UC Berkeley Senior Reflection: Santos V.

Graduating senior Santos discusses his time at Berkeley, the semester-long internship he completed in Washington D.C. and his advice to other first-generation students.

What is your major and why did you choose it?

Santos: I’m a political economy and political science double major — political science because I have always been interested in politics in general, and political economy because I’ve always been good with numbers and particularly with economics. To me, learning about the economy was a little bit too abstract and it didn’t really apply to policies, so political economy was a good cross between the two.

What do you hope to do with your major after you graduate?

Santos: I really like the economy, so I’m hoping to have a role in it. My first semester of senior year I did UCDC and I took a class called Economics of Public Policy, and it was very policy based. We would analyze relevant things like the Affordable Healthcare Act, the budgets of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, etc. So I’m hoping to do something like that — analysis of public policy.

What is the UCDC program and why did you decide to do it?

Santos: UCDC is the University of California in Washington D.C. It is essentially a semester-long program that focuses on professional development. Before you go to UCDC you spend some time looking for an internship. After finding an internship, you go to D.C., and you do the internship full-time while you take two or three classes at the same time. These classes were probably some of my favorite that I’ve taken these past four years. It’s really interesting because in D.C., while you can do a lot of different things, it tends to converge around politics. The classes in D.C. provided a good place for people to talk about these things, and it’s interesting to see how everything comes together under general policies.

What internship did you take on in D.C., and what did it entail?

Santos: I interned for Nancy Pelosi, which was a pretty good opportunity given the election that was going on. You could definitely see the change leading up to the election, and the changes that followed.

Nancy Pelosi is the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, so she has to know a lot of things. But the office isn’t big enough to attend every meeting and every hearing, so what interns do is run from meeting to briefing to hearing, taking in as much information as you can and writing memos about it, and then passing it on to the legislative assistant. Then the legislative assistant will analyze it and pass it on further. Another thing you’re doing is legislative research, whenever an assistant needed to know more about a topic, interns would research it.

It was a good experience. Towards the end of my time in D.C., I realized how special my experience was, because it was a presidential election cycle and it was a unique election. I think being in a leadership office was pretty interesting.

What is the most valuable thing you gained from your experience in UCDC?

Santos: I met a lot of people so I thought that was pretty cool. In practice, I learned how to write memos really, really quickly, how to efficiently summarize materials, and I learned how to communicate and act professionally. I learned how to see what was going on and react proactively, and that has proven very valuable.

Honestly, I would recommend it to any student, even if you’re not a political science major. For one, it’s good to know how government works because, whether you want to or not, you’re part of the government. Two, Congress is especially divided right now and I think it’s good to be there to see why it’s divided. Because a lot of the time it doesn’t even make sense why. You develop yourself professionally a lot too. UCDC pushes you to learn fast, figure out how to adapt quickly and forces you to reach out to individuals who can help you. It’s a totally different environment from inside the classroom, that I think everyone should experience.

Has your worldview changed since participating in UCDC?

Santos: My worldview has definitely changed in a very interesting way. I think it’s common for people to think that they’re too small to enact change on a big scale. That changed, especially after learning policies and after learning the effect that one or two people have had on the world. If you’re looking to be that one person, you can definitely do it.

Why did you choose Berkeley?

Santos: Two things: the distance from home and the weather. I didn’t know much about Berkeley because, no one talked much to me about college, maybe because I was a first-generation student. Anyways, I filed applications and I got all of my acceptance letters. When I visited Berkeley, I had already visited all the other campuses and none of them really called me. I wasn’t excited to go to any other campus. I was nervous that I was going to have to pick the one that I disliked the least. But when I got here it was foggy (I like gloomy weather) and it felt like it was far enough from home. Walking around, I felt like the buildings had history that I wanted to learn about, and I like how decentralized it is in a way. I wanted to be able to get lost on a campus. Quite frankly, I didn’t have much to go on and that’s why I picked Berkeley.

How did being a first-generation student impact your college experience?

Santos: It’s different because I have a different set of priorities. As a first-generation college student, your family doesn’t have the structure behind you for them to say, “we’re okay, you go do whatever you want to do at college.” I’m not complaining because I’ve learned a lot and I think that was very valuable. And so I made sure to focus on career development and professional development for the future, rather than just doing whatever. Because as a first-generation student, I’m doing what I’m doing at Berkeley to give back to my family.

What resources did you find to make the transition of coming to Berkeley as a first-generation student easier?

Santos: I think it was helpful to find other first-generation college students to talk to about things. I’m also an immigrant from Mexico. There are a lot of students at Berkeley so there’s always someone who feels the same way you do towards any issue. And I think that’s why I wanted to come to such a big campus. I wanted, not to change to fit into a certain group, but I wanted to find a group that could align with me as a base. Then you get the chance to surround yourself by different views without feeling overwhelmed.

What advice would you give to a prospective student in a similar situation?

Santos: Everyone is different. Everyone who’s in a similar situation still has a different circumstances, so everyone who’s a Latino first-generation college student will have a different story than mine. But Berkeley is such a big campus that you’re able to grow in whichever way you want and still maintain your priorities. You can do a variety of things without having to give up who you are, and I think knowing that you will find someone to connect with helps a lot. And yes, it seems daunting at first to see so many things that are new or that you’re unfamiliar with, but starting somewhere and knowing that you will fit in somewhere, it’s reassuring.

The Bay Area is big. Just look at it on a map. There’s a lot to do here. There’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot of places to go. The Bay Area is a very unique area and there’s always a group that you can join, you just need to find it. I didn’t fall in love with the Bay Area at first sight, it definitely grew on me. I think people should check different places out and give it a chance. You don’t have to live here forever, you can experience it, learn from it and apply what you learn once you leave Berkeley.

Interview conducted by Sarah Bellal