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The University of California - Berkeley

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Date: Mar 26 2004
Major: Psychology (This Major's Salary over time)
It's 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.

I'm 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.)

Good luck.

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