then out of nowhere, there was a loud sound - a sound that resembled that of a screaming elephant! One of the kids in the room lost it, and the professor was sent to immediately try to calm him down. By this time, everybody in the room knew what was going on because the kid was REALLY LOUD in a room that was previously so quiet that the two-hundred or so kids in the room could have all easily heard a pen drop. After several minutes, the kid calmed down and stopped screaming, but later during the exam he did it again! Sometimes I feel like Berkeley classes are all designed to be some way of weeding out students or professors feel obligated to make material unnecessarily difficult in order to live up to the Berkeley name. I could and have learned the EXACT same material from Berkeley at a community college, but in community college, things were much easier to understand – I guess because professors in Berkeley assume that their students will understand anything. A lot of professors did not seem to have an effective teaching style. Let me explain EXACTLY what I mean. Students don't usually readily admit to it, but asking many in person, I often find that students were confused after examples are done or after class (even some of the smartest kids I know). Personally, I do not find many of the concepts very difficult, however, the problem is really in understanding the abstractions. Abstractions are used to communicate, and if students don't fully understand the nature of the abstractions, they won’t understand what is meant to be communicated. In other words, the most difficulty is not inability to understand concepts or lack of effort, but the abstractions used to describe them. Looking up at the board many students see an abstraction that has been described possibly once or twice (and often the abstraction's full nature is not described- is it a constant or a variable? can I manipulate it like this and this? what are the properties that it has? etc.), but it makes many times for a student to develop a cognitive association with the abstraction and the concept behind it. The abstractions themselves are meaningless conventions; delta, tau, theta, arrows, lollipops, series symbols, diagrams, etc. It is the struggle to understand what they are meant to convey in class while the instructor continues on through the problem, often causing them to fall behind and inevitably creating confusion that is the issue. Looking at videos such as PatrickMJT tutorials or KhanAcademy on youtube, complex concepts are taught in such a way that is accessible. Ideas are conveyed in a way that students have an easy cognitive connection between the abstractions/analogies and the concept. For example, it would be more efficient to initially explain to the average adult the concept of interference by making an analogy to ripples in a pond than to use trigonometry (though once the concept is understood, trigonometry can be employed to prove it) because pond ripples are a part of everyday experience and interaction. Oh, and while explaining it using trigonometry, reiterate the relation between the math and the concept at each step. The question is, then: what can be done to combat this? Most GSIs/Professors suggest asking questions whenever students do not understand something to have it clarified and thus eliminate the problem. Asking questions is always good, however, even with this open, students continue to struggle. It is a problem that persists and everybody knows it, even the professors (some professors notice this and to prove it, at the first class have a discussion about asking questions in class, encouraging students not to feel shy asking them, even if they are perceived as "stupid" or "dumb"). The greatest problem is, however, that most of the time, the question is on something that was covered less than five minutes ago or has been mentioned before. Why is this? It takes time to develop mental connections. Perhaps, also, students feel intimidated, and have had several instances where they ask a question and several classmates answer, thus making the student feel as though he/she is not as smart as his/her peers and is looked down upon, or the GSI/Professor simply tells the student "see me later," causing everything that builds upon the misunderstanding to not be communicated. Is this an inevitable problem arising from limited time and complicated material? I do not think so. Reviewing several of PatrickMJT's and KhanAcademy's videos on youtube I quickly realized why so many people watched them; what they were doing differently; how they explained things that many of my GSI's tried to explain in class but in only 10 minutes. The secret is nurturing mental connections between abstractions and concepts while also giving a clear, generalized procedure for approaching all problem types. In both video collections, during each step the teachers re-connected/grounded the students back to reality/everyday experience/easier concepts. There was no ambiguity or guesswork. They reiterated things, and did not just present abstractions, but always said things like "in other words ___" afterwards. Repetition, reiteration, and generalization of procedure. Of course, one cannot expect to go over how to do every single problem, but if students really fully understand the nature of conventions and a general procedure for manipulating/approaching them, there should be no problem. Often times, GSIs/professors do random exercises or problems during class time, which is good, but often times do not give full insight on how to do other problems of the same type (understanding the possible nuances are important). An example of ambiguity stemmed from misunderstood conventions/abstractions would be this: during my math 54 class we learned R notation for spanning space. Now if we have 3 vectors that create a plane, what is R? Most students put R^2. This did not arise from a misunderstanding of concepts, lack of effort, or ability. It really is not hard to understand dimensionality, intersecting planes, and vector spaces. R^N was presented to represent how many dimensions a space had in class. Using that information, it would not be unreasonable to have put R^2 because, indeed, a plane falls under that category. However, the answer was R^3. The convention is that the plane was just a subspace of R^3. If one read about subspaces, perhaps, one would have understood, and indeed they were briefly mentioned, but still the majority of students arrived at the wrong answer. My GSI Peyam was smart enough to anticipate that this misunderstanding could arise, so the full nature of the abstraction R was then understood!! I hope there is a better understanding of where I am coming from, because when I tried to explain this to most teachers/GSIs I often get things like "there simply isn’t enough time" or "well that's just the nature of the material" or "you can't teach every single nuance," etc. It happens all too often, and many professors/GSIs just do not understand why their students are not doing well. It isn't as much applications of the material, it is presenting the material that can be more easily understood by the students through a connection to more familiar topics or simple procedures rather than just a jumble of math (the math is important, but in each step the abstraction must be grounded, otherwise students will be lost, and reminders must be given at each step "in other words, ____" or "this is like." No ambiguity, no skipping of explanation of steps. Instead of that (that is, ambiguity and assumption that a connection has