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The opportunity of a lifetime: An exchange in Berkeley

Indonesian student Serla Rusli, Mundus 2015-2017, gives an account of her time studying on a Mundus Journalism exchange place at one of the world's top 10 universities, and shares tips for those thinking of applying for a study-abroad spot.

2016.09.01 | Hannah Spyksma

Thanks to the Mundus programme, I had an odd-defying chance of being selected to go to UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism as a visiting scholar.

If you were like me and had no previous formal education in Journalism, this would certainly be one of the most life-changing and inspirational experiences you would ever have in your pursuit to become a journalist.

Touted as one of the top journalism schools in the US and the world, the Graduate School of Journalism (or the J-School in short) is situated at a corner of the UC Berkeley campus in a beautiful rustic building called the North Gate Hall.

If you were like me and had no previous formal education in Journalism, this would certainly be one of the most life-changing and inspirational experiences you would ever have in your pursuit to become a journalist.

That was where many of my now friends referred to as their ‘second home’ in Berkeley. Every year, around 35-60 seasoned journalists and journalists-in-the-making worked through day and night, taking classes, editing videos, writing, creating animations, producing radio shows – basically making reporting magic.

Never had I been surrounded by so many passionate people, who simply aspired to make the world a better place through the stories they tell.

And if there was anything that being in the J-school had taught me, it was to dare to dream big.

Every year, just before the graduation ceremony, the J-school showcases the theses by the graduating students. It was simply mind-blowing, borderline intimidating, to see the quality of work produced and the admirable dedication that the students had put in their stories.

The students and alumni have all gone to do great things: most get a job or an internship at renowned publications or have their work published in one, a handful became Pulitzer Prize winners and nominated for various awards including THE Academy Awards. But most importantly, all of them learn to take pride in their reporting.

When I was there, I had the chance to cover hyperlocal news for neighbouring cities Oakland (yes, that’s where the Golden State Warriors are based) and Richmond. I covered a variety of issues from minimum wage increase in California and soda tax implementation to NFL-star appearance at a community event in Richmond. I spoke with San Francisco’s District Assembly member. I dabbled with investigative reporting. I attended the California Republican Convention in San Francisco, where Ted Cruz gave one of his last speeches before withdrawing from the presidential primaries.

All within a short span of two and a half months. Two and a half months of intensive learning, occasionally feeling that I was not good enough to be there but mostly being grateful that I had this opportunity to learn from and with the very best.

If you are reading this, you are probably thinking of applying for the spot to go to UC Berkeley or have been the chosen few. If you are the former, I would say go ahead! If you are the latter, here are some words of wisdom on how to make the most of your time at the J-School:

1.     Participate in class, as much as you can. Speak up in class and give your opinion. It may seem daunting considering you are coming in the middle of the school year, you are new in the States and you have to speak in front of a room full of strangers. But it would do you little good to keep silent. The classes are designed to be interactive - they are deliberately kept small (around 12-15 students in each) and everyone sits around a conference table to discuss: about the stories they are working on, about what is going on in the Presidential election, about absolutely everything.

2.     Pitch stories and write them. The J-School is designed for you to learn through practice. While there is no pressure from the lecturer for the Mundus students to write certain number of stories, it is certainly for your benefit to write as much as you can. Of course, while still leaving some time to explore the Bay Area.

3.     Crew with your classmates. Teaming up with your classmates for a story is a great way to learn. I once crewed with someone who was doing a video story, simply because I wanted to learn how to do videos. I would not have gotten as much at the California Republican Convention if I wasn’t there with my classmate who understood the scene in California so much more. Plus, crewing is a great way to make friends.

4.     Attend more classes than required. The Mundus programme only requires you transfer credits from two classes during your time in Berkeley. I took 5, and every single one was an amazing learning experience. If there are classes that you are not able to enrol in, write to the lecturers to ask for permission to sit in, and they would most likely agree to it. 

About Serla Rusli

Born and raised in Indonesia, Serla spent most of her professional career in Singapore where she was working in the financial industry. She holds Bachelor’s degrees in Accountancy and Business Management, and is now pursuing her Master’s degree with the Erasmus Mundus programme, specialising in business and finance journalism. She also writes for an online badminton magazine, a sport that has been her passion since childhood. Her love for travelling and writing has compelled her to start her own travel blog, which she originally used to channel her inner creativity when not crunching numbers on Excel spreadsheets, but is now quickly becoming a repository of her best travel memories. 

Twitter: @missruslee

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Tags: student exchange, University of California Berkeley, Mundus Journalism, j-school, journalism