By Caleb Hsu
Entering unfamiliar territory is always a daunting task, especially when you feel isolated and left to your own devices. College is an exciting time that can initially overwhelm freshman because they’re exposed—oftentimes for the first time—to tastes of what it’s like being a functioning individual amidst a planet vastly larger than themselves. Newfound freedom, uncomfortable social situations, unexpected self discoveries, and academic challenges all present themselves simultaneously to create a whirlwind of confusion. I remember feeling small, almost like I was witnessing snapshots of life whiz by at light speed. I transferred to Berklee as a piano principle from the University of Florida as a dual major candidate studying classical clarinet performance and cognitive psychology. I knew nothing about jazz, and I felt out of place surrounded by internationally trained pianists. Instead of facing my fears and externalizing the self-doubt I experienced entering Berklee’s campus in the heart of Boston, I initially shrunk myself down and retreated. Nevertheless, I found a way to overcome this suffocating feeling of defeat by taking control of my own circumstances.
The first thing you should know is that it’s alright to feel alone and it’s even expected. Talk to someone about it! This will reposition that negative energy and enable you to channel it into something productive. Berklee is filled with resources that help ease the transition period from being an outsider to feeling confident and capable. Obviously, your peers are a fantastic option to connect with since they can directly relate, but don’t neglect reaching out to your professors. Not only do Berklee faculty and staff offer career-defining insight, they also offer realistic advice to help navigate your way through adulthood as a musician. Berklee professors can become indispensable lifetime contacts if you proactively seek them outside the classroom. One visitation during scheduled office hours can lead to a connection that can jumpstart your entire career.
The most advantageous bit of advice I can offer is to be proactive and get involved in areas that interest you as soon as possible. In my first semester, I signed up to be a contributing writer for The Berklee Groove, which quickly led to a full-time student supervisor position, trained to be a BIRN DJ, which led to getting hired as the BIRN’s Communications Director, attended countless seminars and club meetings, and sought out individual tutoring and mentoring sessions offered by the Learning Center, which led to being offered a position to teach. The networking potential is unlimited at Berklee, and you should take advantage of every minute you’re here!
Specifically working with The Groove has equipped me with more skills than I could have ever anticipating walking into the position of Staff Writer. I cultivated verbal and communication skills that landed me professional positions outside the college, and tightened my grasp of the complex English language. This helped immensely with polishing classroom essays, completing project reports, writing formal cover letters, and establishing working relationships with my peers. The Groove offers students a platform to share their unique perspective with the estimated 3 billion people who now have access to the internet, enabling their voice to be heard and stories to be told. One of The Groove’s missions is to provide a window for outsiders to get a glimpse of what attending the top music school in the world is like.
Having attended countless concerts, seminars and events, interviewed numerous artists and industry professionals, and developed various other content, I’ve not only grown as a writer, but I’ve also grown as a person. Writing expresses who you are as an individual, forcing you to mold your thoughts and beliefs into tangible words and phrases. Utilizing your senses to recreate a situation for unseen readers presents a unique challenge that is both stimulating and rewarding. Best of all, writing for The Groove provides numerous opportunities to do (anything), to be (involved), to ask (anything), and to learn (everything) — all while equipping you with the necessary cognitive and verbal skills to function as a musician, an adult, and a part of human history in the making. Music tells a story, a collective narrative through the voices of people about the human condition, and the desire to unify and love. It’s a conversation you want to be an active part of.
Keep in mind that college is all about discovering yourself and striving to meet your full potential, while balancing all of the considerations students encounter. Plan out a monthly schedule, leaving time for just you. Don’t isolate yourself, but don’t be afraid of being alone. Give yourself space, work ahead on projects, collaborate with peers in different majors than your own, and carve out time away from music to enrich and cultivate your personal growth. Venture outside Back Bay; explore the surrounding towns and even states. Never underestimate sources of inspiration, and set realistic, incremental goals for yourself each step of the way. Know that music is art, and understand the importance of developing an appreciation for all art forms during your time at Berklee. Seize opportunities to work alongside others from every race, religion, cultural heritage, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, gender identity, and orientation because at the end of the day—we’re all just people… People whose lives matter and whose stories should be told. Lastly, enjoy it—be in the moment every moment. It goes by faster than you’ll ever know!