Berkeley is home to some 5,900 international students — and more than one-third are pursuing a Master’s or doctoral degree. Many of you incoming international graduate students may already be preparing for your journey ahead — likely an anxious process as you part ways with your family, friends, and everything that is familiar.
Recognizing your concerns, we compiled a list of resources, in conjunction with Berkeley International Office (BIO), specifically for international graduate students, and solicited advice from current students to make your transition as smooth as possible.
From applying for your visa to deciding what to pack in your suitcase, the pre-arrival period is filled with excitement and uncertainties. Berkeley International Office lends advising, advocacy and immigration services to international students and offers advice on applying for U.S. visas and learning what travel documents are needed.
As for packing, Tra Ho, a blogger who offers advice to international students, shared a list of packing do’s and don’ts when moving to the U.S. One recommendation: take spices, not shampoo.
After hours of flying, you have finally arrived and are about to embark on one of the most enriching chapters of your life. Be sure to plan in advance to find out information about local transportation such as a shuttle, taxi, BART and/or bus to get from the airport to campus. You might also want to download a ride sharing app such as Lyft, Uber, or Sidecar on your mobile device to request a ride.
If you haven’t found housing before arrival, BIO offers a list of resources that can help you find a place to stay. The office assists international students in finding housing through a Cal Student Roommate Search Tool. Students complete the spreadsheet and contact others on the document to find roommates.
At this stage, you will have a lot of things to manage: registering for classes, meeting your advisors, getting acquainted with your new neighborhood. During this process, it’s completely normal to feel culture shock. Here is some advice on how to make the cultural adjustment. It may help if you join one of the student organizations on campus and meet some of your colleagues.
Attending the Berkeley International Office Graduate Student Orientation on Wednesday, August 19, 2016, and the New Graduate Student Orientation (NGSO) on Tuesday, August 23, 2016, is a great way not only to learn valuable information but also to make friends. And don’t forget to check out the Graduate Division’s website for information on fellowships and grants if you are still searching for funding for your education.
A few of your fellow international students have this to say about how to make the most of your time at Berkeley.
On campus vs off-campus housing: Your first year at Berkeley is going to be very busy, especially if it’s a Master’s program. Living in a dorm may be more fun but may also mean noise you can hear at any time, including wee hours. So if you want to focus on your courses, off-campus housing usually offers better options in terms of quietness and freedom to schedule your own day. (Ivy Tao, Ph.D. student, Civil & Environmental Engineering)
On the Graduate Student Instructor conference: At some point in your time at Berkeley, you may be a GSI. As international students, we are required to take an extra day of conference solely designed for us. Enroll in the conference at the beginning of the fall semester, and get it done. You will also meet many new international friends there who you will hang out with in the next couple of years at Berkeley.” (Ivy Tao, Ph.D. student, Civil & Environmental Engineering)
On coursework: “Berkeley is a huge university with a lot of disciplinary diversity. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s really important in my view for graduate students, especially Ph.D. students who tend to have a lot of leeway when it comes to coursework, to take advantage of these opportunities. The downside is that trying out classes outside one’s own department can be distracting. Advisors, peers who are farther along in the program, and professors can help students to make these choices. It’s better to take an extra class than not.” (Kartikeya Date, Ph.D. student, Architecture)
On funding: “If you don’t have a full fellowship package, it’s very important to continue to look for adequate funding as a Berkeley student. Besides obtaining a GSI, GSR, or Reader position, the Graduate Division also provides many sources for international students who are looking for financial support such as academic travel reimbursements and grants for summer research. I myself applied for the P.E.O. scholarship and was selected as a 2013 recipient.
The P.E.O scholarship supports higher education among international women; this might be the right choice for you if you are interested in becoming a leader for the next generation. You are admitted to UC Berkeley! That means people highly value your potential ability, and they want to support you. Go out, meet campus staff (they are kind!), and talk to the financial support officer in Sproul Hall. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and search for what you need. You should be able to get what you need. Good luck!” (Doohee You, Ph.D. student, School of Public Health)
If you are a prospective international graduate student and need some advice prior to making the move to the U.S., visit the Berkeley International Office website.
— Written by Leo Zou, Updated in 2015 by Melissa Hellmann, Updated in 2016 by Larissa Charnsangavej