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How my Berkeley Experience Landed Me in the Loony Bin - Real Student Experience

BerkeleySurvivorBerkeleySurvivor Posts: 45Registered User Junior Member
Hey everybody, if you are a student planning on attending UC Berkeley, then this is a "MUST READ." If you are a continuing student and really like Berkeley, I really don't mind - I guess everybody's experiences are different - but don't discount mine just because you disagree with what I have to say. Here, I talk about my experiences as an undergrad student, what you can expect at Berkeley, and what things are like. You will learn some lessons that many don't learn until they have been in Berkeley for a while. I'll save you the time and the hardship of finding out the hard way. You will hear about my trials and tribulations; my opinions and heated criticisms. Most of all, you will hear about things that they don't want you to know.

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 **** 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-**** 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 **** 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 ****ed 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 ******* will decide to pull the fire alarm really early in the morning (like 4am) just to **** 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 **** - 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 *******s. 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 ******* 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 *****. I guess it's a public monument and supposed to be art or something, haha. 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 **** 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 ****. 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.
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Replies to: How my Berkeley Experience Landed Me in the Loony Bin - Real Student Experience

  • BerkeleySurvivorBerkeleySurvivor Posts: 45Registered User Junior Member
    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 **** 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 - ***?).

    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 **** 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. I have found out that I can get nearly the same salary going into the workforce out of any other college. Sometimes I wonder how people can convince themselves that they really do love going to Berkeley.
  • BuBBLES FoR SALEBuBBLES FoR SALE Posts: 2,164Registered User Senior Member
    I doubt whoever wrote this rambling "review" ever went to Berkeley. And if he did, I'm not surprised he dropped out since he's just the type of societal loser that Berkeley does a great job of getting rid of.
  • BerkeleySurvivorBerkeleySurvivor Posts: 45Registered User Junior Member
    Just because you disagree with my opinions does not mean that they are illegitimate (though people in Berkeley sometimes tend to do this). I gave a very reasonable and thorough explanation for why I feel that I do so that people don't just assume that I'm a "hater."

    I certainly DID go to UC Berkeley. It's a bit disheartening to go through all that I did, and then have people just disregard the whole ordeal.

    If you still do not believe that I did, I can happily provide photographs of my student ID, class assignments/tests from my classes at Berkeley, and whatever else you can think of within reason.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Posts: 38,121Registered User Senior Member
    EECS average GPAs are not and were not 2.5 for decades.

    Lower division EE and CS course average GPAs were more in the 3.0 range in 1999, according to Grade Distributions for EECS and LSCS Students . There has been grade inflation since then, so the grades and GPAs are likely higher now than then.
  • Alliancedude1Alliancedude1 Posts: 125Registered User Junior Member
    Wow that's rough- sorry about what you went through : /.

    I can say that I'm excited to go to Berkeley and through looking at their Facebook app, many others are as well (I'm sure some naive or unprepared).

    To the first issues: I love the rain, don't plan on living on campus and don't plan on looking for a girlfriend on campus, but in a church in a surrounding community (most likely- I don't find the values of many of the local churches solid). I do expect an extremely challenging time in regards to my faith, but believe it is what I need to best grow and lead someday.

    I am going into business and see some of your issues stemming from EECS courses which I won't be taking. Haha my dad got two low Cs in college, one was in an anthropology class with a woman teacher who hated all men (and taught it), and the other was in an engineering calculus class that he accidentally took instead of business calculus (it had a suggested prerequisite of physics which he had not taken).

    This coupled with research on professors beforehand and taking completely different courses from you would cause me not to be scared, though I would be if I had the same interests as you.

    I am doubly interested though to hear others' experiences now though, especially from my major. It was a long read, but a great spark to needed research before I send in a SIR.

    Hope you regain what was lost and someday come out better! Pm me if you want to talk more or have anything else to say : )
  • sosomenzasosomenza Posts: 2,122- Senior Member
    B. Survivor: I sympathize with you and I hope others will also. Stick with the meds and try a different school. Hopefully, things will get better. One thing you should consider is that the mental illness had likely been sneaking up on you for a long time. The stress of UCB broke you, but it had likely been building for years. If you think about it, you should remember plenty of instances of fear and anxiety before UCB. GL
  • BerkeleySurvivorBerkeleySurvivor Posts: 45Registered User Junior Member
    I have always considered myself to be pretty happy prior to coming to UCB, but perhaps I had a genetic predisposition towards the illness that all of the stress triggered the "vulnerability" that would have otherwise been dormant. In my experience, it seems that the more extreme the stressor, the deeper the depression that is produced. The stress-diathesis model of mental illness predicts that significant life stressors are huge predictors of the onset of mental illness. The rates of depression are very high among college-aged kids and I read an article that said that suicide rates in Berkeley were twice the national average for the age group.

