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Getting out of the zone: The first-year experience

family standing in front of a christmas tree

Celeste Garcia (center) and her family are now enthusiastic Cal Bears.

When their daughter, Celeste, first expressed interest in attending UC Berkeley, Monica and David Garcia were concerned: The campus was so far away from their home in south Los Angeles. But more than that, they worried that Berkeley’s renowned academic rigor would be too stressful.

“Honestly, I was a little scared because Berkeley is known to be so challenging,” Monica Garcia remembered. “In the Latino culture, most parents tend to underestimate their children and want to keep them under a close watch. They’re reluctant about encouraging them to reach new heights or make risky choices.”

The Garcias had already had a taste of giving Celeste a longer leash — she’d attended high school summer programs at both New York University and Harvard, living in two completely strange cities without knowing another soul.

“I didn’t sleep for that whole month,” Monica Garcia said of the first experience. “My mom is indigenous Oaxacan and she and my dad only finished the sixth grade. Growing up, I wasn’t even allowed to walk to the corner store by myself.”

Monica Garcia herself was a first-generation college student, graduating later in life in 2015 from Cal State Los Angeles.

When the family accompanied Celeste to Berkeley for an orientation tour, Monica Garcia felt a little overwhelmed.

“I thought, wow, would you be able to survive here?” she wondered.

Back home, she began researching Berkeley and learned more about its reputation as a school for “really big nerds” where it’s hard to earn even a B grade. But after touring another UC campus she’d applied to, Celeste came to her own decision: She wanted to challenge herself and get out of her comfort zone.

She’s just completed her first year at Cal and plans to major in Global Studies with a minor in Journalism. Her first year at Berkeley has been everything she’d expected, and more, she said.

The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) office has been a valuable resource, Monica Garcia said, providing such services as academic guidance and financial-aid information.

The couple has visited their daughter on campus just once, but it was enough to change their own feelings about Berkeley.

“We’re so happy now that Celeste didn’t choose the easy, comfortable route,” Monica Garcia said. “Berkeley prepares you for the real world, and she’s already matured and is more understanding of other people’s viewpoints. She’s discovering just how much she’s capable of.”

In April, Monica Garcia volunteered as a Cal Parents Ambassador at a reception in L.A. for newly admitted students and their families — despite the fact that she was on crutches with a broken ankle — because she wants to give back to Cal and help the campus attract more Latinx students.

On the same day, Celeste was also volunteering at an EOP reception in Berkeley.

To other parents who may be reluctant to let their students try a big urban university like Berkeley, Monica Garcia has a few words of advice:

“Don’t just let your child push themselves. Push yourself to trust them and let them go. Everybody needs to get out of their comfort zones. That’s how growth happens.”

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