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Advice for UC Berkeley students stressing out over upcoming final exams: ‘Be the llama’

Masood Jan is stressing out over his five finals next week at UC Berkeley, the hyper-competitive, top-rated public research university.

But some of his anxiety melted away Monday, thanks to close-up time with some unusual therapy animals: llamas.

The freshman from San Ramon, who hopes to major in molecular and cell biology, is spending six hours a day studying for finals in chemistry, math, physiology, psychology and English. He said his 40 minutes with the llamas, petting their soft fur and feeding them carrots and alfalfa pellets, definitely relaxed him. 

“They’re soft,” he said. “Soothing.”

Berkeley’s student government arranged for four llamas to visit campus as part of the school’s annual De-stress Week. Though therapy dogs are more common, the South American camelids have special spiritual powers, according to Geo Caldwell, the bearded owner of Llamas of Circle Home, a Sonora ranch that brought Quinoa, Tombo, Amigo and Waiki to Berkeley.

The ranch also provides llamas for hikes, packing trips and visits to hospitals and nursing homes.  

“The ancient Andeans say llamas were dreamed into existence to communicate at the soul level,” Caldwell said. “When people see the llamas, they open up their hearts. It’s a beautiful synergy of energy going back and forth.”

“Oh wow,” Jan said when he was told what Caldwell had said. Asked if he connected spiritually with the llamas, he said: “I guess. Yeah. My friend was saying you have to be the llama. Peaceful. Calm. It’s good advice. I’m definitely working on it.”

Ana Mancia, a junior majoring in business and a member of the student association, arranged the llama visit as one of several events to help students cope with finals week stress. In the first-ever “Blackout Challenge” on Monday, campus groups gave pillows and sleep masks to students who turned in their phones for a few hours to avoid distractions from studies. 

The usual contingent of therapy dogs — including a black Labrador, terrier and Corgi — also visited last week.

But nothing quite excites the students like llamas, Mancia said.  ”They’re unusual and super-cute.”

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