    I'm not the only one from my area to leave Berkeley that I know of either, and many people that I have spoken to about my experiences recount an experience that someone else they know went through at Berkeley and left as well.

    As far as the gpa goes - I was told that 2.5 was the average gpa for all students of my major the semester that I left (many years after 1999). I could be wrong, but I even discussed it multiple times with my academic adviser and she didn't correct me or tell me otherwise.

    Some of my friends in Berkeley claim to really like it there, so maybe I just had a bad experience. Other majors may be easier.

    The moral of the story is don't just go somewhere just for the name - if you aren't happy, you won't be successful in what you do. I know it sounds cheesy, and out of High School getting in somewhere "big" is a big deal, but really, it's not worth it if you don't truly like it there.

    I'm open for any questions about my experiences , so don't hesitate to ask!

    Oh, I also plan on having ECT done at the end of the semester (2 months from now). I'll let everyone know how it goes if I don't become a total basket-case like Dory from Finding Nemo as a result of it, lol.
  • failure622failure622 Posts: 1,350Registered User Senior Member
    Wow, that was long. And uh, some of that really isn't the school's fault...

    First of all, girls in engineering... uh, duh, you're not gonna find a girlfriend there. And, no matter what school you're at, engineering classes are usually about 10-20% girls, I'd say. That's not Berkeley, that's called being an EECS major.

    As for the dorms, not all the rooms are tiny. The mini-suite rooms are huge, we dunno what to do with all of our floor space. The people you end up rooming with are also awfully random, and my building's not had a single fire alarm pulled this year. As for drinking in them, I wish my building would've cracked down on this. :\ My first roommate had a drinking problem, and was always in the room drinking. I would've loved for the RA to have cared, told her to stop buying for freshmen, or just generally done something about the nightmare that was roommate #1. As for piracy, good for them. It's illegal, of course there are policies against it.

    When it comes to EECS courses, CC doesn't compare to Berkeley. At all. I did two years of CC and hated every minute of it. The classes were boring, easy, and oftentimes oversimplified. Even if I had no clue what I was doing, I could ace classes without trying. Berkeley put the challenge back in school, taught new material (not the same stuff we learned in highschool), and just generally made things fun again. CC could never compare to the level of education you can get at Berkeley, especially not for engineering.

    I am sorry to hear about all your mental troubles though, and I'm sorry to hear that that happened to you. Sounds like you're doing much better at CC.

    I can't help but laugh though, at how opposite our stories have been... I started at CC, and transferred to Berkeley... the rigor of the courses helped me immensely with depression, suicidal thoughts, anorexia... the piles of problem sets kept me busy, and working through them was a fun challenge. While I might still suffer from anxiety, being here has been amazingly helpful. Guess it just goes to show, everyone'll have different experiences here.
  • VannAleXXVannAleXX Posts: 76Registered User Junior Member
    I ALMOST read all of that.
  • BearFactsBearFacts Posts: 232Registered User Junior Member
    Sorry to hear what happened to you at Berkeley. but you seem like a weirdo magnet. And I probably know who you are. Well, life goes on... so good luck.

    Queen - 'Another One Bites the Dust' - YouTube
  • TrivelpieceTrivelpiece Posts: 17Registered User New Member
    Cal and UCLA have ruined the futures of many bright and deserving California students. The system favors internationals and others that did not come through the California public schools. It’s kind of ironic since Cal and UCLA are being funded by California taxpayers. Students coming from California public high schools will generally perform below the average in the more technical classes. It's particularly harsh when these classes are curved to a C+/B-.

    Note that although the result may end up being the same, the two schools are culturally very different. Cal is perhaps more intellectual than UCLA. Engineering students are not only smart but many are surprisingly articulate and thoughtful. UCLA is in a more beautiful location and the weather is great.

