Karin Szu is a globetrotter, a foodie, and an adventurer. It was curiosity and a search for a life-shaping experience that made her pack her bags in the midst of her business administration and computer science degree in Munich in spring 2019 to move halfway across the world to the US. Her destination was the University of California, Berkeley — the world’s #1 public university — for the Berkeley Haas Global Access Programme (BHGAP).
Her goal was to gain the knowledge, skills and connections to excel as tomorrow's innovators and global leaders. She wanted to experience all that UC Berkeley and the innovative ecosystem of the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley had to offer.
She did. Szu gained all of the above and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure — all in the span of one semester.
Remember Szu’s first visit to Berkeley SkyDeck during her first month at the university? At the end of her semester, she started her internship with the company.
“Its mission to become the top global accelerator for the world’s leading startups motivated me to learn more about how SkyDeck encourages the growth of its moonshots!” Szu exclaims. As a SkyIntern, Szu assisted in coordinating the Global Innovation Partner (GIP) programme, which allows global startups to accelerate at SkyDeck alongside SkyDeck’s startup teams.
“Thinking back to how the past few months unfolded, I can say that I’ve become more open, more proactive, more comfortable in the unknown and more curious about the world around me. I will miss Berkeley, the people, the food, the challenges and the daily dose of happiness,” she muses. "To me, BHGAP is also about the wonderful people you’ll meet from across the globe who are passionate about leaving a legacy in this world."
Szu took a road trip to Los Angeles and Las Vegas where she visited Santa Monica Beach, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Griffith Observatory and Disneyland. She also visited Las Vegas with friends, where they headed to the casino for a few rounds of Russian roulette and blackjack. They also managed to catch the sunrise at Death Valley — here, they bonded over a campfire, instant ramen and meaningful talks.
UC Berkeley is a place for learning, discovery, innovation, expression and discourse. It encourages students to explore the academic landscape, venturing into unfamiliar fields of knowledge and, perhaps, discovering new passions that will take them in a different direction altogether.
Szu chose to join the Global Leadership Organisation. “As a full-fledged member of the committee, I get to organise different internal social events, such as the board game night or cooking events,” she explains.
At UC Berkeley, class sizes are small, but attention is abundant. “The BHGAP classes are much smaller with around 20 to 30 students per class. I appreciate how we’re able to receive much more individualised attention this way and get more chances to talk to our professors,” explains Szu.
Case discussions are the most valuable part of the learning experience because they stimulated analytical and creative thinking. “I still remember our BHGAP co-director Alex Budak encouraged us to act like a peer in the classroom, not like a consumer. Being a peer means co-producing learning instead of merely consuming it!” Szu enthuses.
With the Bay Area as the innovation capital of the world, Silicon Valley companies from virtually every industry are just within 50 miles of UC Berkeley’s campus. Past company site visits have included LinkedIn, SurveyMonkey, Salesforce, RocketSpace and Google.
During her semester at UC Berkeley, her first visit was to Berkeley SkyDeck — where she would end up interning at in the coming summer. “BHGAP allows you to visit so many companies around the Bay Area. The most interesting company so far has been DocuSign, which provides electronic signature technology and digital transaction management services.
With so many interesting classes, it was a tough choice for Szu to decide on which to enroll. In the end, she chose “Fundamentals of Design Thinking,” “Innovation Strategies for Emerging Technologies,” “High-Technology Marketing Management,” “Decision Making” and “FinTech.” She also signed up for one course from the main UC Berkeley course catalog, “Navigating Life’s Financial Decisions.”
“The Berkeley Haas Global Access Programme doesn't only give students the opportunity to study at one of the best business schools in the US, but it also allows them to explore all that UC Berkeley and the Bay Area have to offer, from DeCals and student clubs to speaker series and company visits,” Szu explains.
Soon after Szu arrived in Berkeley, she found a family. The International House at UC Berkeley is “the place to live when you’re looking for your home away from home,” she shares. At this multicultural residential “living and learning” centre of nearly 600 students and scholars from more than 70 countries, students foster intercultural respect and understanding, lifelong friendships, and leadership skills for a more just and peaceful world.
This was where Szu bonded with her friends and learned a sense of community through weekend getaways, dinners, late-night study sessions and deep conversations. In her first week, she met fellow BHGAP-ers, whom she would later celebrate Chinese New Year and explore San Francisco with.