Berkeley · Uncategorized

One Week

Just a week from today, I’ll be boarding a plane to Miami, the first stop on my journey to become a Peace Corps volunteer. Sitting in my quiet suburban town, I can’t quite picture what my life will be like for the next two years. But I am sure of my conviction to embrace the new possibilities and communities I encounter. I am also in awe, grateful, endlessly appreciative of the love my family and friends have shown me over the past few weeks. Despite my tendency to descend into the very corner of Haas Business School’s basement library during my last weeks of school, my friends drew me out of academics for adventures across the San Francisco Bay Area and entire country. and despite it all, I somehow managed to get A’s in all my classes this semester.

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The first weekend of May was spent with four of my closest friends – Mehek, Karina, Nina, Emily and I – dancing until sunrise in Las Vegas, Nevada. A moment around 3:30AM in XS on Saturday morning stands out, when shiny gold streamers were falling from the ceiling, the speakers were blaring and the insufferable dry ice machines were going strong. The Chainsmokers played their popular song, “Closer“, and Mehek and I sang along just as loudly as we had in my silver Passat when the song first came out last August. We returned home with our feminist minds resolved to never return again, to “Dead” Week, or the week before final exams.

The week was spent in a mix of studying and sorority events, allowing me to end college just the way I started it. Tuesday night, the seniors teamed up for our last-ever fraternity crawl, starting the night at my sophomore year favorite: SigEp. Wednesday, we found out that the university’s Panhellenic chapters had voted to reinstate Delta Sigma as a local, affiliate chapter, with full rights to participate in fall formal recruitment! We cried happy tears over our study snacks that night. Thursday, we initiated our newest class of Sigmas under a ritual that we wrote and orchestrated ourselves. I felt a strong sense of pride as I looked across the women being initiated that night – we had created Delta Sigma all on our own; just as my time as an active member was ending, I felt confident that the burgeoning sorority would thrive on its own. My sweet great-grandlittle and great-great-grandlittle each gave me a goodbye prophecy and graduation note that night, and I gave away all of my Greek life memorabilia at Senior Wills.

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The following week, all of my finals were packed into Monday and Tuesday. Before I could blink, I had walked out of my finance final and straight into Kips. My first act after finishing finals was our ritual of Tuesday trivia night. Over the following mornings at the Visitor’s Center front desk, I urged all the “I was just accepted off the waitlist!” students to find their dream university at Berkeley, like I had. The gravity of my impending graduation gave me renewed vigor as a tour guide. My graduation ceremonies came along on Saturday and Monday – I slowly roasted in my black cap and gown, sending silly snapchats to my friends. I marveled at just how few of my fellow graduates sitting alongside me I had actually met over the past for years.

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My last full day in Berkeley was also my 22nd birthday. I had overwhelmed my schedule with activities, determined not to miss a bucket list item before I moved: camping under the stars in Napa, a 3AM Denny’s breakfast run, a sunrise hot air balloon ride through the Napa Valley, a stop at Bouchon Bakery, a hike through Muir Woods, a trip to Sol Food for plantains to go, a much-needed map, a slice of pizza and beer at Sliver, a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, a visit to the California Academy of Sciences Nightlife, and finally connecting with nearly twenty friends to say goodbye at a San Francisco bar. Looking down the long table and seeing friends from all different points of my life and me realize just how hard it would be to say goodbye.

Berkeley · Uncategorized

Graduation

I have a picture of me standing just a few feet from here from exactly four years ago, when I visited Cal for an overnight preview weekend with the California Alumni Association. My face emits the same elation (and nerves, if you look into my eyes) in that photo as this one does. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be joining that same alumni association. I couldn’t be more proud to be graduating from this humbling, inspiring and empowering institution.

