I stayed at the University of California, Berkeley for one year and three months with four semesters (two summer semesters, one spring semester, and one fall semester). In general, I want to give you a more detailed learning experience and the content of American culture. Since the scenery of Berkeley or San Francisco have been described by other classmates in detail, I don’t want to repeat them here. Generally speaking, the life in UC Berkeley is filled with a comprehensive and free atmosphere with the highly difficult and challenging courses as well as the openness of the community, which is the place where my dreams started.
When I first arrived in the United States, I was determined to find a career path that I really like. So, the selection of courses was relatively wild. In Berkeley, those classes with a serial number lower 100 are lower-level courses, and those with a serial number above 100 are upper-level courses. Generally, the lower-level courses are for freshmen and sophomores. When I first arrived, I chose an upper statistics course, a lower computer science course, an upper math course, and an upper finance course. The difficulty of Berkeley's math class was obviously more than I had excepted. I think it was beyond my current ability. The statistics class was difficult but interesting. However, it was not to my appetite, though it could be a tool course to learn. The finance course was simple and there were few formulas. I felt it was a bit meaningless. But the computer class was really different, which was the reason why I could convince myself to pursue computer science as my future path.
UC Berkeley EECS (Electronic Engineering and Computer) department must be one of the best in the world, and among the international students it is known as one of the four best computer department in US. The EECS department is really wealthy and owns two buildings in the school, which are called Soda Hall and Cory Hall respectively and are both located in the north of the campus. Since EECS students usually stay up late to do their homework in those two buildings, those two places generally open 24 hours a day.
Basically, applying for a computer science major at UC Berkeley requires an average GPA of 3.3 in the three courses of CS 61A, CS 61B and CS 70, which means that you need to get at least B+ in these three courses. The CS major is the most popular one at UC Berkeley. Everyone who wants to be enrolled in is working really hard. They are competing for this B+, since these three courses are going to be curved. The first computer course I studied was CS 61A. Generally, the low-level computer introductory course should be relatively simple, but UC Berkeley does not work in that way. This course taught Python in just one semester, and imparted some basic data structures, the most basic ideas in computer program, object-oriented programming, and another lisp language. It is a LOT!
For me, this is the first semester I have just come to Berkeley. The academic pressure was still quite large. On one hand, language barrier was one problem. On the other hand, getting used to the American exam system was another. In terms of workload, there were three lectures a week- one lab, one homework, one discussion, and one big project every four weeks. It was quite hard to understand everything. I spent almost half of my time on this class. And for most nights I needed to stay up late at Soda hall to write code. Students often joked that the reason why the building of the EECS department opens all the time is that it is for you to stay up late to write code. Professor Dan Garcia has once said that he had talked with professors from other US universities. If this course were placed elsewhere, usually it also took two semesters or more to be taught, and we just finished it in one semester.
In the next semester, the CS 61B data structure was even harder than CS 61A. There were four big projects in this course, especially the last one, which counted about 1500 lines, and these four projects accounted for 50% of the total grade, which meant you had to spend a considerable amount of effort on projects. In my case, each project took at least 40 hours, at most 120 hours. And doing well in project did not necessarily mean that you could do well in the exam. The content of exam was more like the course itself. To be honest, I think this course must be the most difficult courses I have encountered in my undergraduate life.
However, although these computer classes were difficult, these classes really made me feel a sense of accomplishment. For example, we did a lot of interesting things. In CS 61A, we did a project called ants vs some bees, a game inspired by Plants vs. Zombies, in CS 61B we developed two games Lines of Action and Signpost. These games could really operate (although we played many times before we started the project) and developed into a very usable one — Gitlet, which was used in the industry and could store files and modified files and then saved them back to the previous version. I felt a sense of accomplishment in doing these projects. These pleasures convinced me that I should pursue computer science as my career.
Next, I would like to talk about American culture. The first is about making friends in the United States. I think we must be open-minded and inclusive. One of the benefits of making friends is that as you make more and more friends, your oral English will get better and better. As far as I am concerned, I usually make friends in class especially when I am doing a project or lab. If I finish writing in advance, I am willing to spend some time to help other students to pass the test cases, and teach them the concepts. These interactions have also greatly improved my oral English. And then some of the classmates I helped become my good friends in the United States. We study together, eat together and so on. I think US guys are also happy to have friends from other countries.
The second thing that gives me a deep impression is that theirvalue follows their career path. Among them the most impressive one is Steven, who is a 26-year-old junior now. I met him when I was writing the project. He told me his story. He said he didn’t’t want to go to university after he finished high school. Later he had interest in playing games like Minecraft and shared some videos in YouTube, so he became a game YouTuber. It is fantastic of him to get 350 thousand subscribers and he used this job to buy a house and car for his family. Afterwards, he often made these Minecraft mods in java for his fans, which required a mastery of java, so he later fell in love with programming. That is the reason why he came to Berkeley and continued to study computer science. Although his mathematics is really bad and it is painful for him to take some theoretical courses, I think he is a really creative and smart guy since he is doing what he really like. In comparison, in Chinese tradition for career path is much more rigid — starting from a good elementary school, then a good junior high school, a good high school and finally a good university. One of the results of this kind of career path is some students finally know they don’t like their major after graduating from university. Sometimes I think it’s also very important to press the pause button to find out what you really like because interest is the best teacher. Then from all the friends I know especially white students. None of them follow our traditional Chinese career path. Some of them transferred from a community college, and some started home-school since junior high school, but they have one thing in common — like what they are doing right now. This is also a great motivation always encouraging me and persuading me to move on.
In addition, I also want to mention hobbies. The American classmates I know have a large variety of hobbies. They go skiing at Lake Tahoe, or go to the beach, or go skateboarding on weekends and go to Gym quite often on weekdays. Their enthusiasm for hobbies has also infected me. I think I have spent a lot of time for hobbies. For example, in the first semester, I took two tennis courses, about three or four times a week. Under the influence of the atmosphere, I also started to go to Gym, either going with my classmates or a coach. I think the time spent on my hobbies is also very worthwhile since it helps me relieve pressure and meet some friends.
During the holidays, I went to state of Alaska and visited Anchorage and Fairbanks, and saw the aurora for yourself. That’s really fascinating. I also went to Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. I hope I can have the chance to appreciate these beautiful sceneries in the future.
In a word, I was lucky enough to catch the last train before the pandemic of the world and fortunately found my future career path. I talked with my parents about my decisions many times during this period. I should say I have been changing my major in the past few years from civil engineering to physics to computer science. From the initial opposition to the concession, they gradually begun to support me. I am lucky to have completed the 61 series classes and 70 of the lower-level CS courses and can meet the computer science’major requirements after finishing a few upper-level CS courses. What impressed me most is that you will meet this kind classmates in the university: those in their twenties and thirties, those who have transferred from community colleges, those have been home-schooled for quite a long time.
What I want to say is that there are many lifestyles in the world, and there is no need to follow a so-called successful path other people give you. There is no need to be successful in the eyes of others and there is no need to be pushed by society or forced to work hard by peer pressure. I can understand the parental education method of try to help their children to avoid difficulties. In this way, the child will lose himself and then be pushed by these pressures to become a good kid. You can do anything, but you have to know what kind of life you want to live, and then go for it.