UC Berkeley, my disenchanted dream

Me, mom and older sister Kristjana at the UC Berkeley entrance gates

Me, mom and older sister Kristjana at the UC Berkeley entrance gates

I have always wanted to go to UC Berkeley, and my third time around, I got in. I applied both to an undergrad program, and last year to an LLB program, and finally, as an exchange student from my current master’s program at the University of Iceland. This time, to my relief , I finally got in without having to pay their horrendous tuition since I’m just there on exchange. However, this “free” exchange has cost a lot of time, money and energy.

It began back in April, when I first got my acceptance letter. It was 12 pages long, outlining all the paperwork, procedures and fees I would have to complete before my arrival. First, I needed to get my student visa. The Berkeley office had to prepare some fancy form called DS-2019 for my to even be eligible to apply for the visa, and to get them to process that I first had to prove financial security of $1600/month (since Im forbidden to work under my student visa) for the 5 months I would be in California (what grad student has $8000 in their savings account halfway through a masters program?). Then I needed 2×2 inch passport photos scanned into digital format at an exact resolution; also, reference letters from employers or professors, tax slips, and/or proof of family ties outside of the USA so they believed I wasn’t trying to seek refuge in California. Finally, I needed health care that met the US department of State’s standards (now we all know what an issue health care is in the US) and since my coverage for repatriation of remains is $5000 instead of their minimum $7500 with my health insurance in Canada, I’ll probably need to buy the ridiculously overpriced healthcare the campus offers now that I’ve arrived.

Once I got that special DS-2019, I had to pay a SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fee for $180 US, then direct deposit $131 US visa fee into a Scotiabank (which, doesnt actually exist outside of North America, a slight problem when you are an International Exhange student), pay $8 cdn to schedule a visa appointment at the embassy to apply for the visa, spend 6 hrs in their dark, silent, surveilled office without any guarantee it would be processed, and then come back 3 days later and wait in an hour line to pick up my passport (at which point I found out I did get the VISA).

Upon my safe arrival to Berkeley, my first orientation consisted of a small welcome, alot of forms (one legal document which waives my rights to any ideas or inventions I may have during this semester to be the full property of UC Berkeley), and $410US (payable in cash only) for that one page, good old DS-2019. I now owe $200 for my “registration fee”, even though they informed us at the orientation meeting that exchange students are NOT registered Cal students, nor do we have any recognised status as UC students for campus benefits like bus passes or gym admission. That also means I cant register for classes online, and will have to run around all week to actual class rooms, begging professors to let me audit their already full classes. I won’t get a transcript at the end of all this either, so let’s hope I actually get credit at all for the work I’ve put into realising my Berkeley dream. Moral of the story: It’s a lot easier to travel to California as a tourist than a student. Try to avoid “researching scholar’ student visas to the US unless you’ve got plenty of time and money to waste!

One thought on “UC Berkeley, my disenchanted dream

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