FRESHMAN FOCUS: UC Berkeley student Amelia Fineberg starts college more than 5,000 miles from home

(Photo used by permission of Fineberg)
Amelia Fineberg, ’16, and her flatmate.

Find out what the members of the class of 2016 are up to in their first year of college. A college freshman is featured in the Freshman Focus every week.

Amelia Fineberg is studying in London as part of a program at UC Berkeley called Global Edge. She intends to major in linguistics but is currently undeclared.

Q: Weren’t you originally going to Rome?

A: Yes. The choices were London, Rome or Madrid. I originally chose Rome, but then Rome and Madrid got cancelled because they have stricter visa requirements that involve visits to the respective consulates of those countries, and the appointments all filled up.

I actually had an appointment and had done all the visa paperwork, but because the others weren’t able to schedule appointments, the programs were cancelled anyway. But I’m still thrilled to be abroad this semester, even if it’s not where I had originally hoped.

Q: When did you arrive in London?

A: Sunday, Aug. 14. I managed to sleep on the plane, which is a lot better than most of my classmates, so I was in pretty good shape time-zone-wise when I arrived. There was still a lot of adjustment that needed to be done, though, so I used melatonin to convince myself to sleep at the right times.

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: London theater, comparative politics, art history of London museums, and the “B-half” of reading and composition. I took the A-half of that class over the summer, along with philosophy.

Q: Who teaches you there in London – Berkeley professors or professors from local schools?

A: Professors who work at local colleges – King’s College and University College London – but also teach for Berkeley.

Q: Where are your classes?

A: The ACCENT center. ACCENT is the organization that works with schools to organize these study-abroad opportunities. There are ACCENT centers in a lot of European cities: Florence, Rome, Madrid, etc. We’re at the London center. It’s neat because it’s a pretty historic building – built in the 1770’s – and it’s Georgian style.

(Photo used by permission of Fineberg)
Fineberg, right, holds up a peace sign with some of her classmates while touring London.

Q: How big are your classes?

A: There are only five classes, and we’re required to take four, so there’s only one class that any given person isn’t taking. In other words, the majority of us are in each class. There are 30 of us total, so that kind of gives you an idea.

Q: What’s your favorite class?

A: I like them all, but my museums and theater classes are probably my favorite. The museums class is cool, because we get to actually visit some of them. So far, we’ve visited the British Museum and Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Sir John Soane was both an architect and a collector – he collected a ton of stuff and kept building up his house to better display his collections. Upon death, he granted his house to the city through an act of Parliament with the condition that nothing be changed. So you can go there now, and it’s exactly how it was almost 200 years ago.

This guy was a pretty famous architect – he also built the Bank of England, for instance – so that was pretty cool.

Q: What’s your least favorite class?

A: I’m not exactly looking forward to writing a research paper for reading and composition. Also, we haven’t gotten that far yet, but I expect my poli sci course to be pretty challenging. Social sciences in general are not my strong suit.

Q: What kinds of students attend this program?

A: Actually, a fair number of  kids here were on the waitlist for Berkeley and were offered this program once they got in. It’s a pretty diverse group. About half are from California. The other half are mostly out-of-state, but there are a few Chinese international students, too.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: To be honest, I mostly sit around and read books. Sometimes I wander around. I discovered this amazing bookstore called Waterstones that’s three stories high – I walked in and my jaw just dropped. I was almost in tears. There are entire sections on histories of every part of the world, and the A-Z fiction section was multiple rooms. I bought four books there. It’s near my classes, so I’ll definitely go back.

The cool thing about being in London right now is because of Brexit, the pound is down and shopping is cheap.

Also, Europe is all very close together. For example, last weekend, I took a two-hour train ride to another country – France. And I just booked a flight to East Germany that was 40 pounds round trip – which translates to about $53. I’m also flying to Amsterdam at some point, and that’s going to be about 80 euros (about $90) round trip.

