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Once upon a golden bear: how I lived in Spring 2020 at UC Berkeley
Author:Pan Jiachang  Date:2020-12-29  Clicks:

It has been four months since I left Berkeley, yet California’s golden sunshine and beautiful human beings under it are still fresh in my mind. I witnessed how a lively overflowing campus turned furiously silent in a few days, how professors and students in the Berkeley community strived to ensure an orderly and safe class, and how I grew into a tough girl protecting herself by taking shelter during the pandemic craziness.

Sather Tower of UC Berkeley

It is hard to connect the “prestigious ‘Big Name’ UC Berkeley” to its campus of the peaceful and elegant temperament until you see golden bears, Cal students, come and go between various teaching buildings. Hot blonde girls, handsome Asian guys, and African-born professors on the campus are the best demonstration of diversity and inclusion. Everything went well. I enjoyed my courses and all the assignments and readings, even though they drove me crazy sometimes—I often stayed up to 11 pm at Moffit Library, but it is another story at weekends. I promised to visit a new place every weekend, from the Berkeley Marina to the Golden Gate Bridge, from Stanford University to Hollywood. I exhausted myself to do well on study during weekdays, yet totally freed myself to explore the landscape and attractions during weekends. That was the best time of my life.

I visited the Golden Gate Bridge with friends

I took a course named “Global China,” a course to interpret modern China which experiences its most dramatic social transformation, as seen from western perspectives. In the class, we Chinese exchange students were asked to sit among American students to share our opinions as Chinese citizens. We exchanged ideas, even debated on the lawn outside the teaching building. We had disparities in views. I remembered we were talking about China’s environmental problems. Some students pointed out that China’s discharge led to climate warming worldwide. To respond, I demonstrated the per capita indicators, showing China’s emission was much lower than most industrialized countries and even some developing countries. Plus, I showed what the tangible changes of modernization mean to the Chinese people. I still remember the warm applause I got from American students and Professor Chang. I was proud to depict a real China to international students, which is a flesh-and-blood one, different from Western media. We also shared specific understandings. American people admire China’s ability to implement long-term plans, which their government could never achieve under its specific social system.

Global China Class changed to Zoom lecture after the pandemic broke out

Prof. Chang received me as a student with unique opinions and exciting stories. I still remembered the enjoyable time participating in her office hour. I could ask my questions on the readings, share my feelings as an exchange student in a new environment, and listen to her stories of growing up in such a diverse environment and her experience exchanging to Peking University.  In Chinese universities, I wish that students could also have opportunities like office hours, which solve our personal problems and provides academic and career guidance from professors who once walked the same routes.

Unexpectedly, the course we debated on the lawn was the last time I saw my lovely classmates and Prof. Chang in person. COVID-19 broke out in Berkeley at the end of March. Everything happened so quickly. Long queues extended around grocery stores. International students were busy buying tickets to fly home. Restaurants were all closed. Ads for sublease were everywhere… I was unprepared. But I decided to stay to finish my exchange program, to wait and see. I joined the long queues to buy masks and food for sheltering.

The courses continued in online form. Professors recorded videos for students unavailable for the class due to time differences. We had Zoom debates and kept discussing in Zoom’s breakout rooms. Nonetheless, the standards for assignment remained as high as usual. It was remarkable. I tried to see the good aspects of online courses. Without commuting, I had more time to spend on lectures and reading. The recording of lectures enabled me to watch repeatedly, allowing me tounderstand the content better and take better notes.

A bird nesting outside my room during sheltering

I had to cook to feed myself and survive. It was not easy, however. The food I cooked was not good. On top of this, I had to buy stuff, make every meal, wash the dishes, and do the cleaning… But after a semester, I became a chef. Stewed Chick with Mushrooms, Beef with Brown Sauce, and Tomato Hot Pot were nothing complicated for me.  After I went back home, my parents were crazy about my cuisines!


I occasionally hiked at the “Big C” of UC Berkley campus during sheltering

Hard work paid off. At the end of the semester, I got a 4.0 GPA and A-Level for every course I took. I also survived the rampant pandemic (I am so proud of that)! I still remembered how pitiful I was when I said goodbye on Zoom to Prof. Chang and my advisor, Ms. Keila. I still had so many wishes on the to-do-list. Nonetheless, what I learned in Berkely is so valuable that I could enjoy a benefit forever: to enjoy knowledge, to stay passionate, to keep independent, and to explore the unknown.

So proud to be a California Golden Bear!


Photo by Pan Jiachang

Edited by Qin Zehao, Yin Xiaoxue and Hu Sijia

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