There is something about this little city.
I remember feeling slightly dreadful when I arrived here late at night a few months ago, jet lagged from my long plane ride from Denmark. In the dark, the place did not look like much – the sparsely-lit streets looked depressing and unfamiliar; the shadows of the houses looked rather creepy and I wonder if I had just moved from a small Danish city to an even smaller town. I started questioning, as I always do, what in the world I had gotten myself into.
The next day, however, draped in the famous Californian sunshine, Berkeley became beautiful. The Victorian houses turned charming, the campus buzzing with life, the streets outside quiet and peaceful, the green trees a nice change from the leafless ones that I got used to during the Danish winter.
I fell in love with the place from the very first fiery sunset.
And then one day I walked past an Indonesian restaurant. I did not realise it until then, but I was missing home and felt a surge of relief and excitement at the sight of the place. When I finally went there with a friend that I was (and still am in many ways) very fond of, and spoke a few words of Indonesian to the waiter, I immediately felt at home.
Sunshine, a trusted friend, and excellent food – life could not have been better.
If only I had found a place to live. I came here only equipped with two days of Airbnb room booking. On the second night, I woke up at 4 AM (partly because of jet lag but mostly because of the panic of not having a roof for the next few months yet), and started firing emails to every single Craigslist listing that I saw (that I could afford). By some stroke of luck, I found a place in a beautiful house, for a reasonable price, and with the most wonderful, fun-loving and caring roommates I could ask for.
Life in Berkeley was finally in order.
Then the heavy rain came, something that apparently California had not seen in many years. I was never one affected by the weather, but I was alone, away from my friend (who had been excellent in showing me directions) for the first time after days, and I was stuck in the middle of the campus, lost, my umbrella barely keeping me dry. I suddenly felt miserable and realised for the first time that I was in this all by myself and did not have the luxury of my friends in Denmark who wouldn’t let me out of their sight when something bad happened to me. I started questioning, again, what in the world had I gotten myself into in this miserable city.
Add to the fact that I was lagging behind in all my classes (we had come in the middle of the semester). In one particular course about American politics, I did not understand a single word – not because I did not understand English (though I did get a considerable number of surprised “oh, you speak English really well” greetings here), but because I did not speak politics, let alone American politics.
But things eventually got better and life in Berkeley soon fell into a pattern of ups and downs, time crawling slowly in the first few weeks and zooming by all of a sudden. Before I knew it, more than one month had passed, and just when I felt like I had settled down (i.e. not having to consult Google Maps to find my way to the Journalism school building from my house) I only had another month before the semester ended.
By that point I had gotten used to Berkeley and my mixed feelings for it. Most days I would wake up and feel energised, ready to take on anything the world threw at me. But there were days where I struggled to get out of bed and walking down the sleepy streets made me feel like I did not belong here.
Now that I am leaving for good, I realised how much I had grown fond of this city and the moments I had slowly collected over the past few months. The miserable and confusing days became insignificant; what remain is the memory of the walk that I took every single day up (or down?) Telegraph Avenue to campus, the tanned skin as a result of hours of good conversations under the sun, the long chat about childhood at a cafe on a particularly rainy day, the Thai restaurant that I always went to alone whenever I felt horrible (the waitress recognised me quickly because I went really often at one point and always ordered the same thing: the spiciest item on the menu and requesting it to be extra spicy), the same Asian chicken salad I always got from the Golden Bear Cafe, the unexpected post-party midnight walk with someone I barely knew, the number of stops that I made to take pictures of flowers outside people’s houses whenever I found myself at North Berkeley, the spontaneous skateboard lesson, …
But more importantly, I will remember the people I went through these moments with: the cheerful, loving and welcoming roommates and friends who put up living with me for three months, the beautiful friend with a big heart who let me sleep on her couch for a week and always asked me along for everything, the generous and loving friend from my side of the world whom I shared a lot in common with, the friend who calmed me down when I was clutching the rocks at Grand Canyon sobbing because of my fear of height, the friend who walked me all the way home after a late-night gathering at his place, the friend whom I found after I volunteered to crew with her on a video story, the much wiser friend who invited me for breakfast and coffee at her place to cheer each other up, the friend who bought me a glass of wine when he saw me crying in school (I know, he’s amazing), the guy who tried to fit my bike into his car (unsuccessfully) just so that he could send me home – I still find that very amusing and chivalrous, the fellow ex-accountant who always gave me the tightest hugs, the classmates who were always so kind to me whom I wished I could have spent more time with, the encouraging lecturers who tolerated my ignorance and lack of experience, the uni friends from Singapore who took care of me in many ways, and finally, the friend who was in the same boat as me throughout this journey.
Thank you to every single one of you.
There is certainly something about you that makes it so hard to leave.
I certainly hope our paths cross again one day.