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Tales from far away

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MARCH 03, 2023

Most students retire to their hometowns for summer vacation. Mine turned out to be an extended stay. It was “The White Lotus,” but without Jennifer Coolidge in sight. 

For the two months, I was trying to come to terms with moving back to the Central Valley and being back in my hometown for my senior year. I had called Berkeley home for over a year and the sudden transition to suburbia was jarring to say the least. It didn’t help that most of my friends were graduating and it’s pretty difficult to find housing for one in the Bay Area. I did say that my goal for 2022 was to travel more, but wasn’t expecting to travel for academic reasons.

The days leading up to the first day of class grew smaller each August morning. I knew my commute was going to be grueling and unpredictable. The pit in my stomach turned into a sinkhole on the first day of school. I drove 40 minutes to my nearest BART station and rode the train for another 50 mins to the downtown Berkeley stop. But it didn’t stop there. I still had to participate in a cardio-heavy walk to finally reach class. 

Half a mile doesn’t sound too bad on paper, but it slowly slopes from the west of the Campanile. By the time I reached Wheeler Hall, it was like reaching the top of Everest. I was gasping for air as I made my way to a seat.

Although I slowly accepted this commuting fate over the course of the semester, I still resented it. Every time I heard a classmate talk about leaving their apartment five minutes before class started or being able to take a nap after attending their one class for the day, I was jealous. Envious even.

They had all the time in the world, yet I had three hours in total devoted to just traveling from and to school. My time seemed wasted on my commute, a currency I was unable to get back. Those hours could have been spent on homework, sleep or friends. Instead, I was stuck in traffic for some of it and inside a train for the rest.

But these feelings did grow more complicated. I hated my commute, but I knew I was very lucky to have the support of my parents. They tried their best to make the adjustment back home as smooth as possible and I was able to save money living at home, yet I still felt ungrateful. I should be lucky I live somewhat close by, right? 

At least I had a home to come back to and a family that was supportive. I told myself that I was just selfish and should just suck it up. However, I grew more disillusioned as the months went by.

No one talks about the weird dysphoria moving back home after living on campus. I was split by my hometown memories and my development at Berkeley. The latter represented a city of opportunity, liveliness and learning, while my hometown was a capsule of my teenage years: a person that was no longer me. Going back felt like a regression of myself and all that development in Berkeley was hindered by the walls of my childhood bedroom. 

When I got off the BART station onto campus, I felt exhilarated and free. I’m always reminded of everything I’ve done: walking a mile from a bar with roommates because we missed the bus, all the late nights studying with friends, and trying to eat all the vegan food I could not get back home. But I dreaded going back because I knew that this Berkeley reality was only temporary. It was simply a dream that was doomed to end after waking up.

After a semester and a half, I’m indifferent to my commute now, though I still think it’s a lot of time wasted. It’s minutes and hours I will never get back, but at least I was able to do homework on BART. But I’ve come to accept this long-distance relationship with Berkeley. I initially felt less connected to my university life and less of a Bear because of it. How could I live a normative university life miles away from campus? Could I still have school pride for a place where I spend fleeting moments?

I have talked to some friends that graduated last year. Many of them miss spending their time at campus and the surrounding city, adjusting to their new faraway homes. They live in limbo, transitioning slowly from the college lifestyle to stone cold adulthood. Some people take weeks to months to realize that this part of their life is over. With my last year spent on commuting, I am already getting a head start on that process. And I think I’m okay with that. 

I am as much as Bear as anyone that lives on campus and it has taken a while to realize that. No matter where we go after graduation or where we live, we will hold onto this life stage of rapid personal growth and young adulthood. Commuting may be another hurdle for some of us, but being a stitch in the tapestry of UC Berkeley students past and present is worth the time in traffic.

Contact Nicholas Clark at [email protected].

MARCH 03, 2023