London's skyline at sunset

A transformative first year: meet CNR’s Global Edge students

The start of college is filled with firsts: moving away from home, managing coursework, and joining a collection of communities, big and small. Students who participate in Berkeley’s Global Edge program have the chance to encounter some unique first-time experiences as they begin their undergraduate studies—including the opportunity to live abroad and study at UC Berkeley’s London Center.

Three students standing together and smiling at camera

Global Edge begins each summer when students arrive on the Berkeley campus to take two courses and participate in pre-departure orientation and activities. These intensive summer courses, Reading and Composition and Individual Morality and Social Justice, fulfill University breadth requirements. At the beginning of the fall semester, students then travel abroad where they spend the term taking UC Berkeley courses in London. Course offerings for the semester abroad include composition, political science, and calculus, as well as classes that focus on London’s history, arts, and cultural life. When classes conclude in December, the cohort returns to the United States for the spring semester at Berkeley.

Last year, more than 40 first-year students participated in the program, including six students from the College of Natural Resources (CNR). The program is open to newly admitted first-year students in CNR and the College of Letters & Sciences. To gain a glimpse of the Global Edge experience, we spoke to three CNR students: society and environment major KC Harris and nutritional science - dietetics major Ashley McQuade, who returned from London in December 2017, and molecular environmental biology major Julie Lake, who participated in Global Edge in 2016.

What led to your decision to become a Global Edge participant?

Ashley: I decided to participate in Global Edge because it was an opportunity to study in a foreign country as well as a chance to challenge myself to take courses that students don’t have access to on the Berkeley campus, like a course all about the museums of London. I've always been interested in traveling, and I thought, "What better time to start than my first semester at Cal?"

A student lights a candle in a church

Of the courses you took in London, which one was your favorite and why?

Ashley: My favorite class was called London: Theater Capital. Our professor’s enthusiasm for theater was contagious and it enhanced my understanding of theater and its cultural value. Every Thursday night our class visited a different theater to watch wonderful plays, including The Seagull, Hamlet, Road, and The Ferryman, to name a few. We also visited the Tate Modern Museum, the Royal Courts of Justice, and even Sigmund Freud’s house! This class focused on off-site visits and classroom discussion of the plays and other cultural sites that we visited, which was an incredible hands-on learning experience. This environment and course structure allowed for a mixture of academics and exposure to life in London.

What has been your favorite part of the Global Edge program?

KC: The closeness of our little Global Edge community has been an essential part of my first-year experience at CNR. I’m really grateful for the close friends I made within that community, and it’s exciting to see them around campus now that we’ve returned to Berkeley. Studying abroad is a great way to bond!

"The closeness of our little Global Edge community has been an essential part of my first-year experience at the College of Natural Resources."
KC Harris

What was the biggest challenge of living and studying abroad?

Ashley: The biggest challenge of studying abroad is living with people you don’t really know, all the while combating homesickness and acclimating to a foreign country. These experiences helped me grow as a person, and I’m glad I made the decision to participate in Global Edge. I encourage those with this opportunity to take it.

What’s been the biggest reward or surprise about your Global Edge experience?

Ashley: The biggest reward from my Global Edge experience is the independence I’ve acquired. I’ve learned to travel around London and Europe on my own, navigate unfamiliar environments, and meet many people from a variety of cultures. I have become more confident in my abilities and gained more independence from the experiences I gained through Global Edge.

A group of students pose in front of a London building

How does this experience set you apart from other first-year students on the Berkeley campus?

Julie: I think just having the experience of living somewhere very far away gave me a lot of perspective that other students might not have. Sometimes at Berkeley, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by work or clubs, but realizing that there’s a whole world to explore helped take me out of that mindset. It made me want to explore all the resources on campus, and also travel around the Bay Area, which I hadn’t done much before London even though I grew up here!

What advice do you have for students considering Global Edge?

Julie: My advice would be to take advantage of the opportunities that the program gives you and not worry too much about what you’re missing in Berkeley. Trust me, you’ll have plenty of time at Berkeley. And I feel that the theater and art history courses I took in London offered experiences that a typical Berkeley class could not. We were able to visit nearly a dozen museums in London, see a bunch of plays, and just experience a different way of living. Global Edge is a very different and exciting way to start college.

KC Harris stands in front of England's Dover cliffs

Any other thoughts about Global Edge or advice for those considering the program?

KC: For me, being part of this program has been a highly transformative experience. Leaving right after you graduate from high school, studying over the summer, and then living a for semester in a country 6,000 miles away will definitely be unlike anything you’ve ever done before, and it will force you to grow along the way. I would not recommend this program if you do not want change in your life, or if you do not want to learn new life lessons and grow as a person. If you do want these things, Global Edge is a wonderful opportunity.

Global Edge is an opportunity available to newly admitted first-year students from CNR and the College of Letters & Sciences.  Students can opt into this program when they accept their offer of admission. To learn more about Global Edge, visit the program’s website.