From the depths of Main Stacks to Tokyo Tower, I’ve learned more than I could have anticipated here. Yet other things stayed remarkably the same. After hearing Adam’s dad come into our Spanish class my sophomore year at Quincy High School, I was inspired to apply my love of service and curiosity about engaging with other cultures to the Peace Corps. I immediately scoured their website for opportunities. To my disappointment, a college degree was a requirement for service. But I wouldn’t be deterred. I joined the Rotary Youth Exchange in Australia instead, and began counting down the days until my college graduation. My first semester at Cal, my lifelong best friendship with Mehek was cemented when she invited me to take the Peace Corps DeCal with her late Wednesday nights in Wurster Hall. Now I’m counting down to a new landmark in my life – 47 days before I begin a new chapter in my life. I will find a new home and serve my community as a Community Health Services Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador.

The universe works in funny ways, because when I arrive in Ecuador, that same role model – Adam’s dad, who first taught me what the Peace Corps was – will now be my boss! If you’d like to hear more about my experiences, follow my blog here.

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Berkeley · Uncategorized

Nearing Graduation

Right now, I’m sitting just off campus in our newly minted Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), the renowned art collection open free to all incoming students, in the bright Babette Cafe. Through a peek-a-boo window, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia reads like a billboard for a recent gallery collection. The collection is a perfect allusion to Berkeley’s aesthetic: trendy ripped jeans, trusty Birkenstocks, a thrifted flannel tied around our waist. In every discipline, these same students are working to apply course content towards a better version of the future. It’s difficult, and we face setbacks, but Berkeley students are lucky enough to be surrounded by 36,000 other students – and 1,500 innovative, supportive  faculty – seeking the realization of similar visions.

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I gave a campus tour to 35 seventh graders from a naval base in Central California yesterday morning. They were rambunctious and enthusiastic; they were a crew of future video game designers, forensic anthropologists and officers. One student asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Why did you decide to go to to college?” I was privileged to come from a family where the question was not if I would go to college, but where. As I come to the end of my time as an undergraduate; however, I find that what I received from my decision to go to college (at the top public school in the world) surpass my expectation of a straightforward degree. I decided to go to college because I knew my degree would make me a competitive candidate for top jobs, and teach me about subjects I would not be exposed to otherwise. At Cal, the friends I’ve made are burgeoning leaders in their fields across the globe: D.C.’s incoming foreign service officers, South American Peace Corps volunteers, project managers in  Ugandan refugee camps, pharmaceutical geniuses in Copenhagen labs, excellent listeners, great at making you laugh.

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Today, UC Berkeley’s first-ever female chancellor, Carol Christ, was welcomed into her new positon. For young students contemplating attending college, or setting their sights on Berkeley, I feel that incoming Chancellor Christ put it perfectly; “Berkeley is as much about the community college transfer student from Modesto or Fremont or Arcata who discovers her intellectual passions here, and discovers she can excel, as it is about its Nobel prize winners. Indeed, it’s that combination that defines us.”

Berkeley · Uncategorized

Definitions of Family

When I got to college, I, like most all college students, packed what I could into suitcases and left my family behind. After living with my parents and two little brothers for the past eighteen years, college would be an opportunity for me to “find myself” – and my new family. In an effort to reassure trepid freshmen that we wouldn’t be lost in the onslaught of an incoming class of six thousand students, we were reminded of an age-old adage: friends are the family you choose for yourself. The saying started popping up on sparkly, rhinestone encrusted canvases just weeks into our freshman year. Sorority big-little weeks had begun.

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I joined a sorority my first week of college, and met my future big sister right away. Kelsey was smart, driven and kind. In my real family, I was the oldest sibling, and had never had the guidance of a big sister or brother for insider tips. Because she did it with such ease, Kelsey inspired me to pursue a double-major while remaining committed to a myriad of volunteer activities. In the years that followed, I became a big sister for another Sigma, and our lineage quickly grew. Fast forward to this past week, and I found myself to be a great-great-grandbig. The past four years at Cal have allowed me to build my own family, helping cement Berkeley as my home. I stayed on campus for every summer of college, thus spending more time with my chosen family than my birth family, whom I only see for a few weeks a year. But this week, my youngest brother visited Cal for the first time, allowing me to see campus through his perspective. My brother is fifteen, and had previously never traveled on his own. During his time at Cal, I tried to showcase an honest portrayal of the college experience – attending Berkeley is a mix of hard work, beautiful landscapes, passionate students and packed schedules. He ice skated for the first time ever at a sorority/fraternity exchange in Oakland, used my university-issued Clipper card to hike 400 steps up Telegraph Hill to the historic Coit Tower (no famed parrots spotted along the way, unfortunately), heard former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich lecture passionately on the legacy of discriminatory redlining practices in perpetuating income inequality, woke up at 3:45AM to the ringing of the RA duty phone to assist a resident’s lockout, and saw a glimpse of the extensive planning it takes to execute UC Berkeley’s favorite event, Cal Day.