been made), one should say "do this, which basically means ____." On the online forum that some classes in Berkeley use, “Piazza,” I frequently saw other students posting questions such as "can you give an intuitive definition for ____" etc. The problem, again, relates to the fact that the student(s) have not made an intuitive connection between the abstraction ____ and the concept that it is meant to communicate. Now that I have that out of my system, let me talk a bit about exams. In Berkeley, midterms and finals are a big deal. The first time I heard the word "midterm" I though to myself "oh! I know what that is! It's the one other exam besides the final that you take right in the middle of the semester! That's why it's called 'mid' - 'term!'" Sounds self-explanatory right? Well it wasn't long before I realized that most classes had like three different "midterms" and then a final! What the hell?? Some students prefer having more exams instead of one exam in the middle of the term and then one final, but the word "midterm" is sort of misleading and in Berkeley is generally used to refer to any sort of exam of significant importance. I found that everyone in Berkeley was almost always studying for some "big test" that they had in a class. Try to remember back to a time when you had a really big psyched-up exam for a class that you needed to crunch for - now imagine having to be in that anxious stressed-out state all the time, realizing that you have some "big exam" like every two weeks! I remember before my breakup early in the semester, my ex visited me in Berkeley, and I wanted to make sure that she had a nice Halloween. I found that it was impossible to find anything to do on Halloween!! EVERYBODY was studying for finals and virtually nobody had costumes or parties of any sort - there weren't any major decorations outside of the dorms! (not to mention I had to bring her back to my 3 person dorm room, which was not fun). Some exams are more straight-forward than others, but many professors like to be tricky. I remember that during the campus-wide "bomb-threat," many professors were so hardcore that they didn't cancel their exam that day, putting their students in possible danger. All right, so with all those hard engineering classes, I was really looking forward to some humanities classes for a more "well-rounded" experience and to help hone my personal expression and creativity. I looked through the list and saw some politically based classes (yuck!), religious based classes (everything except Judeo-Christian), and a few gems like film and music. Film and music fill up IMMEDIATELY because all of the kids that go to Berkeley probably want something fun that they are interested in and want a break from the political atmosphere. I wasn't fortunate enough to get film or music, but I did manage to get into theater R1A. You are probably thinking that in a class called "theater" one would learn about Shakespeare? How about plays, musicals, performances, dances, acting, scripts, symbolism, and the human condition? WRONG. It turns out that GSIs run R1 classes and have free reign over the entire curriculum - so basically a class could be labeled "The Great Works of Shakespeare," and a GSI teaching the class could be like "nope, I feel like teaching a class on the history of the Soviet Union." Essentially, that is exactly what happened. The class was about racism in America and we learned about court cases the entire time. My question is WHY THE FUCK would you even give students a choice if they don't even learn anything that they signed up for? For any other service that people pay for, if someone tried to pull something like that, the customer would get their money back and it would be labeled false advertising. Well not at Berkeley! In that class I could really feel the animosity towards white Christians (the "oppressors") - one time in the class one girl commented calling them "those white Protestant prudes!" Coming from a primarily white conservative Christian background, I really did not feel too welcome. In spite of what many people in Berkeley assume about those coming from such a backround, I'm a very open-minded person, am not racist or a bigot, I don't hate gays, do not watch Fox News, and am not a Republican that only cares about getting money at the expense of others. My family didn't even live in America during the slavery/Jim Crow Era - my father is an immigrant from Canada!! It's really no secret that there is generally a sort of anti-Christian sentiment in Berkeley. One day I was just walking through the halls of the Dwinelle building, and there were posters put up everywhere claiming that lifelong monogamy was only an institution put up by the Catholic Church as a means to control people (I'm not Catholic - but still - wtf?). Next semester I looked through the list and couldn't really find anything open that I was too interested in again, so I decided to try "theater R1B." Can't go wrong twice, right? Well the material seemed more relevant at least - it was about the history of modern dance. I didn't mind that at all - hey! This is where all the girls were at! Out of the entire class I was the only straight guy in the class (and there was only one other guy besides me). The girls in the class seemed a bit busy and up-tight, but I did manage to get to know some. The class did have some political undertones - namely to do with dances depicting communism/socialism, but it wasn't too bad. I did my work diligently and aced everything - going to office hours and having discussions with the GSI frequently to make sure that I was on track. We were assigned a final paper, and I discussed my rough draft with the GSI multiple times and she was okay with where I was going - it appeared that I was going to ace the class and get a well-deserved gpa boost! I went to check my final grade in the class after the end of the semester, and my jaw dropped. She gave me a "D-!" I couldn't believe it! I thought that it was an error, so I emailed her, but she replied telling me that it was not an error! She said...well, let me just look back into my emails and paraphrase what she wrote: "I am sorry if your final grade took you by surprise. Unfortunately, the grade is accurate. While you demonstrated your understanding of my comments on your outline and draft in your paragraph on edits for the final paper, you failed to implement these suggestions in your paper. Your analysis of "interpellation" was the only moment when your paper tried to address the content of our R1B. Still here the discussion fell short of critical engagement. Unfortunately, as I explained explicitly in office hours, a passing paper must adequately illustrate that the research process was conducted for our class. Additionally, we were not able to hone the organization and development of the paper since the specific focus of the argument changed drastically with each draft. Your grade is significantly low because the final paper grade is based not only on the final product, but also on the lead up assignments. I understand the peripheral and intended connections between your paper argument and class material from your presentation and our conversations. Still, the paper does not demonstrate the type of argument that I explained would be appropriate for our class. I hope that this feedback is useful for the future." Well, to put it bluntly, this was all bovine turkus. I followed the instructions to a "tee," went to office hours to verify my progress and to go over my rough draft, and definitely demonstrated what she calls "critical engagement." At this point I was livid, so I wrote a very lengthy reply email back to her explaining why she was wrong and that I wanted to contest my grade. It's a shame that I had to resort to spending a couple of hours compiling my thoughts into such a monstrosity of an email back to her, but hey, that's Berkeley for you: "I would like to contest my grade. I feel that I did follow what was required and suggestions made during office hours. When I first began the assignment, I was presented with the problem of finding a topic. Of course, as a non- theater major, I was pleased that in the papers you gave out during class describing the assignment, you stated that it was okay to pick a topic that was not explicitly about theater or dance, but could be related to the class (you gave examples such as an essay on history, etc.). I needed to begin research, and was reassured in class when you said that initially that it was okay that we did not know exactly what to write about yet, but to begin looking. I took the route of politics, as that is something that I was passionate about and really felt an urge to research it. You emphasized that writing the paper was a process and that you expected our central claims and arguments to change several times before completion of the final draft. I felt that the research I was doing was acceptable because you explicitly stated to research something that I felt passionate about, and in the first couple of classes, even went so far as to ask students what they felt like researching and said that each was acceptable (even things like computer science or biology) as long as it was somehow relatable to the course. Meanwhile, in the time leading up to actually writing the paper, I did all assignments required and received full credit (maybe a point off here or there) and met with you several times in office hours, following your suggestions and asking questions as necessary. After writing my central claims and arguments (early on), I received feedback from you and decided to follow your advice to meet with you in office hours. Your comments indicated that you felt that my paper was too broad, I did not support my claims, and that my topic was not relatable to this course. I spoke with you regarding this, and clarified my three original points, all about the modern bipolar political system and how it is a problem to society. You explicitly stated in class that we did not have to support our claims in the central claims and arguments assignment. I explained in office hours that, as with discussions we had in class, we see that what society sees as acceptable is very dynamic. The individual effects culture, yet the individual is also partially a creation of culture. In my original claims, I discussed the way that industry and technology effected the equilibrium and how the political parties rose to power, and that it was very different than was originally intended. At the point that I wrote my original claims and arguments, all that I knew was that it had to be somehow related to the class, but was not aware how specific I had to be in relating to the class (I find that humanity teachers are often very different in their expectations. For example, one english teacher might be more flexible in what he/she considers as "relatable"). After you clarified instruction later on, I followed exactly what you said. To make sure that I was on track and to follow your advice as closely as I could, I met with you once again in office hours about my rough draft. You expressed that I should change the direction of my paper to better frame it in terms of the class. We discussed centering the paper around Ralph Nader's run for president, and how his use of spectacle was used to tactically convey his political message. This is directly related to the class, and is the central argument of my paper. I explained this in the paragraph that I appended to my final paper in which you explained that we could include. I was very pleased, because everything fit into place and I was confident that I was doing as I was required because you stated in office hours that this was acceptable and after my presentation expressed that you initially had worries but that the point I made about Ralph Nader definitely fulfilled the requirement. Your claim that the only time my paper addressed the topics in R1B was one mention of "interpellation" has me feel that you made a very cursory evaluation of my paper. I do not just mention "interpellation." The central claim of my paper (as described in the first paragraph of my essay) was that Ralph Nader's spectacle of running for president was to tactically induce the interpellation. Not only does this topic directly relate to the course, but you also said it would be acceptable. Close reading of my essay reveals that I did address the concerns you expressed, such as me not having as many citations as I should. I added many more citations, brought new research to the table to back my claims, and framed my paper in terms of this course, even explicitly using key terms in class to write my thesis. In my paper, I go further than this, and also include discussion of the relationship between an individual and institutions and the equilibrium/cycle between the two, and even go so far as to pointedly remark that "the presidential debates can be regarded as a performance, much like dance" when explaining why it was so critical for Nader to have participated in them. You claim that my paper failed to reach "criticality," yet I followed the very techniques I was told I should follow in class. I used your means and methods and developed a very original and critical claim. Why would Ralph Nader run for president and not for Senator? Don't you think he would have won a Senatorial race or other smaller race? These are very pointed questions I had to ask myself, illustrating criticality and real analysis of the situation. There was a reason that he ran for president, and it wasn't all just to win. It's very interesting, and came to this conclusion after watching many hours of recorded interviews. I had a large variety of sources including historical documents, documentaries, interviews, books, statistics, and websites. I copied and pasted, rearranged my drafts, met with you in office hours, visited the library, watched videos, looked for something I was passionate about, checked tables of contents of books to see if they would be useful, and definitely followed your advice in class for research methods. I definitely did follow the research process and writing process you described in class. I really don't see how I missed "criticality," and especially don't see how I could have missed it causing my grade to drop as drastically as it did to a "D-." My argument was pointed and illustrated a very intelligent argument that related directly to the class. As before-mentioned, this was that: 1.) The bipolar political system of today has several problems including inaccurate representation, conflicting interests, and political "myopia" (narrow- mindedness) 2.) Ralph Nader recognized this and ran for president as a publicity stunt (made a spectacle) in order to raise awareness and cause people to question the bipolar institution (interpellation). Like in the dance value duality I described in class, Ralph Nader's spectacle had communicative value. He was trying to convey a political message through simply running. The fact that you missed all of these and made a claim that I was negligent in following your requirements makes me feel as if you did not read my paper as