Living in Berkeley in the co-ops is one of the most incredible things I have...
Living in Berkeley in the co-ops is one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced in my life. The Alumni of the University of Otago in America Award helped to make this experience possible, and I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity.
While attending the University of California, Berkeley, I lived in two different co-ops. The co-ops have been described as “the real Berkeley experience” (by at least one person living in a co-op) and they are like large flats. Some students are elected as “managers” to make them function. The houses range from seventeen people to over a hundred. They have a lot of social events and were a great way to meet lots of American students. They are also way cheaper than any other housing in Berkeley.
There was a lot of freedom in the co-ops. They were covered in murals and members could paint, draw, or write on the walls in any white space. Members were even allowed pets. There was a lot of vegan and vegetarian food, and people were very friendly, accepting, and open-minded. Each co-op was run democratically and members could voice their opinions and vote on just about everything.
New co-opers had one or two roommates. This was a great way to get to know people really well, and I think a great experience for everyone to have at least once in their life. I lived in two co-ops – first Stebbins for two months, and then Casa Zimbabwe for two and a half months. I liked Stebbins, but I wanted to experience CZ as well.
Stebbins was my introduction to co-ops, and living there made me a more caring person. There were sixty-seven people there, but it didn’t feel big. Stebbins was very welcoming and homely. The managers really cared about all the house members, and the democratic style of living was taken seriously. Everyone knew almost everyone and there was an emphasis on offering emotional support to house members. Before dinner, everyone lined up on the steps and chatted before serving themselves dinner in an orderly fashion and sitting down to talk about their day.
People at Stebbins were mostly pretty academic, but they also had some fun parties (although not as many as at CZ). House members frequently planned things like beach trips and invited the entire house. Stebbins felt like living in a big, warm home. The house was cleaner than CZ, although sometimes messy. I was comfortable at Stebbins, but I wanted to experience more.
I moved into CZ after hearing interesting stories, and to have a real experience. Every inch of every wall was lined with art – beautiful creatures, poems, and every strange and unique thing imaginable was there. There were lots of social activities. There was always someone new to talk to, some new piece of art to look at, and something completely unexpected happening. At dinner, there was loud music playing and general chaos.
Just walking down the street in Berkeley was interesting because of all the dynamic people. There was once an entire week of protests. Student dance clubs were always practicing, and sometimes performing. There were lots of stalls selling hippie art and jewelry on the side of the street.
The food in Berkeley was delicious and I tried to eat at as many places as possible when I wasn’t eating in the co-ops. Berkeley was also so close to San Francisco, which was incredible! I was so interested in getting absorbed in the Berkeley culture that I ended up not doing a ton of travelling outside of Berkeley and San Francisco, but I definitely experienced plenty.
Overall, my exchange experience was absolutely mind-blowing and incredible. Berkeley and living in CZ and Stebbins made me grow so much as a person. Semester two 2017 has easily been the most eventful four months of my entire life, and my life as a whole has been pretty eventful. I met so many amazing, unique people, had so much fun, and learned so much about humanity, the world, and myself. I have made so many memories that I will look back on for the rest of my life. I am very grateful to be a recipient of the AUOA scholarship which helped to make this experience possible.