In a memorable moment, Luke sat in on my Forms of Folklore lecture expecting to hear about spooky urban legends or familiar fairy tales. But the first slide Professor Jorgensen projected, in crisp black Times New Roman blared: “Brandes, Family Misfortune Stories in American Folklore.” We burst into laughter, and did our best to hide it. The author, Stanley Brandes, must be a distant relative of ours. If I had done my reading for the week, perhaps I would have uncovered some long-lost Brandes family lore.

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This week, birth and chosen family histories swirled together. Lena, the littlest of my sorority little sisters, was picking up a little sister of her own: my great-great-grandlittle. When I looked up from my black-bean-patty-pesto-baguette at Barney’s, a local gourmet burger restaurant, and saw the generations of “little sisters”, “twins,” and “aunts” my Trophy Fam had amassed in a chattered flock of nine sorority girls, and my true fifteen-year-old brother Luke nestled in between them with his curly fries, I knew I had made Berkeley my home.

Berkeley · Travel · Uncategorized

Golden Bears in Japan

The days of winter break before I left for Japan felt immeasurably long. The previous semester, I had applied to a winter travel study program in Japan, a partnership between the Haas School of Business and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Kakehashi program. The program was a week long, and I would earn my final two elective business units before graduating in May 2017. Best of all, the trip would be completely free! I had already devoured the Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet reviews for every landmark I could extract from our Japanese-heavy itinerary. I prepared a mental list of all the Japanese cuisine I hoped to sample: spicy tuna sushi rolls, gooey mochi ice cream, heaping bowls of yakisoba. I grew up in a rural mountain community of about 5,000 people where only one restaurant attempted Japanese food, Pangea. Their menu was a hodgepodge of different cultures, vegan choices and local foods. Beyond that, however, I did not know how to prepare for the trip. Before that week, I had never been to a country where I didn’t speak the local language. I resolved to say “yes” as much as possible, and keep diligent records in my journal.

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To my surprise, I didn’t know any of my fellow classmates going into the trip. The undergraduate Business Administration program has about 600 students, and only 20 were coming along with me to Japan. We all appeared, bleary-eyed at 8AM, weighed down by our suitcases at San Francisco International airport. In Japan, we explored Tokyo, Kobe, Nara and Osaka. In each, we heard lectures from local businesses on how they aimed to market themselves to foreign consumers, partner with American companies, and reduce their global ecological footprint. After a year and a half of business administration courses at Haas, it felt as though the different puzzle pieces of my coursework came together.
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Furthermore, getting to know my fellow Haas students throughout the week turned out to be a highlight of my trip. On our second to last night in Japan, we spent the night at a traditional Japanese inn or ryokan, Waka Kako Bettei in Nara. There, the floors were made of tatami mats, a communal onsen bath was available, and we enjoyed a traditional kaiseki dinner. Following dinner, all twenty students piled into one room, and we reflected on our week abroad. One student pulled out the New York Times’ list: “To Fall In Love with Anyone, Do This.” And it worked! I had only met these students five days prior, but I loved hearing the stories behind what brought us each to UC Berkeley, and Japan, at the same time. One of us was an international student from Cambodia, who would be returning there the following year to work for their family’s business. Another carefully followed the Japanese Harajuku fashion, and was eager to move to New York to pursue her own career in fashion. I’m back at Berkeley now for my final semester of senior year, and love spotting my Kakehashi classmates in the hallway.