closely as you should have and also makes me feel somewhat insulted because I worked very hard on this paper and in the class, faithfully coming to office hours, participating in discussions, and bringing arguments and points to the table (such as virtuosity, the dance value duality, questioning dances, etc.). A "D-" indicates that I am a negligent student; a real "slacker," not caring about his work. For a class in which you told students the first week not to take the class "pass/no pass" because you would be very generous with grades, frankly, a "D-," one step away from an outright fail, is humiliating. Testament to the fact that I do not simply disregard instructions or neglect to follow instructions are right in my final paper and years of good English grades (even last year in my R1A class with _____ who you have mentioned is one of your peers). I apologize for the longevity of this email and if the tone of it appears to be of anger or frustration, but I assure you that isn't what I intended. I hope you understand, something like this makes me feel somewhat flustered. I hope you have a nice summer and reconsider my grade in light of what I have said. See you next year (maybe?) From ________" She replied back and basically told me that I was right and that she was wrong, but that the best she could do was raise my grade up to a "C+." On top of all the work that I already had, I really didn't have much more energy to argue and try to convince her that I deserved a higher grade (you can see now why - it takes an essay in itself just to convince the GSI to do her job and grade my paper). I was satisfied that I didn't have the "D-," so I accepted it. My problem with a lot of these humanities-type classes is that the grading system for papers is so subjective - based on how the instructor "feels" about the paper and how much it "flows" and how "strong" the critical analysis is. It's all really relative. My third semester at Berkeley I once again looked through the list of humanities classes, and once again couldn't get into film or music. I had to choose from the list of classes that I wasn't too interested in. I chose a class from the politically-related bunch - ethnic studies - another class about racism in America. I'm not denying that there has been racism in the past and there probably is a lot of racism going on today, but my problem was that I really wanted a break from everyone putting the world's problems on my shoulders (as a college kid just trying to figure out who I was, I had enough problems of my own!) and having it drilled into my head so much and so often. I recognized the extremely biased political atmosphere again - the professor tended to spout his political opinions during class. I feel like there is a sort of unwritten Berkeley ideology that you are expected to conform to, and if you don't conform to it, everyone will make sure you know it. I remember in the discussion section of that class, the GSI was glorifying the "Black Panther" ideology of separation of the "white and black" cultures (against cooperation and for segregation - otherwise known as black nationalism), and was talking about Martin Luther King as well. I raised my hand and posed a comment/question; "wait a second - I thought that MLK was an activist that supported integration and cooperation of whites and blacks together?" The GSI, who often glared at students during the lecture sections for making comments that were against the Berkeley norm darted back saying; "I think that you have a misunderstanding of MLK's teachings." Wait a second... *I* am misunderstanding MLK's teachings?? Excuse me??? I have listened to MLK's speeches and read many of his writings, and it is clear to me that he was for integration and cooperation of the whites and the blacks, and did not subscribe to the same ideology that Malcolm X promoted. In fact, the two were often at odds - Malcolm X emphasized the need to develop and cultivate a black culture and to separate from white society (segregate), while did not emphasize the need for cultural differences and instead taught a message of universal brotherhood, cooperation, and integration of blacks into white society. What is interesting is that actually, later in Malcolm X's life, he changed his whole political outlook and attitude and came to support the mixing of the races and an ideology more similar to MLK's. The professor for that class, like professors in a few other classes that I took, made us purchase some of his own writings (great way for them to make money and feel good about themselves). A friend of mine said that in his humanities class, he was forced to watch homoerotic scenes from a movie. In another class on religion, they teach the doctrine that all religions are false and ultimately a result of psychological insecurities. I know this because at one of the print shops, I picked up the study guide for the class and read through it while I was bored waiting in line. The theory sounds sort of reasonable, but ultimately is not a concrete theory and only a hypothesis - I don't really think that it is appropriate at a supposedly secular unbias institution to be claiming that atheism is correct, and that we know for certain that all religious beliefs are false. One night I returned back to the dorms and attended a "Hall Ass" meeting (it's what they abbreviate for "Hall Association" which I was a member of). We all played a game where we would write a confession on a piece of paper that we wanted to let out, but want to let out anonymously. I wrote something silly, then we all turned in our papers where the host read out each paper individually. Most of them were pretty silly confessions, like mine, but then she read one that someone had wrote that sounded just like I had written it myself; "I just chose Berkeley for the name - I don't really like it here." I knew that I wasn't alone. I started trying to devise "escape plans" - I was literally slowly losing my mind. I looked into studying abroad to escape Berkeley, but it turned out to be sort of expensive and the options for my major were places like Australia or Vietnam, none of which I was particularly interested in (it would have been nice if somewhere like Japan or Europe were offered). I could feel my brain chemistry slowly changing. I developed insomnia, started experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, and, much to my horror, one day after obsessing about finals, all of my emotions shut off completely - I could no longer feel happiness or sadness - empathy or pleasure. It was like a "light switch" controlling my humanity just flipped off - I became a zombie. I lost my libido, I could not be moved by a sad event or movie - I could no longer feel anything - I became numb. I could no longer feel a "release" after crying or enjoy music. I was no longer interested in anything but getting out of Berkeley. I began to panic. What was happening to me?! I began to do some research. Was it Post-Traumatic Stress? Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Schizophrenia? Major Depressive Disorder? All I knew was at that point, I needed help, and fast. I was advised to go to the "Tang Center," but I really didn't want to wait, had read not-so-good reviews about it, didn't have the energy to trek all the way across campus early in the morning, and just needed out immediately. I called up my parents and told them to make the 8 hour drive to pick me up - it was a mental emergency. They picked me up, and I vowed never to return to that place. I thought that I was done with Berkeley, and that I would just cut my losses and that everything would be okay. I was wrong. First off, there were a few things that I found inconsiderate surrounding my mental breakdown and departure - they would not mail me the packages that I could not pick up in Berkeley after leaving (not even my roommate could get them for me), I was told that even with a doctor's note it could not be considered a "medical leave" or "medical absence" unless I had visited the Tang Center before leaving, and I could not get a refund for housing, meal points, or tuition even though it was basically the beginning of the semester. I didn't really care about all that stuff at the time though. I felt like Brer Rabbit just narrowly escaping the clutches of Brer Fox, and was glad to just be home again. I didn't return home as the same person. Much to my surprise, the insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, and numbness persisted, even though all of my stress was gone, and I was not upset about anything. I wasn’t still thinking about my ex and wasn’t down on myself for leaving. My parents didn't really understand much about mental illness at the time, so they just assumed that I needed to "snap out of it" or "stop thinking negatively" or that the reason I was feeling numb was because I was "repressing my emotions to prevent pain." I didn't really understand what was happening to me either, so I tried my best. I started exercising a bunch, went out with friends, and tried thinking positive. Things just kept getting worse. I started to feel intensely nauseous getting out of the house, and stopped sleeping completely. I had panic attacks out of nowhere for no reason at all (like I was not panicking about anything, just all of the sudden, my body started feeling extremely uncomfortably panicky and I felt like I was going to die or something). I begged my parents to take me to the hospital because I was extremely tired, but was unable to sleep. They would not listen and told me that I was just getting all anxious over nothing and to go to bed. I threatened to call an ambulance if they did not take me in, and they got upset, calling me "crazy." They eventually did take me, probably because they honestly did believe that I had gone crazy, and they were afraid. I went to the ER because one panic attack rendered me unable to walk and I almost passed out. In the ER they tried to calm me down. They took my vital signs and checked my blood levels of this and that. The doc said that it looked like my body was under massive stress and also said that my electrolytes were very low (I wasn't eating enough). I told the doc about my experience at Berkeley and that I hadn't slept in three days, and he sent in a special team to evaluate me. They asked if I wanted to be taken in to a "facility." I was desperate to get better, so I reluctantly agreed. I told dad that if we did not have enough money to pay for the ambulance or the stay at the facility, to sell my car to pay for it. "We might have to" he said. While I waited, in the ER they gave me some valium to try and help knock me out. It didn't work. They then tried some other benzodiazepine. Much to the nurses' amazement, it didn't work either. An ambulance then drove me to the mental health facility in Los Angeles. I was feeling so loopy from lack of sleep and a bit afraid of where I was going - images of mental hospitals in movies flashed through my mind. It would be another day before they would give me a double dose of Klonopin to finally knock me out. There I was, the most level-headed, reasonable, happy, sane person that you might ever know, now in the loony bin fighting for his own sanity. I woke up in a whitewashed tiled room with two beds. I tried to introduce myself to my roommate, but he was just silent - almost as if he had no idea what I was saying. He just sat there playing with a pony doll. A nurse came in and talked to him, telling him that if he didn't start taking his pills, he would be in there a lot longer, to which he was just silent again. I walked out of my room into the hallway where residents of the facility were allowed to go. There were tons of strange people there - one lady was locked in a room screaming at the top of her lungs like someone was ripping her intestines out - banging on the door. Others seemed to have other quirks like pretending to be a ninja or having difficulty understanding things. What I didn't know was that the hospital was sectioned into different units, and that patients were placed in the appropriate unit depending on how severely "crazy" or how self-sufficient/rational they were. I was put in the "craziest" unit initially, but they then later moved me to the "sanest" unit. I asked the nurses what was going on with me and if I would get better and things like that. I couldn't really get any satisfying answers, but I was told that I would see a psych doctor pretty soon. The doctor that I saw asked me a bunch of questions and I told her my story and about my symptoms. By this time I already knew that my diagnosis was "Major Depressive Disorder." "Ah, Berkeley - we get a lot of people from there." She said. While I was at Berkeley I heard about rumors of kids committing suicide and things like that they put engineering kids on lower floors so that they don't jump out of windows and that high places are barred-up to prevent jumping. I wouldn't doubt it now. She tried me on three different medications, all of which did not seem to do all that much. I spent my time trying to get to know the other people in the bin - they seemed mostly normal, except for circumstantial problems and occasionally suicidality. I was chatting with some people in the facility one night when all of the sudden over the intercom everybody heard some sort of alert. I can't remember exactly what it was they said, but I think it was "code blue." Someone was having a psychotic break in the middle of the unit. I was horrified! He had to be restrained and claimed that everyone was trying to kill him and that the red crosses in the hospital symbolized some sort of conspiracy. After a few weeks, I returned home, and some things slowly started to get better over the next few months. The panic attacks stopped, I wasn't feeling so anxious, and I could sleep again at night. Not everything went back to normal, though. A few months down the road, my moods started to dip severely low and I went nearly catatonic. Before this, I still felt completely numb/flat/zombielike, so it's not like I got better and then relapsed. I was hospitalized a second time. This time, I was in the bin at Northridge. I didn't like it as much as the one in LA personally, but it doesn't really matter, because I was just there to get better. I met a girl who was also there who had become psychotically depressed after going to Berkeley. She told me that she was a mathematics major. I was there for a short amount of time and then discharged with some new meds. I never did get better. I still feel emotionally numb. I've tried therapy, every supplement known to man, changing career paths, seeing friends, exercise, tons of different medications (SNRIs, SSRIs, NRIs, Dopamine Agonists, Atypical Antipsychotics, Wellbutrin, Psychostimulants, MAOIs, Tricyclics, etc). Most haven't done anything at all - some worked a small amount, but only for a very short period of time, and some prevented my moods from dipping, but didn't ever *lift* my baseline mood up to its normal euthymic levels, leaving me still flat and emotionally numb. I cannot bond with anybody romantically anymore and have no libido. I feel