It’s 9 p.m., and I walk down Prospect Street to the College Avenue and Dwight Way bus stop. I missed my 79 bus at Piedmont Avenue because I decided to fill my water bottles at my friend’s dorm before returning to Pacifica, a coastal suburban town nestled at the foot of San Francisco. I must charge my AirPods when I travel, or I’ll get exasperated. My BART rides going home last at least an hour, but hapless cases of inclement weather or equipment failure could lag the train cars crossing from West Oakland to Embarcadero. I’ll get mad listening to the ferric pangs of the vehicle and train tracks.
Inside the southbound Yellow Line train, I look at the night and see how the fluorescent lights inside Oakland edifices illuminate the city brighter than the moon — a classic case of light pollution. I check my phone every two minutes anticipating text messages and looking at memes to rescue myself from boredom and distract myself from thinking about whether I’ll eat dinner when I get home or jump straight to my bed. I have to wake up by 6 a.m., so I can make it to my morning classes without calling Uber and paying $50.
It is nights like this when I become weak and second-guess my decision on choosing Cal of all the transfer schools I got accepted into. My soul gets crushed with the thought that I got too hubristic thinking commuting 24 kilometers away from Cal would be a breeze just because I’ve been relying on public transportation all my life and have been used to sitting in jeepneys and buses for hours. As I became more oriented with the BART commuting experience, I gradually understood how four hours is a big loss in my daily transit going to Berkeley and back to Pacifica.
UC Berkeley was not my first choice. I could stay more local, attend San Francisco State University, or acclimate to the Southern California warmth at UCLA or UC Irvine. But my peers’ prestige and encouragement compelled me to pursue the top public university. Truth be told, I ignored how esteemed this institution is until I entered college and learned from my peers how special this school is. I only knew that UC Berkeley is where scientists discovered several substances in the periodic table of elements.
I wish my circumstances were different and I could afford to live near campus. Unfortunately, even with the scholarships, grants and savings, I need more to support my housing and lifestyle. My experience as a student would have been different if I had the luxury of not worrying if I’ll make it to the last train ride.
I remember missing more events than participating. I rue not attending the Homecoming rally, Memorial Glade picnics, and other campus-hosted events. Traveling to Berkeley to join socials that run shorter than my commute is simply not practical. I could have used that time to complete school, work and internship tasks or meet friends outside the school.
In the fall, I only went to Cal three times a week, and learning how Oski visited the campus bummed me. Of all the days I have no classes, he decided to show up when I’m not around. This urged me to say yes when my new acquaintance invited me to hang out on campus, even if it was my day off. Eventually, I met him in his element, and took pictures together.
In hindsight, I should’ve said yes to more hangouts. Getting acquainted with your people outside the university is an opportunity to know them holistically. Apart from learning about their classes and majors, spending time with them away from Cal’s vicinity may deepen your relationship and learn new things about them. It may seem not much, but we students have established routines aligned with our work and class schedules. Dedicating our limited time to our college friends is invaluable. It has a real impact, especially if our mind and body demand a change of pace and scenery. Bonding could be as special as sitting with a friend on the lawn in front of Sproul Hall.
If, for some reason, you will be living off campus and be a BART commuter like me, I learned that limiting your commitments — classes, extracurriculars or work — will benefit you in budgeting your time. Depending on the students you are friends with, you could also couch surf at their place. Cal students are empathetic, and most students willingly offer their space because many people can relate to the hardships of student housing.
Whether you stay home to save money or want to brave the daily commute just so you won’t be away from your family, I know this is a choice that, like me, you will not be taken lightly. But, no matter what happens, aim to have ample sleep every night. Waking up late and using rideshare apps defeat the purpose of saving money if you make tardiness a habit.