(Photo used by permission of Fineberg)
Fineberg (first at left in second row) and her class stand in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral while on a bus tour of London.

Q: Where do you stay?

A: We stay in flats about a half an hour away from the ACCENT center by Tube. Our flat has two bedrooms and two bathrooms – some flats have only one bathroom, so we got lucky. There are five girls in my suite. I share my room with one girl, and the other room is a triple. We also have a common room with a kitchen, a dining table and a couple sofas.

One unfortunate thing is that apparently it’s the law in the UK that we can’t open the windows more than three inches – which becomes a problem when we’re cooking and it becomes really warm. But we eventually found a way to jimmy them. They’re just child locks, basically.

Q: How do you get around the city?

A: We have Oyster cards with unlimited travel between zones one and two, which covers most of central London. If we want to go outside of that, it costs money.

Q: Have you done a lot of exploring?

A: We did a lot of touring our first week in London, which was orientation week. We mostly toured the area we’re staying and going to classes in, but we ventured a bit further afield as well. There’s an overnight trip to Bath and Stonehenge planned for later this month, and I’m hoping to go to Edinburgh and possibly Dublin.

Q: What’s something hard you’ve had to deal with?

A: One of the harder things is that we don’t have meal plans. To put it bluntly, some people can cook, and some people cannot.

Q: Do you make meals and eat as a flat?

A: Not really. My flat has one vegetarian girl, one gluten-free girl, and one girl who’s never there. So I actually go to another flat to eat dinner. Everyone chips in toward the groceries and does what they can to help around the kitchen. I help cook and clean. It’s a pretty good system.

Q: What’s the best thing your flat has cooked?

A: One of the girls in my flat cooked this red bean soup that was super good. It’s a traditional Chinese dessert. It was one of my classmates’ birthday that day, so we were celebrating.

(Photo used by permission of Fineberg)
Fineberg (at right) has brunch at San Francisco International Airport with her flatmate on their way to London, Aug. 13.

Q: What’s the best thing you’ve eaten at a restaurant?

A: Three things. There’s this one place in Borough Market by the river that has really good paella and sangria. I had a great milkshake in Paris – it wasn’t thick like an American milkshake, and it was made with real cream. Also in Paris, I had salmon tartare, which is basically raw diced salmon. That was delicious.

Q: What’s been the best thing about your experience so far?

A: I have the freedom to go places. Nothing is stopping me from going across town except my own inertia. It’s nice having that kind of freedom.

Q: What’s been the worst thing?

A: I am very, very far from home.

Q: Have you made any notable mistakes?

A: Yes. Outlets here are different, so you have to get a converter. But it turns out that if you get the wrong converter – like one that’s the wrong amperage – you can short out the entire flat. We’ve done that several times.

Q: Have you noticed anything different about the British way of life?

A: The British are bad at drying things. Yes. I don’t understand it, but somehow the combined washing machine/dryer thing takes nine hours – and when you finally take your clothes out, they’re not even dry and you have to dry them on racks. It’s terrible.

Q: When do you return to California?

A: My program ends on Dec. 3, but I’m planning to detour to Barcelona for a week before going home. My parents are going to meet me there. And spring semester doesn’t start until mid-January, so that’s pretty nice – I get over a month off.

Q: Do you think you’ll study abroad again?

A: Yes, perhaps my junior year. I’d love to go to Japan for a year and really nail my Japanese, but I’ll have to see what programs will fit in with my major. I have a hunch that virtually any study that’s in a non-English-speaking country will work, since linguistics is all about comparing languages and such, and learning languages definitely helps.

Q: Do you have any advice for this year’s seniors?

A: I thought I was going to go to a small liberal-arts college, but I didn’t get in anywhere and ended up at this giant public school. But in the end, it’s still a good fit for me, and I’m kind of proud to be following in my mom’s footsteps. Plus, this program is really cool.

By Marigot Fackenthal

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