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Reflections on my First Semester Sophomore Year at UC Berkeley

I now realize Freshman year was not my first semesters of college; my Sophomore year was. These past 6 months changed me more than any other time period in my life. It's when I truly became independent, took a workload past my comfort zone, and embraced all that I've failed and succeeded at in UC Berkeley. 


Work and Internships: 

In Freshman year, I took for granted how difficult and competitive it was to find a summer internship, and as a result, I did not land any offers and settled for taking summer classes instead. However, my summer at Berkeley set me up for the fall semester better than I could have ever imagined, bringing in plenty of new friends, opportunities, and experiences in my life (which will be visited in much more detail later). For example, I won the "Outstanding Academic Intern Award" in Summer 2019, which led to being hired as a course staff tutor during the fall. As a result, I am closer to my goal of becoming a TA someday and was much more hireable for the Spring 2020 semester.

During the fall semester, I took the summer internship grind much more seriously and sent out no less than 98 applications in the span of 2-3 months. Unfortunately, my previous experiences aligned strongly with front end web development, teaching, and dabbling with data science tools, and as a result, I got minimal responses besides coding challenges from any company I applied to. Luckily, there is one company that is known for hiring much more widely than other famous companies - Amazon. As long as I could pass their 3-part online assessment and virtual interview, I could land a summer internship, and they sent out assessments very generously. I managed to pass the assessments and during the final interview, luckily received a problem that I had practiced before. I landed the offer and had also snagged a teaching assistant position in Ethiopia for the tail end of summer the week before. Crazy how everything falls together in such a short period of time! It also taught me that failures mean nothing (I had a 2% success ratio), what you manage to land in the end is the only thing that matters. I look forward to living in a brand new city and continent this coming summer.

Woohoo: I landed the best possible (perceived) experience this summer!

Boohoo: I don't particularly enjoy recruiting, and felt the toxic vibe of comparing or withholding myself to others more times than I'd like to admit. I need to constantly remind myself to focus on my own track and to help others whenever possible.

Image result for amazon headquarters

Classes: 

A most major mindset change I had in the summer and fall 2019 semesters was my prioritization towards classes and studying. These semesters consistently hit me with the hardest classes I've ever taken (looking at you CS 70 and CS 170) as well as my least favorite computer science class so far at Berkeley (CS 61C), a class I drastically underestimated in terms of workload. Yet, I felt I studied less for exams and spent much more of my free time simply playing catch up in these classes. I received my first "B" at Berkeley in 61C, but it was definitely deserving - this now allows me to reflect on my work habits and gives me a sense of what workload I can handle in a semester.

Almost everyone I worked with was someone I met over the summer, which again brings the significance of my summer semester to light. Together, we struggled through many labs, projects, homework, and practice exams, yet came out the end alright. CS 170 was one of my favorite classes at Cal so far (which I couldn't have taken if I hadn't taken CS 70 over the summer!) and consequently helped me land my teaching assistant gig in Ethiopia and a course staff reader position in the Spring, as the Spring 2020 professor (Jelani Nelson) is the same professor that founded the AddisCoder program. What's even crazier is that Professor Nelson had just moved to Berkeley from Harvard, so I am part of the first wave of students at Berkeley who will be working with him firsthand (and again, I wouldn't have the opportunity if I didn't take CS 70 over the summer). It's satisfying seeing various aspects of my life lead to each other.

Woohoo: My first upper-division computer science experience went well for the most part! I'm excited to work with Professor Nelson both next semester and in the summer.

Boohoo: My lecture attendance was really bad, probably the main reason I fell behind so early; next semester I vouch never to miss more than 1 lecture a class per 2 weeks.

Clubs: 

In the summer, I tried something I never thought I'd pursue - dancing. I joined AFX as a way to force myself to exercise and meet a new community of people. The experience ended up being much more enjoyable than I expected, and I also met several team members who were in the same trajectory of computer science as I was and could work together in the coming years.