like my creativity is damaged, my personality has changed, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever be the same happy-go-lucky guy that I was again. They call this numb sort of state "anhedonia" and "emotional blunting." I have one more shot at getting myself back again - electroconvulsive therapy (otherwise known as "electroshock treatments"). Ironically, in Berkeley, there were tons of protests that aimed at trying to abolish this treatment based on ignorant beliefs about it as some sort of torture treatment or punishment used in the wards to "keep patients under control." Not nowadays. If they had succeeded, there might have been no more hope for me at all. So I regard going to Berkeley as "my Vietnam." It was time to cut my losses and quit the losing battle. One thing a doctor told me seems to ring true; "you won't be successful in anything you do unless you are happy." So let's evaluate the aftermath and what I am left with. I now have a large student debt, a disabling mental disorder that is not going away that severely diminishes my quality of life, and a stain on my academic record. Would you believe that the semester that I left Berkeley, the average gpa for all students with my major was 2.5? That is ridiculous, especially since you need like a 3.0 to get most internships. It's almost like Berkeley just doesn't care about the majority of it's student population. My gpa upon leaving was 2.3 - not bad for all the shit that I was going through. I tried to transfer to another UC, but they would not accept me on the grounds that "I could apply, but just to be competitive in the applicant pool, I needed at least a 3.0." Wow, that's pretty harsh - even after explaining my situation in detail. Next, I tried applying to local colleges - the ones that desperately wanted me to attend them right out of high school. They snubbed their noses up at me too. I tried getting a job at Lowe's, and when the interviewer saw that my gpa was 2.3, he asked "what happened??" I tried to explain. I didn't get the job. It's humiliating and will probably prevent me from being really competitive at getting into grad school. It's like a curse that doesn't leave me. I am currently going to community college to try and transfer to a CSU school, though I am sort of wasting a lot of time because CSUs will not accept credits from classes that you got a C- in, I already have over 70 units (CSUs will only allow 70 units to transfer), and now that I am a transfer college student instead of a student out of high school, I have to take a bunch of unrelated general ed classes that I would not have had to take if I was applying for college coming straight out of high school (things like speech). Well what did I gain from going to Berkeley? I guess I learned how to take the 100th derivative of a function, how to program in an inefficient and now defunct programming language (scheme) utilizing inefficient algorithms (recursion) to accomplish useless tasks like making a text-based card game or a metacircular evaluator, I learned some trivia about the civil rights movement, communism, political extremism, and racism, and I learned how to do epsilon-delta proofs (which it turns out, don't actually prove anything, but rather just formally restate something that is already known). I'm really glad I left because if I had continued going to Berkeley I would have left way worse off without any practical knowledge to help me enter the workforce whatsoever. I really worked my ass off, and for it I am in much worse shape than when I began. I'm really being honest when I say that I am currently learning more useful information at community college than I ever learned at UC Berkeley. It's cheaper down here, easier, more laid back, less up-tight and political, the weather is perfect, I have my family and friends down here, and there are plenty of potential partners. Sometimes I wonder how people can convince themselves that they really do love going to Berkeley.

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Located at a distance which allows for frequent trips to the cities of Oakland and San Francisco but at the same time allows for quiet nights dozing on the couch, UC Berkeley is a college perfectly situated in the suburbs of two major cities. While the adventurous can explore the bustling cityscape of San Francisco, the studious can spend weekends studying at the library without the noise of city life. For local attractions, Telegraph and Shattuck, the two streets running perpendicular to the Berkeley campus, offer various small boutiques and specialty restaurants, as well as street vendors promoting their wares. However, if you are looking for the nearest Denny’s or California Pizza Kitchen, be prepared to drive to the neighboring cities, as the reduction of large scale commercial chain stores in Berkeley city has been enforced by the city council in order to maintain Berkeley’s unique atmosphere. That said, only at Berkeley can you find an institution of such high academic standing and extreme school spirit. Athletic events are an integral part of the social life at Berkeley, not only for the current students, but also for returning alumni who can be seen milling around at football tailgating events with their families or grabbing “froyo” at Yogurt Park before late night basketball games. Every year, the Big Game against our rival Stanford bring more and more students and alumni together in hopes of winning “The Axe” and re-establishing our dominance over the Stanford football team. Through the annual Bonfire Rally and other school-wide events, the Rally Committee – a student organization similar to a spirit commission - provides an opportunity for students to bond together and to incite a sense of school pride which reverberates to the core of the student body. Although one of the many stereotypes people have of Berkeley students is that they would rather study than eat or sleep, I have found that to be a great exaggeration. Even if there are the few students who live from midterm to midterm, here, most students swear by the phrase: “study hard, party hard” - working hard during the weekdays to catch up on readings and assignments, and loosening up on weekends in celebration of the end of a long week. This equilibrium between academia is very refreshing, and keeps the stress of schoolwork from becoming a constant and debilitating aspect of student life. However, as much as I love Berkeley, I would have to say that it could use great improvements to its bureaucratic system. Every semester, come time to schedule classes, complaints of long waitlists and full classes can be heard all around campus. Scheduling and requesting classes are a hassle, and often depend on class standing, so that while seniors have priority when it comes to signing-up for classes, freshmen and sophomore have to fight for a position on the class roster. Still, the system is pretty lenient, and “crashing” courses allows both wait-listed and non wait-listed students to attempt to add a class. Although most students end up getting into the classes that they want at the discrepancy of the instructors, some students are not as lucky. Most of the time, instructors do make exceptions for students who need a certain course to fulfill a major requirement, but many students still end up having to diverge off their major track in order to accommodate the designated number of seats in a class. If Berkeley could create a scheduling system which is easier for students to navigate, I think it would be positively received by the student body.

