It wasn’t until he arrived at the University of California-Berkeley four years ago that Cameron Haberman says he realized how much the quality of public education in his hometown left to be desired. Visalia — a blue-collar town in California’s Central Valley at the base of Sequoia National Park — has an economy that relies heavily on agriculture, and education, Haberman says, isn’t overly emphasized.
Reflecting on his arrival as a UC-Berkeley freshman, he remembers some doubtful self-talk. “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this,” he told himself. “These kids are way smarter than me.”
It helped that he wasn’t alone. Right by Cameron’s side, feeling the same trepidation, was his twin brother Tyler Haberman. Tyler, recalling those freshman days, echoes the thoughts of the identical sibling who tops him in age by a mere 60 seconds. “I think the difference in quality of education has a lot to do with rigor and workload,” Tyler says. “In some high schools, the expectation is everyone will go on to a four-year college or university. Where we’re from, they just wanted everyone to graduate.”
Because of this, Tyler says the academic intensity that other students endured during high school meant they arrived at college already accustomed to managing stress and having conquered important life skills such as time management. “We had to learn all of this when we got there,” he says.
Not only this, but Berkeley — and the San Francisco Bay Area — is one of the most diverse places in the country, which caused some culture shock for the Visalia-raised twins. “It was a pretty difficult transition because the Central Valley of California where we’re from is extremely conservative,” Cameron says. “When we told people we were going to Berkeley, before they would congratulate us, they’d say, ‘Don’t come back a liberal.’”
For Tyler, one memorable moment came when he realized he was surrounded by so many different cultures. “I remember during orientation we were all in a lecture hall — about 600-700 people — and we were asked to stand if we were born in a country outside the U.S. I thought it’d be five or six people, but it was half the room. I’d never seen diversity like that before.”
‘PEOPLE REMEMBER TWINS. I THINK THAT GAVE US A LEG UP IN RECRUITING’
All of this amounted to a severe case of imposter syndrome which the twins say they developed when they first got to college and sought to fit in this new environment. So what’s two bright-eyed freshmen to do?
“You adapt and you look for resources out there to help you,” Tyler says.
For the Haberman duo — who graduated yesterday (May 14) from UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business with honors — this included things like joining a fraternity and taking advantage of office hours with professors who were willing and able to help students struggling with feelings of self-doubt and not being good enough.
Also, simply talking about it. “In general, people sit there and think it’s only them,” Tyler explains. “Talk about it. You’re definitely not the only person. Then you realize, OK, we’re all the same. It’s an equal playing field and we’re all on the same turf.”
Still, the Haberman twins admit that college life and business school are a lot more manageable when you have a forever buddy to experience it with.
“I think the best thing about experiencing this as a twin is you go through so much in business school, especially the first year,” Tyler says about being a student at Haas. “You’re trying to kill your classes, you’re recruiting, you’re attending info sessions, meeting companies every night. It’s a really wild time. Having Cameron to go through all that with me made life easier and kept me accountable. We always had that one constant in each other and it was reassuring.”
He adds, “It’s scary to go to an info session and not know anyone there. It’s a lot easier to walk up to someone and strike up a conversation when there are two of us. People remember twins and I think that gave us a leg up in recruiting. If we’re decent at holding a conversation, I think it does help a little bit.”
Finally, Tyler says, “Berkeley has a lot of resources, but Cam and I studied everything together and together we learned how to study efficiently and effectively. Anytime I wanted to give up, he’d say, ‘Nope, one more hour. We’ll do it until we master it.’”
The two attribute this mindset to their parents who — despite education not being a huge deal in their hometown — instilled pride and a strong work ethic in their children from a young age.
“Our parents made it the expectation that we got work done before having fun,” Cameron remembers. “It was instilled in us at a very young age and taking pride in our work is something that has stuck with us.”