Most students know it as that huge building with the dome at the top of the hill– with a dining hall that serves Kombucha, residents with accents and put-together outfits, even a lobby with its own fireplace. While some of these quirks, visible to outsiders, are what interested me in International House in the beginning, it’s only now that I’ve been a resident there for a few months that I have an inside look at what it’s truly like.
Going into my sophomore year, I was interested in finding a living arrangement where I could be around people different from me. I found that living in a dorm composed of 75% international students: International House. I-House is a unique dorm to UC Berkeley’s campus. It was established to foster an inter-cultural community and continues to shine as an inviting place for people of all backgrounds.
The day I moved in, I knew I’d made the right call. I met my roommate, an exchange student from Japan, who had never been to the United States before. I chatted with her about travel, what she was excited for, and school, but also more silly things like shopping, our favorite foods, and movies. The whole time all I could think of was how, although we had absolutely no common environmental background, we were still able to forge a connection and relate to one another.
This unexpected commonality amazed me and served as an example for some of the other connections I’d come to make at I-House. At the beginning of the year, the I-House Program Office put on a series of retreats for residents, where we spent a weekend in the mountains in Marin County, enjoying California’s wildlife and getting to know one another. I was able to have meals with neighbors from Denmark, Mexico, and Singapore, and forge friendships with students from India, Italy, Australia and South Africa.
Needless to say, one of the weirdest things about being a part of this new community was the fact that I was a local. Having grown up in the Bay Area, it felt so different to have to respond to someone telling me about their hometown in Norway by saying, “yeah, my hometown’s about a 40 minute drive from here.” While there are plenty of other US students at I-House, this was the first time I’d felt a sense of being an outsider, of being different: of observing and learning and being open rather than proudly standing in the privilege of the familiarity of my own turf. It was a humbling, curiosity-inducing, incredible feeling. The best part was, after I would hesitantly introduce myself, I received nothing but positivity and openness back.
I grew up traveling the world. Before living in I-House I’d visited 13 countries, but living there has been different from each of those experiences. When you live with people different from you, when you hear their stories over dinner, laugh with them while brushing your teeth in the bathroom, run into each other in the laundry room, or study together in the library, you don’t just learn something new from them, you experience something new with them.
These are the experiences I hoped for coming into college, and I’m so excited to continue to encounter them.