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Berkeley is a HUGE school. For some, this may be a negative, but for me its one of my favorite things about Berkeley. Going to a large school keeps things exciting. Every weekend when I go out, i meet someone new, see new faces. It never gets old. My best friend goes to a really small school and she's constantly complaining about how she's sick and tired of being with the same people. There's a lot more drama at those small schools and they seem very juvenile and high school in my opinion. I like that at berkeley, the largeness and diverse student body allows you to have all different types of friends. I hang out with a group of nerdy kids that were in my dorm freshman year. I also have my sorority sisters and frat guys. Additionally, I play on an intramural volleyball team so I have some athletic friends as well. I have friends in my classes, friends on Cal athletic teams. It's great! Another thing I love about UCB is the pride and the spirit. Everyone is so proud to be a Cal bear. Multiple times when I have worn Berkeley apparel away from the campus, alumna have looked at me and yelled "GO BEARS!". The football games are an excellent example of our spirit. They are wild! On game days, everyone parties and the streets of Berkeley are packed. Then, at the stadium all the students in the student section come together and cheer on their team. Its a great feeling of unity. One game experience that I'll never forget was my freshman year when I went to "The Big Game" (Berkeley vs. Stanford) at Stanford. I remember looking at the Stanford section and everyone was so calm and proper. Their band went on and was horrible. Then I took a look at the CAL section. Everyone was out of their seats, some drunk, screaming, cheering, going crazy. Some Berkeley students even dressed up as Stanford students, and when they were being filmed in the Stanford section, they ripped off their clothes, exposing the blue and gold underneath. Berkeley people are so passionate and crazy and proud to be bears. Our band then went on the field and DOMINATED! We won that game on Stanfuurrrd's turf!! Wonderful memory. I'm always very proud to tell people to go to Berkeley, and I can tell people are always impressed. UCB has a very good reputation academically. It's the number one public school in the country! While I LOVE going to a big school, I suppose there are a few downsides. It's hard to get classes. They fill up quick. And often its hard to get any attention from faculty and school administration. While smaller private schools hold your hand and guide you through college, Berkeley lets you figure it out on your own. I once waited in a 45 minute line to meet with a counselor. And after only 5 minutes he was already scooting me out the door to meet with his next student. Additionally, since classes are so large, you may go an entire semester without your professor ever knowing who you are. If you want help or want to speak to your professor you have to go to office hours and wait in line to meet with him/her. If you're independent, you will do very well here. But, if you're not, I would still recommend giving Berkeley a try. I came from a small private all girls school with only 100 girls in my graduating class. The first semester of Berkeley was definitely overwhelming, but I have adapted. Going to Berkeley builds character, and it has made me a stronger person. After living such a sheltered life, I'm glad I'm getting this more practical real world experience.

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I would say one of the best things about UC Berkeley is that there is always something to do, and some way to be involved. Because the school is located in such a urban area, there is a plethora of things to see, do and experience. Plus the people here are great, so you're always in good company. Also, there are limitless opportunities to participate/get involves in causes, groups, research, clubs, etc. Whatever you want, you can find it here if you look hard enough. If i could change anything about Berkeley, it would probably be the size of some of the classes, as well as the difficulty one can have trying to get into the classes they want. Because it is a well-attended public university, classes have to be very large to accomodate everyone. This can lead to very anonymous, impersonal settings. Another problem I've faced (particularly because I'm a Psychology major) is trying to get into the classes I want. It seems like there is a never-ending priority list that I'm never at the top of, and waiting lists for classes can be up to 100 people long. It's just frustrating to not get the classes you want, or to not be sure of your schedule until the second or third week of class. I guess that what it boils down to is that in some ways, the university is too big. When I tell people I go to UC Berkeley most of the time they seem impressed. I get the "wow you must be smart" reaction a lot. I'm proud to tell people where I go to school. I spend most of my time on campus either near the Moffitt (the undergraduate library), Sproul, or in the Psychology building. Berkeley is definitely a "college town" although not all the residents seem to have caught on to that. In general, I dislike UC Berkeley Administration. They seem very disconnected from the students. I have had some excellent experiences with a few administration members, but for the most part they are slow to respond, and can even be quite rude. Bureaucracy just sucks in general. I would say there is a good amount of school pride at Berkeley. You definitely see people with their Berkeley gear all the time, and we tend to dislike our rival, Stanford. I think the amount of pride you see really depends what group of people you spend time with. One experience I'll always remember is living in the dorms my freshman year. It was a great experience, and I met some of my best friends there. Even though there wasn't a lot of privacy, it was cramped, and the food sucked, I think every undergraduate needs to experience the dorms. I loved it! The most frequent student complaints tend to revolve around the difficulty of classes and certain subjects. I common saying is "Berkeley: Where Your Best Just Isn't Good Enough," and I think in a lot of cases there's some truth to that. Another common complaint revolves around the type of students you encounter in classes. There's the kid you always gets up on his soapbox, and askes the professor a million questions. Everyone hates that kid, but he doesn't seem to understand that no one is that impressed by him. There's one in every class.

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-The best thing about UC Berkeley is the campus. I just get a great feeling inside whenever I walk around it. -The thing I would change about Berkeley is the class sizes. I prefer small classes where students are able to interact one on one with the professor. There are not many classes like that here. -Again, I think the school is too large. I prefer a more intimate environment where the professor can call the student by name and the student is personally held accountable for doing their work from day to day. -Reaction "Wow, you must be really smart." -I spend most of my time on campus in my place of residence off campus. -I would say college town--but at the same time, not really, because everything closes so darn early that there is nothing to do after 10--even on weekends. -The Administration is okay. It is very large and somewhat impersonal, but my dealings with it have been fine. -I would say the people living in the trees by memorial stadium, just because it had been going on for so long. I , and most everyone I know, are against teh tree people and on the side of the university.(the Marine recruiting center is a possible answer, but I would consider that off-campus) -I am in Cal Band, so I am exposed to a lot of school pride. I cheer at games, say "go bears" and where a lot of Cal clothing. However, I have some friends who only own one piece of Cal clothing or have never even stepped foot into an athletic event. I would say that there is a lot of school pride, definitely for the academic side of Berkeley, but pride for sporting events and things like that is limited to certain kinds of people or student groups. -Unusual: The the campus of Berkeley is very nice, the city of Berkeley is terrible: dirty, ridden with homeless and generally unsafe at late hours of the night. -One experience I will always remember is getting back my first graded assignment ever here at Berkeley. I got a B and I was thrilled because I felt like I could make it here academically. I find this funny because now I would cringe at getting a B on an essay or test! -Seriously, the most frequent student complaint is lack of sleep OR too much homework.

