On her birthday, Brandy Riziki, ’19, (fourth from left) was surprised with dinner at the house of fellow church members, whom she calls her sisters. (Photo courtesy of Riziki)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Brandy Riziki, ’19, finds community in religious organizations, ethnic-themed housing at UC Berkeley

Brandy Riziki, 19, attends the University of California, Berkeley. Her major is undeclared, but she’s considering nutritional sciences or micro- and cellular biology.

Q: How’s the transition to college?

A: I don’t want to say it was really easy, but it wasn’t that difficult for me.  

I was in a theme program (Destined for New Achievements), which means I’m on the Afro course, African American Studies 194, so all the students on my floor identify as black. We had a special orientation, and we have a lot of gatherings, so it was fairly easy to connect with people. 

I also walked around campus to find my classes and make sure I knew where each one was beforehand, so I wasn’t late to my classes.

Q: What was it like going from Country Day to a school with more than 30,000 undergraduates?

A: The campus may be crowded, but as long as you stay focused, the crowd is not nerve-wracking. Yes, there are big classes sometimes (and) people are walking around all the time, but as long as you focus on your studies and invest in good friendships, the campus is small. 

Q: How is the political climate?

A: I’m not really involved in the political climate, but I’ve seen quite a few protests around campus. People are actually pretty open about their political views. In my first week here, we had a mandatory event, where some professors, alumni and students talked about the importance of belonging in spite of our differences. That was helpful to understand that people at Cal are from different backgrounds and have different political views, but we are all part of the same campus. 

Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?

A: I dont think its a freshman mistake, but I used to not sleep enough, and I started falling asleep in my 10 a.m. classes. Another mistake was not eating well or not having three meals (per day) regularly. Because of that, I ended (up) having to go to the doctor and found out that I was anemic. 

Q: Are you part of any clubs? 

A: I’m part of an organization called Klesis, which is a student organization connected to a church called Grace Point. They have a service on Sundays, and on Wednesdays and Fridays we have Bible study. Its great to be around people who love Jesus. 

There’s also an organization called InterCP that focuses on preaching the gospel in places where people dont know Jesus or dont have churches. (This is) especially in places like the Middle East where there are not enough churches and people arent exposed to the gospel. You get the opportunity of going there through something called Field Operation, which is usually two weeks. You can also decide to do one year — so go there for a year and then come back to school. In God’s timing, I will go!

During a weekend church retreat in January, Riziki (second row, center) spends time with her freshman sisters. (Photo courtesy of Riziki)

Q: What is your favorite part about UC Berkeley?

A: From my dorm, everything is (within) walking distance.

Q: What is your least favorite part about UC Berkeley?

A: When you wake up, its really, really cold, and you have to wear a thick jacket. Then, halfway through the day, it’s really hot. But thats just the weather in Berkeley, specifically.

Q: What classes will you be taking this semester?

A: I’m going to take a PE class called General Conditioning (this semester) because I want to stay in shape. I will take an English class, which is the second requirement for the year. Its on Asian American performance, which I’m so excited about because were going to be seeing performances; watching movies, videos and documentaries; and reading books about performances. (Ill also take) Physics and African American Studies. (The latter is) a seminar which is connected to my floor. And well have a seminar once a week on Wednesdays.

Q: How big are your classes?

A: Last semester, I had one big class of around 150 students, but it was broken into three because we had three professors. The professors rotated from group to group every four weeks. Other than that, all my classes consisted of fewer than 20 students. This semester, I have math and physics, each with big lecture halls of 100-300 students. It’s still easy for me to raise my hand and participate in the big lecture halls, though. We have discussions for each as well, which consist of 20 students or fewer. The classes end up feeling small. 

Q: What’s your favorite class?

A: My favorite was a Portuguese class because I love languages. Contemporary dance was also fun because it helped me be more flexible, and I just love dancing.  

Q: Least favorite?

A: It was A History of the Self: Inventing Identity, an arts and literature class. In the class, you read books about the self (and) learn what the self is, what the self does (and) why the self acts in certain ways by analyzing peoples lives in movies, books and short stories. The course had really dense readings, which was the first thing that made it hard for me to enjoy the class. We also didn’t take enough time to define the four themes of the class — representation, temporality, performance and coherence — so writing essays was difficult because each essay had to revolve around one of those four themes.

Riziki (second row, third from right) and members of her church family gather for a photo after cheering on their sisters who performed in AFX, the largest dance group at UC Berkeley. (Photo courtesy of Riziki)

Q: Did Country Day prepare you well for college?

A: Yeah, it did. I learned to be independent in freshman year. I made sure I studied and managed my time properly so I could join sports, make friends and hang out. Being able to balance all of that before college helped me prioritize what I wanted to do in college.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had known before college started? 

A: (Colleges) tell you that campuses are big, but they don’t specify (how big) until you get there, which is why they encourage you to do college tours. 

You will also meet people who are way smarter than you — but dont get intimidated by that. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. That doesn’t mean youre dumb.

Q: Are there any campus traditions?

A: One that I know of is the bonfire before the Big Game against Stanford. That entire week is Spirit Week, and each day is a buildup to Friday before the game on Saturday. I didn’t get to attend the bonfire because I already had another commitment, but people get super-hyped about it. 

Q: Do you have any advice for the class of 2020?

A: Stop making decisions out of fear. Now that you’re going into college, apply (for) different activities.

Five-star or subpar?

Food: ★★★

School spirit: ★★★

Location: ★★★★

Clubs: ★★★★

Student/Teacher Interaction: ★★★★

—By Samhita Kumar