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  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

World’s Best Public University - University of California, Berkeley (UCB)

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. - George Bernard Shaw.

Usnews.com ranked University of California, Berkeley (UCB) the 4th best Global University in the world. It retains its position as the best public university in the US and the world for another year running. With 350 degree programs to offer, students are spoilt for choice. UCB is one of the best in the world for chemistry; followed by physics; biology, biochemistry and space science. The university boasts a long list of notable alumni including Nobel Prize winners and founders of more than 200 companies. No doubt, owning a degree from one of the best universities in the world helps open doors to better career opportunities.


To date, there are more than seven thousand international students studying at UCB. They make up about 17% of the entire student population. The campus is famous for its outstanding facilities and amazing learning environment. The diverse faculty offers students a unique learning experience that ensures a free flow of ideas and opinions to inspire a culture of innovation.


After graduating from Sri KL international school, Wayne Toh set his eyes on UCB. Data from previous record shows that Malaysian students have a tendency to study in the UK due to the influence of modern education during the period of British colonialism in Malaya. However, Malaysian student enrollment in the United States has risen steadily in recent years. US has become one of the most popular destinations for Malaysian students to continue their higher education. This year, the United States ranks fourth among the world's best places to study by educations.com, while UK university rankings drop for the sixth year in a row. Why did Wayne choose UCB?


Wayne Toh at UCB

Why UCB? Was it hard to get into UCB?


I believe coming to the US was probably one of the best choices I had ever made for my academic career. The university helps me gain a broader understanding of the social and academic culture of some of the best and brightest students across the world. This high-performance culture constantly challenges me to open my mind to new experiences. And yes, I understand the importance of learning how to become the best of the best.


With UCB only accepting 12% of its first-time freshmen and 16% of transfer students, The way I see it, it is not easy to enrol in this university because only the best students will get accepted. With that being said, I can't emphasize enough that students who take on leadership roles in organizations would have a better chance of being accepted into UCB.


Class rank matters too. For example, students in the top 10% of their graduating class and are active participants in co-curricular activities will have a higher chance of being accepted to my university.


I chose mechanical engineering as my major because I have always been intrigued by machines. I am proficient in science and math. My passion for robotics made mechanical engineering the obvious choice for my college major.



Was it difficult for you to adapt to the American culture? What were your biggest culture shocks?


I am currently in my junior year. I enjoy my university life and I try to make the most of my university experience, from sports to parties and club events. I don’t have problems building relationships and making friends at UCB. Being an extrovert, I am a very social person and love hanging out with friends. I also enjoy playing basketball. Friendships can be easily formed through sports activities.


I do miss the food from Malaysia but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the variety of cuisine here. I am an adventurous eater. I don’t mind trying new food and experiencing a different kind of food culture while in the US. One can learn a lot about a new culture through food.


I noticed many Asian students find the daily ritual of making small talk uneasy. They feel awkward to break the ice mingling with students from different cultural backgrounds in an unfamiliar social setting. It is common Asian students tend to hang out with their own groups. Although engaging in small talk is a new social experience for me, but I learned that small talk is a great way to start a friendship with my American classmates and international students.


My biggest culture shock is how informal the Americans are with one another, even among the elders and authority figures. For example, addressing parents or elders by their first name is unheard of in a Chinese family. It did bother me for a moment when calling elders by their first name. American greetings are generally quite informal. It has nothing to do with disrespect behaviour but rather everyone is equal.

What do you like the most about UCB? How do you handle daily challenges?

UCB is ranked the third best engineering school by Times Higher Education website. Without a doubt, this gives me a good reason to stay at this university. Luckily, I have my cousins live near the university. With one graduating from Stanford University and the other, who is also a UCB student, I feel more comfortable having them staying near me. They can lend a helping hand whenever needed.


One of the many things I enjoy most about studying at UCB is that the university promotes diversity, equity and social inclusion. Diversity matters on campus. Students of all races are given opportunities to engage in activities that promote diversity. I don’t face any form of discrimination at all, which is a plus point for me.



Coming from an Asian background, what have you learnt the most from your American professors besides knowledge acquisition?


If you want to live in an environment that welcomes diverse viewpoints, US would be the right place for you to study. I find UCB very liberal. I like the fact that students are always welcome to share different viewpoints and voices. I learnt how to communicate with those who don't share similar views and not feel offended. We have to understand that opinions aren’t facts. Therefore, I believe being open-minded is necessary for learning and personal growth. I am grateful for my experience at Berkeley.


Wayne Toh, left

Do you find the US higher education system challenging? What are the academic challenges you face?


I love the practical aspect of the classes at UCB, but they pose a challenge to international students. The exams are difficult; plenty of new materials to learn each week. University life can be stressful and demanding. Some students have problems managing stress effectively. So having good time management skill is a must to achieve academic success. It’s a matter of do or die situation.


But the biggest challenge would be outside the classroom as UCB is much more difficult and “cutthroat” than you think. With the very best students competing for top internships and a place to be involved in research groups, they would do just about anything to stay on top of things. Berkeley is close to Silicon Valley where major businesses are growing. So having an impressive resume showcasing a list of achievements and awards would help them land a better job faster in well-known companies. A degree at UCB would certainly make you stand out from the crowd.


Thankfully, my campus provides support such as academic advising and counselling service and career fairs for international students. This helps me understand my professors’ expectations better so I can better prepare for my journey to graduation.



How many Malaysian students studying at UCB? How do you make the most of your university experience?


From what I have heard, there are about fifty Malaysian students currently at UCB. This is a major increase as there were approximately less than ten in the past. With a safe and supportive learning environment, the passionate professors and my amazing peers, I must say I am proud to be a UCB student.


Besides, international students are given research opportunities to transfer their ideas and inventions to the real marketplace. UCB has a high number of alumni Nobel Prize winners across a variety of fields. The university offers many opportunities for international students to achieve great things. They encourage students to strive to be more innovative and excel in the field they are interested in.


To be honest, I feel a strong need to strike a balance between my studies and play. So when I need to relax, I will go to parties, play sports and do things that I enjoy. When I need to study, I would stay focused to do my best to maintain my grades.



How has your experience at UC Berkeley changed you? What are your future goals?


This university has changed my life significantly. It has helped me find my purpose and equip me with the skills I need to become the person I want to be someday. Living so far away from my family has taught me more about what it means to be independent. I have to make decisions on my own and learn to deal with unfamiliar situations. Because of this, I have become more independent.


As for my plans, I would love to go to a graduate school, either in Singapore or maybe crawl out of my shell and apply to graduate schools in the Eastern US. I hope to work in a manufacturing company someday but that is for my future self to worry.



Published in Dreamic Educational Magazine 2022.






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