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The best thing about Berkeley is the way it rewards people who know what they want from it. And the longer you go here, the more accurate your expectations are. You can learn a lot about music, or just about your major. You can develop life long friends, or set a strong career path for yourself, or most likely both. The size of the school is a both a blessing and a curse. It gives you the room you need to live how you want, provided you have some notion of what you want already. People outside of Berkeley tend to react well, and that is a source of real school pride. The school pride concerning the football team, though loud, is mostly a freshman experience, and has little to do with real feelings of pride about the school. It’s the intelligent and passionate people that you see on campus every day who really make the wheels turn. UC Berkeley is integrated humorously with the city of Berkeley, and there is a lot to learn from that. You can live far or close to the source of student energy near campus, and your experience will be shaped by that choice. Sometimes the distraction of student life is overwhelming, and sometimes the isolation of life down University Avenue or in Oakland can leave you hanging. But on telegraph, academia, homelessness and the hyphy movement tend to collide without regard for one another, and to great comic effect. The administration of the school, and the student government make a lot of noise, through sidewalk chalk and through the daily cal, but my experience is that they can be almost fully ignored without effecting your demeanor if you are good at saying “no” to flyerers in the spring, and if you don’t read email bulletins from the chancellor. It seems like students can be intimidated by the impersonal aspects of their Berkeley experience, and often feel like the academic and social aspects of the school are disconnected and don’t support one another. But there is a lot of life and energy at UC Berkeley, and if you put in a little effort you can learn a lot about it.

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When I was debating whether or not to attend Berkeley, I was eventually swayed in the right direction based on location. Berkeley is located in the city of Berkeley which is in the east bay, which in turn is just a 20-30 minute train ride(BART) to San Francisco. I love the bay area. It's so beautiful and peaceful. City life and nature are integrated very nicely. When you live in the Bay area you feel apart of a community; it's a nice feeling. As for the university itself, it's difficult to describe as black or white. Berkeley is very large with more than 30,000 students. This being said, one can find whatever it is that he/she is seeking. I know people who never do work and party all the time. Oppositely, there are many people who study all the time. There are the frats/sororities, cooperative student housing, student clubs, etc. Whatever your heart desires. But if I had to average everything together, I would definitely say that Berkeley is an academic university. People work hard here, and I think that is part of what one should expect from their college experience, at least in part. Since the school is so large there is no babying, and you can sometimes feel like a number in terms of the bureaucracy. People do fail out of school as there are no safety nets and grade inflation is set at a minimum. There are good things though about a school of this size. It is pretty easy to take advantage of the system. Rules aren't always enforced. For example, I've taken about five classes without taking the prerequisites, and I've substituted three courses for things I felt were more alligned with my ambitions. I guess I got away with a lot of these things because of being in a smaller college, chemistry. If you are planning on entering into the school of Letters and Science, which most of you are, be prepared for fight up stream with the masses.

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Berkeley is a pretty unique place and I am very glad I decided to come here. One thing I love about Berkeley is how it is set up physically. Most college campuses are very enclosed, the dorms and the classrooms are all in the same area and when you leave campus, you are in a whole new place. The dorms of Berkeley are technically off-campus, mixed in with the city of Berkeley. Because of this, you get to know the whole city, not just the campus, very early on and it doesn't feel so enclosed. It is very much a college town, which can sometimes make you feel smothered, constantly surrounded by school but with San Francisco being just a short BART ride a way (20 minutes!), it is easy to escape the monotony of a college town. Berkeley is a very large school which has its pros and cons. On the upside, there are always people similar to you. While there may be stereotypes of a typical Berkeley student, with so many students there are an infinite number of places to "fit in". Also, whereas in High School you may have dealt with everyone knowing everything about your life in a small school, at Berkeley you can escape the gossip and rumors. So few people know you on such a large campus that it is hard to have a "reputation". The bad thing about such a big campus is it takes more to stand out and you don't have the same strong sense of community as you do at a smaller school. Maybe you like walking through campus and waving at everyone you know. At Berkeley, you won't run into students you know nearly as often.

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One of the most important part of Berkeley is school pride, seen most vividly during football season. The students here are proud of their accomplishments and of other Berkeley students' accomplishments and give their best to the activities in which they're involved. Most of the world does not understand UC Berkeley because of the many misconceptions that have been propagated through the years. Berkeley is not a hippie school; while many students hold liberal values, a sizable population also holds conservative values. With the wide range of activities and events on campus, there is a niche for every student. That said, Berkeley is a large, public university. The first year here can - and often is - overwhelming, not only because of the social and academic adjustments but also because of the lack of support from the school. While the resources are available, you must reach out first - no one will take care of you. You must take care of yourself. In this sense, Berkeley prepares students well for the real world. At Berkeley, you have to do everything for yourself. No one will take you by the hand and guide you through college life. You have to make Berkeley your own. If you're unsatisfied with your learning experience, your grades, the social scene, or even dorm food, you have to take the initiative and make the change. This is why Berkeley students are student activists; we know that success and change won't be handed to us on a silver platter.

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The best thing about Berkeley is the acceptance that you receive for whatever you do. You are free here, so do whatever you want. Even the hated groups, like the NRA and ROTC have their own little corners. Just don't get too lost, because there is very little guidance or structure for a person who had not settled on a lifestyle before coming here. Berkeley, despite being a block in total area, is also huge culturally. It is the epitome of a college town, with a big city nearby. Everything is convenient and the second you leave, you miss it. If I could change Berkeley, I would make the administration actually pay attention to student needs. When something goes wrong with your paperwork, you are on your own to fight the whole campus. I will always remember the day I got an F because of a filing error that never got fixed. Caveat emptor, I guess. Controversies on campus-forget about them, they are a dime a dozen and usually no one cares after a week. Nothing will surprise you after going here. I guess the biggest occurrence on our campus...besides some suicides, were the environmentalists who lived in the trees of an oak grove that was being removed to make room for an athletic training center. Strangely, when Berkeley started making nukes again, no one cared.

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