been almost ten years since I entered Cal as an
undergraduate. Now I live on the East Coast, at
the mercy of public transit and unsmiling crowds of people,
not to mention the excruciatingly cold winters. If you'd
like my advice, it's this: if you have a
chance to go to a school outside of California, especially
the East Coast, go for it.
I've learned that the
myths about California are generally true—comparatively, people there are—or become—more
superficial. They'll be your best friends for two hours
and then forget about you, and after a while you
may find yourself feeling lost without an anchor. Sometimes
that anchor can be found in a good-paying job in
Silicon Valley and people with whom you can play video
games. If that's the life you want—to graduate and
settle into a nice suburb with other computer and marketing
geeks—then more power to you. You're young. It's
your choice when you want to settle down. Traveling
a lot doesn't teach you as much about new places
as actually living there.
Berkeleyites tend to be—or become—arrogant in
their opinions and are some of the most narrow-minded liberals
I have ever encountered. For someone to not have
a good experience in Berkeley or to not agree on
a certain political view means that person is WRONG and
not good enough for the Bay Area. (I have
been told this about myself several times.) After a
while, it makes a person scared to have an opinion
unless it concurs with that of everyone else. Forget
about entertaining a variety of perspectives. You can show
your compassion for all the poor people in the world
while you crank out good grades—maybe you'll volunteer as a
tutor or build low-income housing. Want to REALLY show
your compassion? Move someplace where there aren't a lot
of you. Start to change the world that way.
The “backwards hicks” of rural areas will never learn
otherwise—and you'll find that they're a helluva lot more intelligent
than college at Cal can ever show you. Organize
and support the gay community in Nebraska, earn a Ph.D
in N. Carolina's Research Triangle, smile at a cold Bostonian
and you'll get doors opened for you, talk to a
blustery New York florist and hear a fascinating life history.
Berkeley is full of wonderful people, but most of
them think the same way, and I'm sorry to say
that Cal has become a cookie-cutter university.
telling you this not out of a grudge against my
alma mater but because only after I moved away did
I become confident enough to offer generalizations about my experience.
I was never confident in my opinions while I
lived in Berkeley—I was afraid of being ostracized and alienated.
I tried to keep my mouth shut and guess
what—I ended up isolated anyway.
The truth is, wherever you
go, you'll realize that the stereotypes about that place are
true. Choose the stereotypes you want to live amongst.
Political correctness is a sham, and the reason the
Bay Area holds so many protests and rallies and marches
and parades is out of displaced racial/sexual/emotional tension. It
really is. If you can't say what you really
think, you don't know what to do with yourself, and
then you've got to find another way to expend all
of that energy. (Warning to all psych majors: Cal
is anti-psychoanalysis, which is a tragic shame. Visit other
universities and find faculty and students who thoughtfully consider all
aspects of psychology.)
I'll also tell you this: the
people in the Northeast are definitely more 'real' and 'genuine'
than people in California. Problems are solved by going
to the source of the problem and tackling bureaucracy, not
by having a parade about it. Sometimes the 'realness'
is good, sometimes it's bad. But at least it's
honest. Honesty builds character and below-freezing winters build resilience.
(I come from the Sun Belt—if I can do
it, you can do it.)