300 pages to read but deciding to explore California because you’re cool like that

17 March 2020

In his third blog Luigi explores California.


Winter break is like when you get distracted for a moment in class and then the next second the bell rings. It’s over before you know it and already in the blink of an eye I found myself on a 12 hour 45 minute plane ride from Barcelona to SFO (reading an entire novel detailing the life of Shostakovich was the coping mechanism for this flight).

Second semester I am enjoying the classes I am taking even more than first. I am doing a combination of History and Global Studies modules to focus geographically and spatially on sub-Saharan Africa. My classes include Global Development, Africa in the Global Context, Precolonial Africa and the International Economy in the 20th century. Additionally, I am still working as a research assistant for Professor Swidler in the department of Sociology and am planning to do research in Malawi over the summer although I am still defining my key research ideas for this. What I definitely really like about Berkeley is that you have the opportunity to really engage with research and become a researcher if you want. In this sense, you are no longer just an undergraduate student but are actively contributing in the work that might be taught in future classes.


This is also a period of emotional adjustment and stabilization. As the first semester was definitely very intense for me, this semester I feel well adjusted and at ease. It helps when you’ve been here for a while and know your surroundings. Walking down the street to try and find a pizza place that is open at 3am just doesn’t seem as daunting anymore although I would suggest avoiding this as apparently it can get really dangerous downtown Berkeley at night. In my experience this hasn’t been the case but I am also somewhat careless when it comes to this so watch out.


Because you totally have so much free time when studying at Berkeley (no you don’t) why not use all of this time (which you don’t have) to explore California. If you can’t drive (which I definitely can’t) then your options are limited, which in a way is good because it means the choice of reading the 300 page book over the weekend or driving down to Santa Barbara for a party weekend is a decision made for you. Nonetheless, in my exceptional circumstance, the first week back from the break some really close family friends that happen to live in Los Gatos came to pick me up for the weekend. This has happened repeatedly over the year and I have enjoyed it incredibly. Yes, most of us do like the buzz of living in dorms, but also waking up in a silent room and not having to queue for showers feels like a kind of blessing when you’re no longer used to it.


Saturday, because I already totally didn’t have a 300 page book to finish reading for Monday, we drove down from Los Gatos to San Martin where we ate at a fantastic Mexican restaurant, super understated, just by the side of a dusty road of industrial complexes. Then we drove to Moss Landing where we landed on a beautiful beach that extends where the eye can no longer see, into the mists of the bay and also into my fears of not getting readings done. Then, we continued south. At about sunset we reached dreamy and idyllic Monterey. This is where Steinbeck set most of his novels and just one of the urban conglomerates that has become so legendary it still helps to fuel the California ‘myth’ today. In actuality, it is quite a small town with no special landmarks, but the atmosphere is very special. It feels wrapped in it’s own time, it is kept pristinely clean and the houses on the beachfront are a good enough reason to want to live there perpetually. By this point it was getting dark but we decided to continue to Carmel past Pacific Grove. Here, the road gets even more dreamy as the mist from the hills perpetuates and partially shadowed the sunlight creating a light dusk. The houses got closer and closer to the beach so that some seemed to be built on the rocks where the waves crashed. By nighttime we reached Carmel and visited the town and beach and then headed back. I would highly recommend going south to Monterey if you can. It is not a long journey like going to LA by car, but it is completely worth it.


Back in Berkeley I’ve been trying to manage all of the challenges that come with the start of term. This includes reading the syllabus to understand whether the class is right for you or whether you want to switch and deciding whether to read the 300 page book for next week or meet up with friends from the previous semester or somehow do both by studying in a café (which I opted for- Strada Café). I have really fond memories of Strada so if you come to Berkeley check it out. It is known for a place where computers, laptops and bags are routinely stolen if you don’t safeguard them and this can happen in daylight. However, with sufficient care nothing bad should happen. Also, you’re a risk taker if you already came all the way to California to study so you won’t mind this. If you manage to survive the first week of intense reading without any major emotional breakdown then you’re all set for the second semester. If you do experience emotional turbulence you can always sooth your soul with an overload of sugar in the form of an interesting waffle ice cream.