4 Lessons That I Learned Through My Undergrad

Two and a half years ago, I wrote about How to Transfer from Community College to UC Berkeley as a Computer Science Major, with the acceptance rate of about 6 –7%. Last December, I just graduated. Throughout my undergrad time, I have learned some of the most valuable lessons that shape who I am as a person and impact the person that I want to become. Below are four of the most valuable lessons that I learned. I wish I had known when I was in school.

I: It is all about people.

After moving far away from my loved ones in Vietnam, I was afraid of how to make new friends and build my new support system. It ended up better than I imagined. I did not like living in the U.S. that much, let alone in such expensive and high pressure city like San Francisco. I asked myself, what has made me stay here for so long? Why did I choose UC Berkeley instead of any other schools?

At CCSF, Civic Center, I met some of my life long friends who also speak the same languages as me. They guided me through the process of going to non-credit classes to credit classes. Khanh Le, my dear friend, helped me register some of my first credit classes, referred me to work with her at the Financial Aid Office. We hung out and checked on each other often to ensure that we would transfer on time. I skipped classes with Han and Thao but still got A’s and transferred and graduated from UC Berkeley.

At UC Berkeley, I have met some of the most hard-working, talented, interesting and humble people. They have taught me a lot about myself, the world around me and the fields that I am interested in. I loved the 2 AM conversations on floor 6 in the Matinize Commons. I missed those endless hours of study in study lounges and libraries. Going to office hours to get my homework done and to learn more about Computer Science was a thrilling experience. I got turned on by the passion sparking in their eyes and in their voices.

Outside school, in San Francisco, the city is filled with highly educated people and fun people who are good at so many things. They come here to make an impact, to live their full self. It was challenging to live here at first, but then I was amazed. I started to believe in myself and surround myself with the people I want to become. I asked questions and learned more about them. Friends in the city supported me on every single step that I took and believed in some of my crazy ideas.

I asked a couple of older friends to be my mentors, to take me under their wing. They have helped me a lot with school, with life outside of school, with Bay Area and American culture. I am sure they are probably tired of hearing me complaining as well. They give me feedback on myself as a person, what my strengths are and what I need to work on more. I know they always have my best interest at heart. They make the Bay Area home for me.

I learned that it does not matter where I go, it matters who I go with. I was assigned a family, but I also can pick my family. I have picked some of the most amazing ones.

1: Make friends, not just connections, who believe in you as much as you believe in them.
2: Ask older friends to be your mentors.

II: Growth mindset, not fixed mindset.

I grew up in a culture where people believe in “you are born smart, no matter how hard you work, you can’t be better than the people who are born smart.”

I think it is true to some extent, such as with Albert Einstein. He is one of the greatest geniuses in history. However, people like Einstein are one of a kind. A lot of us are just average. Many people become better at what they do by spending more time on it, by working harder and smarter.

At the UC Berkeley Computer Science department, many students have learned coding at a very young age, starting at 12 years old for instance. They grew up in conditions that prepared them for the college environment. In my first year, I felt so stupid, I asked myself “why can’t I learn as fast as them?” I forgot that I have not seen the material before. I did not spend as much time on the material as they did. I am not smart at all. It takes forever for me to learn something new. It takes me more time to apply what I learned. On the other hand, I am so persistent. If I don’t understand a book the first time, I will read it a second time, then ask questions and request help. I will read the book the third time, and then the fourth time. I would understand the book eventually. If you are not born smart, you just need to put more time and focus on learning. That is ok. You are not dumb. You just have not seen the material for long enough.

1: Be brave enough to suck at something new.
2: It takes 10000 hours for a person to master their craft. Be sure to put in that much time before giving up on something you love.

III: Don’t compare yourself with others.

The hardest lesson for me to learn was not to compare myself with other people. Living in San Francisco and going to UC Berkeley, I surround myself with some of the most hard-working, smartest and talented people. It makes me feel very small. I go to classes with them, I study with them, I eat with them, I work out with them and I hang out with them. How can I stop comparing myself to them? They seem like they “have their sh*t together”, taking four technical classes in one semester and getting some top-notch research and internship positions. Some people have founded companies and have books published. I can’t help but feel I have not done enough, I should have as many cool activities going on, just like them.

Instead of comparing myself with them and feeling bad about myself, I have learned that I have my own path and my own storyline. I surround myself with the people I want to become, to learn from them but I am an individual after all. My school, my jobs, and my GPA are not just the metrics to measure myself.

You surround yourself with amazing people. Don’t forget, you are also one of them. You are also hard-working, smart, passionate and talented.

1: There is only one you. So don’t compare, be you.
2: Have your own path and surround yourself with the people you want to become.

IV: Love is the greatest of all.

It is ok to fall in love deeply while you are in school and still do well. If you date the right person, that could motivate you to become a much better version of yourself.

Even though I am single right now, people I dated in the past taught me lessons about myself. Each date taught me how to make dating better next time. Each relationship taught me how to take care of myself and be with someone at the same time. Each broke up taught me what it is to love and care for someone even we are no longer together. My ex-boyfriend taught me that, a healthy relationship means that two individuals don’t become one in a relationship but they hold each other to walk on the same path, with different turns.

To keep love alive is hard. To have the courage to love again is even harder. I wish I had gone on more dates, not just to look for the love of my own but to learn more about myself and others.

1: Don’t be afraid to be in love.
2: Don’t be afraid to be in love, again, again and again.

IV: Acknowledgment.

Many thanks to Eric Van Bezooijen for being the first reader!