In the fall, I applied to every computer science organization I was interested in and got rejected by every single one. It was a bit frustrating spending my free time filling out google forms and attending coffee chats only to be rejected, but the experience kept me humble and I continued pursuing the clubs I had done freshman year. I was once again a mentor for CS 61A through CSM, but luckily was put in the same "family" as my own CSM mentor I had my very first semester at Berkeley while taking CS 61A, and our group got along very well. Consequently, my friend is now a co-coordinator for CSM and I will be a senior mentor in the Spring semester with my own family :).

I was also voted to be the concertmaster of the Intermission Orchestra due to being invested in the club since my first semester at Berkeley. I hosted my own sectionals, led the orchestra in violin solos and tuning, and even dabbled with arranging pieces, but ultimately didn't feel like I enjoyed the orchestra as much as I did freshman year. Nonetheless, it's great to take my mind off school and just enjoy music for 5 hours a week, but next semester I want to switch it up and do something new for the club like conducting my own piece or even playing in the second violin section haha.

Woohoo: I am in strong leadership positions in clubs I've invested myself in since freshman year.

Boohoo: I did not do much for clubs outside of required hours due to my many simultaneous endeavors, and I hope to make closer friends and invest myself more holistically in these clubs in the future.


Friends: 

As always, people are the reason I attended Berkeley and my motivation for everything that I do in life. In the fall semester, I lived with 5 people from my original GBO group from freshman year, and we have gotten even closer as housemates. We cook together, play way too much NBA 2K19, and still go on spontaneous In-N-Out runs.

Backtracking to the summer, I lived with a Christian group that I had met early on in freshman year, and they have taught me the importance of community, laughter, and gave me my first experience living in an apartment. I'm proud to say I still often go out to eat with them and hang out at their apartment to study or play games.

Lastly, a majority of my weekdays are spent with peers I met through summer classes, my AFX team, or lab assisting. We spend hours working on homework together (perhaps more time browsing Facebook), talking about life, and coming up with subpar CS project ideas. MLK and Moffit are like second homes to me. I had also gotten really close to my CSM family, some of the people from my orchestra, and was even talking to my CS 170 GSI outside of class.


Woohoo: Some people are lucky at gambling or bingo, I am lucky with the types of people I become acquainted with. Each of them teaching me something valuable and push me to be better.

Boohoo: I spent a little too much time outside of the house later in the semester, could've done more with my housemates (although some were too busy with ladies ;) ).


Special Events and Outside of School: 

Ya want more concerts? I went to Tyler, the Creator, and Logic in one weekend. Ya like food? I visited arguably the best pizza place in America in San Francisco and went on an extravagant food trip in Los Angeles with my roommates over Thanksgiving break. Ya like random spontaneous trips? Hop into Isaac's car and visit the Golden Gate Bridge at 2 in the morning.

More than ever, I saw what the Bay Area and California had to offer last semester. My AFX team took a trip down to Santa Cruz and we swam and green lakes and stopped by extravagant ice cream parlors. My housemates and I took one of the most memorable trips to Muir Woods in a single afternoon, leaving me questioning how much a person can actually do in half a day. Lake Tahoe mroe than made up for itself from the last time I visited, and one of my favorite memories of the semester is kayaking all the way to Nevada in the pristine blue waters with Spotify blasting motivational rap. Our Universal Studios trip to Los Angeles marked the first time I visited an amusement park with friends instead of family. Even the Berkeley Marina near our apartment is very pretty, and the site of one of the prettiest sunsets I saw last semester. All of this just makes me more excited to explore the world, which includes Seattle, Ethiopia, and maybe the United States east coast in the near future.

Woohoo: Did, eat and enjoyed so much.

Boohoo: I need to eat out less and exercise more as always! Also, enjoy the moment more.

Conclusion: 

This past half-year changed my life more than any other. I'm struggling more in school, burning out a lot more from activities, and struggling to eat healthy on my own, but the rewards are more than worth it. After all, nothing matters more than the experiences/skills you develop, the people you meet, and the places you go.

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