Hey Everyone! My name is Mayura (its easier read than pronounced!) and I'm a third year Bachelor of Science (Adv) student at Sydney University doing a double major in Biochemistry and Immunology. I'm currently spending my fourth week in the US where I'm undertaking a semester of exchange at the University of California, Berkeley. Hopefully through my own experiences and discoveries, I'll be able to provide you with a taste of what an exchange program offers! So as I write this blog from the Science library (which is only one among 30 different libraries on campus, along with 5 levels of underground storage!) I'm trying to figure out how to summarize the past 4 weeks of my stay here. I guess I shall start by describing Berkeley- which if known at all, is famous as a university town with everything centered around and linked to the campus. The university campus itself, which was established in 1868, is very beautiful though it’s a rather different beauty to what one would find at Usyd. With many grand white buildings amidst the Californian redwood trees which are habited by a large population of squirrels, creeks which run through the campus to the mountains (a popular hiking location) at the Western end, the university almost seems like a national park!
Apart from the academic reputation of this university, there is also a much more heightened sense of university pride amongst the Berkeley students. (or rather should I call it- “school pride” as most American's refer to university as “school” or “college”-sounds weird, agreed, but you get used to it) This “pride”, I discovered when a bunch of us exchange students decided to attend the season's first Basketball game, where the Berkeley “Cal” team was up against Washington State University. Not only was this my first live basketball game but also an eye-opening introduction to the seriousness of college sport in American universities. The stadium was roaring in the university colours of yellow and navy blue, with the marching band and cheerleaders entertaining the crowd and by the end of the game I found myself enthusiastically shouting the Berkeley cheer “Go Bears!” While the basketball game was one aspect of the American college culture, there's also the much more famous residential college culture. There truly exist the much-heard-of Greek societies- the fraternities and sororities, the student run co-operative, known as “co-ops” for short and the university dorms, each being characterized by their distinct student life. So which one among these am I a part of? When choosing for my accommodation, I decided to go for the International house which is a huge community of students from a wide range of disciplines and education levels (with there being more graduate and PhD students than undergrads) but from a even wider spectrum of countries and cultures.. It’s almost like experiencing an international exchange! I've always found introducing my name to someone a great ordeal as I usually end up spelling it out to the much embarrassed person I've just been introduced to. However, here at the I-house, there are many other people who share the similar dilemma as me. So despite all the vast differences between our cultures and previous life experiences, it’s amazing to see how much of a common ground we all share. Trouble while introducing names is just one of them :) As the academic pressure hasn't quite built up yet, us Berkeley exchange students always look for some place to go on a weekend. And one of my favorite escapes so far has been to San Francisco. A 20 minute train trip away, San Francisco is very much like Sydney CBD. I've been there 3 times so far- the first time as a tourist going around the typical sightseeing places- such as Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square, Pier 39 (famous for being inhabited by a group of Sea- Lions lazing around on the wooden decks), Coit Tower and not to forget the San Francisco special -Ghirardelli chocolate place. And all of these places I covered in a day on foot, hiking up and down the many steep hills of the city! It was much better the second time, when I had a pure shopping spree with some very good stores around the main city. But the third time was by far the best visit, where a bunch of us form the I-house decided to rent bicycles and ride through the city and across the famous Golden Gate Bridge. As tiring as it was (yes, up and down the hills of San Fran- and that too on bike!) it was absolutely worth it! And I'm finding exchange to be just like riding a bike through San Francisco...challenging but highly rewarding! So on that note, I think I'll sum up that first month of exchange and hopefully have some more experiences to share in a few weeks time.. Till then, Cheerio!