    Best of luck to everyone!
  • BerkeleySurvivorBerkeleySurvivor Posts: 45Registered User Junior Member
    You might have a more pleasant experience at Berkeley if you:
    1.) Are already familiar with the area and have lived there for a long period of time
    2.) Are a resident of California
    3.) Aren't a naive kid right out of high school still trying to figure out who you are
    4.) Haven't had any big recent life changes (breakup, moving, death in family, etc.)
    5.) Are pretty liberal, consider yourself non-religious (or are a part of a religion but only for it's "cultural significance"), are a very political person, and subscribe to the beliefs of cultural relativism (the ethical/philosophical doctrine).
    6.) Consider yourself more of an urban/city person
    7.) Have a good, solid support system and do not have too many extra obligations that would distract you from academics
    8.) Are used to sharing a room
    9.) Can afford the costs associated with Berkeley
    10.) Are taking an "easier" major
    11.) Are not too concerned with finding a "significant other," or already have a significant other that you have access to seeing very frequently
    12.) Can see family and friends often
    13.) Prefer a more engaging than "laid-back" atmosphere
    14.) Have already been in community college and are coming as a transfer student (these types of students are usually older, have had more life experiences, are more prepared/mature, have a lot of the general classes already done, and have been around so long that they are really eager to move up to a "bigger school")
  • failure622failure622 Posts: 1,350Registered User Senior Member
    Trivelpiece, if you don't mind me asking, where are you getting that information from? Last I checked, Cal favored instate students, making out of state admissions incredibly difficult. Perhaps what you perceive as schools favoring OoS is really just starting with higher standards for them? Also, OoS tuition is MUCH higher than in state, so don't go shouting about tax money paying for them. :P

    Survivor... your new list seems like complete BS, sorry. Just because you didn't like Berkeley doesn't mean someone needs to be everything you aren't to enjoy their time here. (Also, as an EECS transfer, it really doesn't make it any easier, especially trying to catch up on 6+ lower division courses and still finish in 4 semesters.)
  • BerkeleySurvivorBerkeleySurvivor Posts: 45Registered User Junior Member
    I didn't say that someone NEEDED to be everything or even anything on that list to like Berkeley. I said that you might have a more pleasant experience and things might be easier for you if you fit a lot of things on the list.
  • gilgamac97gilgamac97 Posts: 2Registered User New Member
    Hi, long time lurker on CC here, and I really felt that I had to chime in on this thread. OP, I sympathize with you and believe your story is entirely truthful. I don't think you would actually take all this time to develop this rant just to **** or to intentionally misrepresent the quality of the environment at Cal. In fact, what you have said here reverberates the sentiments of a certain other poster here on CC, who ostensibly is very connected to the school. Who that person is is not so much important in this discussion, but I'm sure long time CCers would already know who I'm talking about. At one point, I had attributed this certain person's gripes with Cal to zealotry--one person's highly negative experience amongst many other's highly positive experiences--but as with you, he is overwhelmingly bitter about this school (I genuinely believe for valid reasons) and almost always exposes the many vices that students can face in this, perhaps, nightmare of an environment. I am confident that the OP's (and the certain other poster's) experiences in Cal are not just random, outlier experiences that seek to advance some ulterior motive.

    I'm sure everyone here is aware of Cal's renowned reputation across multiple disciplines and may regard the school with utmost awe, hoping to attract prospective students away from other UCs or even elite private schools. But just as the pros of attending Cal are widely dispersed on this board, so too must the cons. However, everytime cons about Cal are brought up, they are unduly shot down and seemingly disregarded. Granted, if the environment were really as horrific as these few people have described, then how have people still graduated? To that, I might think that those who did successfully graduate from Cal likely endured through the lamentable competition and impersonality embodied by the very institute itself. If so, I must extol the commendable perserverence and mental prowess of these students. Collegiate success is one thing, but to achieve it under an environment like at Cal must be brutal.

    I happened to have stumbled upon this "review" some days ago in an entirely different forum--one that has nothing to do with college admissions--dated 1/30/2011. Again, some of the same negative viewpoints that the OP and the certain other poster have continually brought up. This is all only indicative that there certainly are problems at Cal. Not just some bitter, outlier experiences after all.
    Unlike all the other posters who may be swayed by the global Berkeley brand, I actually have an undergrad degree from Cal (admitted BSEE, graduated BA Math/CS), and would advise you to avoid it like the plague.

    Cal is a monster factory school, with zero attention or resources available for the typical undergrad. You have to fight for everything, including getting in to core classes, and the budget continues to be cut every year. Needless to say, counseling and advising are non-existent.

    Furthermore, it is overrun with certain grade-grubbing and not very fun to hang out with ethnicities, and has become extremely segregated by race - I saw this with my own eyes a few months ago. Worse in that respect than when I graduated in the 1990s. Not strong on the hot woman front either - certainly not compared to UCSB!

    Cal's great reputation is historical, and based entirely on (dead by now) Nobel-winning faculty, and more generally on graduate-level research. The reputational spillover to the undergrad schools is entirely unjustified.

    Also, the grading at Cal is very hard.

    If against my advice you go to Cal:
    - Find a group living situation, either the co-ops or the frats. If you're not a frat kinda guy, get on the co-op waiting list today.
    - Try the "Persian Burger" at Bongo Burger.
    - Read the Study Hacks blog.

    Good luck.
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