Following the goodbye from loved ones back home, I was left with bittersweet emotions and an aspiring drive to succeed. Once I roamed from the customs gate to Sather Gate, everything was different — the people, the culture, even the air.
The average international student at UC Berkeley may face bureaucratic hurdles and difficult academic transitions. Still, I believe there can be a straight pathway to achieving goals if they know where to start and what to look for.
As visa-related logistics and work issuance are familiar for international students even past their academic years, their first step in securing a solid career roadmap commences on day one of their educational venture. Hence, obtaining a Social Security number is a first priority. SSNs allow international students to work within the United States. To get a hold of one, act as early as possible. Undoubtedly, the best way is by getting an on-campus job — they can efficiently process your document in-house and allot your SSN without hassle from potential future employers.
International students can work at campus libraries, facility centers, recreational sports groups and more. In my first in-person semester at UC Berkeley, I immediately started a job as a building assistant in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and Eshleman Hall. With supportive colleagues and immediate access to HR, which processes your documents in Sproul Hall, my first semester on campus could not have been smoother. A campus job helped me with mandatory work authorization and showed me the campus grounds. Given an excellent manager, an international student’s prospect of finding an immediate community may also brighten.
To keep in shape for all regulatory facets of studying in the United States, be in close contact with the Berkeley International Office, or BIO. From the beginning to the end of every international student’s needs, BIO supplies all documents related to immigration, work authorization and academic progress tracking. BIO is the place to go for inquiring about interning as an international student, traveling out of the country or meeting academic unit requirements. They have a virtual front desk open during business hours, but visiting in person may be necessary in certain cases.
Ready to launch their career, international students can take advantage of part-time Curricular Practical Training, or CPT, for internships. According to BIO, CPT is a “type of off-campus work permission for F-1 international students studying in the US.” Optional Practical Training, or OPT, applies to work after graduation. CPT permitted by BIO offers full-time and part-time options.
Unlike full-time CPT, part-time does not have duration limits for international students. By consulting with the BIO office expert, take advantage of the part-time CPT if motivating career and skill development opportunities arise during academic semesters. For instance, I have been interning as a full-stack engineer at a company called SAP for the past two years while studying. This opened expansive professional networks and academic development opportunities without touching the full-time CPT requirement limits.
Regarding academics, finding a study buddy and attending office hours is a universal know-how for college students. For international students especially, it may seem daunting to befriend people in entirely new environments. Attending office hours is similar to joining a default community of peers in the same academic boat. Hence, international students can pivot the chore-like element of finding a classmate into a chance to bond with others’ coursework highs and lows.
Furthermore, within the academia sphere, seek research positions around you. Outside of ready resources such as the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarships and Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, one of the most effective ways to land a position in research is to reach out to professors and instructors. They teach students their subject of passion. Emailing them and reciprocating their dedication is a timeless door opener toward putting academics into practice. The best part is getting the additional course unit without interfering in the work authorization arena. Hence, while preparing for a career in the industry, landing research positions extends expertise and builds a network for the future.
Lastly, beyond academics and career-building, find cultural events and campus groups. Homesickness is familiar for many of us. We miss our loved ones and communities back home. Finding people on campus with whom we share the same traditions, customs and aura is a relieving feeling.
To my fellow international students, I understand this is a new place and a new journey, so take pride in your beautiful, rich background. Never lose track of rejuvenating spirit and continuously create better versions of yourself even years after studying in the United States. When planted on a solid foundation, your work and dedication will extract the best of you and produce a home away from home. Welcome to Berkeley.