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My Tale of Choice

By Rafael Brian Sumali and Robert A.G. LeVine

Today is May 19, 2018. After a 10k run, I stop the EDM music playing through my earbuds and wipe the sweat tickling my forehead. I browse my social media, then my email. My heart stops. Then it pounds.


Nervously entering my login credentials, I watch impatiently as the page loads so very, very slowly. In my Asian homeland, Berkeley is Utopia, likened to Harvard and MIT. We revere a local group known as the “Berkeley Mafia,” a renowned collective of economists who designed an impressive set of macroeconomic policies.

Five eternities later, confetti showers my acceptance letter. Relief, euphoria and self-confidence blend into a Cheshire smile.

But I have to make a decision, and fast. With UCLA already in my hands, now UC Berkeley was giving me just one week to decide.

That evening, after “consulting” my parents – who had very definite ideas about my direction – I reviewed for the 100th time that most powerful overlord of college education, US News. By enrolling at UCB, my successful career path would be set, and my future would be the fodder of water-cooler conversations.

I committed to Berkeley.

Now, nine months later, I find myself preparing a transfer application.

Don’t get me wrong. I truly appreciate the caliber of academics that Berkeley provides, but I came to the United States for the most complete education possible. During my first semester in college, after digging into the requirements to declare an Economics major, I realized how numbers-oriented the curriculum is here. Concerned, I asked my seniors about their experiences, and most told me that, to compensate, they had to minor or double-major. I checked with some advisors and confirmed: given the limited number of credits I can take, the UC structure limits options for broad-based learning. For a future entrepreneur like me, the balance is too “large scale,” not enough about the actual business transactions I will encounter.

While the pursuit of an education that is more suitable to my future is a primary reason to transfer, there is more. Distance running is my personal refuge, a way for me not only to exercise my body, but also to reboot mind. I had not researched this aspect of the college experience deeply enough. Although Berkeley has a stadium with a track, there isn’t a dedicated running organization. The closest thing is a non-accredited team, but this is a loosely connected group with little sense of community and a very high turnover rate.

In just a few months, I have found that a sense of individualism extends across the UCB campus. Absent integrated, collaborative activities – which are not UCB’s strength – how will I be challenged and exposed to new ideas? I need to interact with people to obtain fresh perspectives, but this enormous population doesn’t facilitate human discourse.

I am not alone in my concerns. Whether for personal, academic or financial reasons, an astonishing number of students transfer out of their schools. Changing a seemingly stellar plan may seem radical, but it happens a lot.

A university may feel like the pinnacle of education, yet I believe it is the beginning of a major life evolution in which we start educating ourselves rather than absorbing lessons others believe we need. In college, there are infinite learning possibilities in the classes, labs, libraries and, most importantly, the people.

I wasn’t uninformed when I chose Berkeley. I was under-informed. Students, do your research. Parents, respect the opinions of your children. Everyone, remember that your goals align even if your individual plans do not. Figure it out. Sit together patiently when you have disagreements, and make sure your decisions are immaculately well-informed. Not everything can be captured by reputation and rankings.

Mom and Dad, I love you, but to make our family most proud, I have to make the most of myself.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email [email protected] or visit 


Bucket List Blues

By Anu Varma Panchal

What’s on your bucket list?

The 2007 movie that featured Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman racing to accomplish a list of desires before they died may have received mediocre reviews, but it kicked off something major in the national zeitgeist. The innocuous bucket list has now joined the rank of nuisance items one is frequently coopted into nowadays, such as whimsical baby announcements and mandatory color dress codes at desi parties.

There’s a bucket list for every conceivable group. According to one “Bucket List for Best Friends,” my best friend and I should have by now got tattoos together, spent a whole day in bed watching films, and had an epic food fight. I’m guessing this is not my demographic, as I can’t think of a single woman I know who wouldn’t be horrified at the thought of throwing away perfectly good food that we’ll then have to clean up off the floor ourselves.

Suggested kids’ bucket lists ranged from abseiling to milking a cow by hand by age 12, while a mother-daughter bucket list called for list-followers to “dress in fancy dresses and have a nice dinner party.” This would be a total fail for my younger daughter who likes to eat with a book propped up in front of her and who owns one dress that she’ll agree to wear. There’s even a website called that bills itself as the world’s largest goal-setting community. Here, you can open an account, make a bucket list, tick items off your list as you achieve them and indicate your interest in items you would like to add. Popular activities ranged from “Name a Star” to “Eat a Deep-fried Twinkie” and “Witness a Miracle.”

Laudable goals, perhaps, but at the increasingly cranky age of 40-something, I look at a bucket list, particularly a travel one, and see nothing more than another set of obligations to get all competitive over.

Lists are good — I’ve written plenty. Lists keep us organized and sane. Writing something down gives it power, but that’s the problem: What we write becomes another imperative. Anxiety over things I need to get done and guilt over things I haven’t got to yet are pretty much my normal state of mind. Rather than seeing a bucket list as an exciting list of possibilities, I see it as committing myself to even more stuff that I’m going to have to do so I don’t look back later and feel like I’ve failed. “It takes it from a nice idea of something you want to do into something you have to do,” mused my older daughter.

I’m also not crazy about another set of artificial deadlines, especially after years of society’s time limits to get married and have your first child by a certain age. “See snow” was on a bucket list of things to do with your kids before they turn 5. Why? I saw snow for the first time when I was 18, and it was as magical an experience then as it would have been at any age.

The idea is that as you march closer to the less desirable end of life’s journey, you should refine what was once a vague expanse of dreams and efficiently pinpoint and roadmap the things you really want to do. But maybe, perhaps counterintuitively, this is not the time to refine. With one child on the cusp of high school, I’m acutely conscious of the passage of time and have abandoned grandiose schemes. This is partly because I’m lazy — “Run a marathon” has lapsed into “Watch ‘Call the Midwife’ for 20 minutes while hanging out on the treadmill.” But it’s also because this leaves room for gentler, more spontaneous development of goals that evolve with the growth of the individual and the family. Maybe, suggested my friend Jane, the seemingly simple things are the big bucket list items: Have I enjoyed good company, and a sunset, and blue skies? Have I loved and been loved?

This past weekend, we took advantage of the gorgeous spring weather and put up a hammock in our backyard. After the inevitable squabbling about who was going to go in first, followed by slaps, jostling for position and moving elbows out of other people’s eyes, we settled down to watch the sky through the branches of the oak. It wasn’t on any list, I got absolutely nothing done, and there’s nothing to tick off. But it’s a memory I hope is as valid and enduring for me as a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of

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