A Semester Like No Other: An I-House Berkeley Spring 2020 Recap

With the school semester dramatically disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, most colleges and universities moved to online instruction, with students having no choice but to adjust to the changes. Given the lack of in-person classes and social distancing measures in place, quarantining while studying became a new balancing act.

At International House, UC Berkeley, a place known for fostering cultural understanding and celebrating different nationalities, community staples such as Coffee Hour and eating in the Dining Commons were halted. With countries closing borders as a way to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, many I-House residents returned to their countries of origin. As the hallways got quieter by the day, the I-House staff came together to form new virtual activities to keep residents engaged. Here’s a recap of the Spring 2020 semester at I-House:

January

I-House got its year off to the right start with a New Resident Orientation retreat to Walker Creek Ranch. The two-day trip involved hiking, group activities, good food, a bonfire, and a chance for residents to learn more about each other and how to make the most of their I-House experience. The final day ended with a trip to the beach in Point Reyes.

January 2020 New Resident Orientation retreat photo.

More New Year celebrations were underway as I-House Dining hosted a special Lunar New Year themed dinner which featured Lion Dance performances from San Francisco-based dance group Lion Dance Me. The meal included traditional East Asian Cuisine and desserts as well as special decorations honoring the new year.

February

With January filled with adventure and new beginnings, February doubled the fun starting with Super Bowl Sunday. This was the 54th annual Super Bowl, a deeply-rooted American tradition, where those not able to go to the actual game sit around their TV with family and/or friends to root for a team or watch the highly anticipated half-time show. Residents gathered around the TV in the Great Hall to watch the game. A projector was set up in the Dining Commons as well so people could eat and watch the event.

I-House also hosted it’s Sunday Supper event in mid-February with “Winter Soirée” as this year’s theme. For the price of meal swipe, residents, dressed to the nines, enjoyed a talent show featuring their fellow I-House friends.

Sunday Supper Winter Soirée. Photo by Lori A. Cheung

For Valentine’s Day, the Program Office put together a match-making activity that would help resident’s find their Valentine. To those that weren’t able to find their one true love through the app, they were at least comforted by a serenade from Cal’s Mariachi Band, invited by I-House resident Benny Corona. The band played a few songs on the front steps to a cheerful crowd.

Two weeks later, the I-House dining team hosted a Black History month dinner, featuring traditional southern food from fried chicken, to sweet potato pie. The menu was designed by sous chef Raymond Sharp, a Bay Area native with southern roots.  African artwork aligned the buffet room, most of which belonged to the mother of I-House cook Morgan Townsend. Read more about the dinner in our February I-House blog post.

To round out the month, I-House residents enjoyed a special trip to the Chase Center in San Francisco to watch a basketball game between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings.

March

Each March I-House participates in an annual “Big Give” event to raise funds for scholarships and operations. Alumni such as Nancy Tivol proposed price-matching donations where residents and friends of I-House could donate to unlock a certain gift giving amount. Residents from and those on the leadership committee participated in promotional photos for the event and committee members hosted a raffle the night before to encourage more donations for a chance to win fun prizes. In total, I-House raised nearly $10,000 in its Big Give event.

I-House “Big Thanks for Big Give” video by Chan’Cellore Makanjuola. Photos by Friedrich Wegmann and Keegan Houser.

With Spring break plans on people’s minds, the fast spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. and overseas began to impact how many carried out their social lives. On March 13th, UC Berkeley officially shutdown in-person classes and social distancing measures were strictly enforced. Gatherings were limited to ten people or less and people were encouraged to remain at least six feet apart. For the first time in decades, the Dining Commons closed its in-person dining, and residents were given to-go boxes to eat in their rooms or outside while maintaining a safe distance from each other.

To keep the I-House spirit alive, the Program Office hosted its first ever virtual coffee hour event, open to all the 2019-2020 I-House members, including those who were back in their hometowns. Residents tuned in from around the world to participate and share how they were coping during quarantine.

The Program Office also created a platform called “I-House Snapshots.” According to Program Office Director Valerie Ong, the program was “put together during the early days of COVID-19” and “created to celebrate I-House and to highlight the importance of vibrant communities during these difficult times.” Residents interested in participating were asked to submit a photo special to them and include a short message about its significance which were then put into a compilation. You can find snapshot stories from residents here.

I-House Snapshots from residents part of a compilation series. Courtesy of the I-House Program Office.

Another platform unveiled by the Program Office during quarantine was “Under the Dome,” which was a continuation of their “From All Corners” podcast series. According to I-House Program Coordinator Alicia López, “Under the Dome” was “created to help us feel the community of the I-House dome — even if residents had left I-House already and were in different places across the globe.” The podcast featured fifteen residents “sharing I-House memories, laughter, and stories of coping during quarantine,” she said. You can listen to the “From All Corners” and “Under the Dome” series on Spotify, Apple Podcast, and Google Podcast.

 Residents featured in the “Under the Dome” podcast Series. Courtesy of the I-House Program Office. 

April

After spending weeks adjusting to the strict social distancing measures and being quarantined in their rooms, some residents decided to use their free time to help those in need. Four residents launched a platform known as SF Food Friends, now SF Community Support, in late March as a way to help those at risk of contracting the virus get access to food and other necessities through the help of volunteers. The team officially started dispatching food package deliveries in mid-April. Their efforts were featured in our April I-House blog post.

 Clockwise top left: SF Food Friend members Marie Rajon Bernard, Toni Adetayo, Nitasha Goyal, and Marcel Schaack. Courtesy of SF Food Friends.

To commemorate a rather peculiar yet enlightening semester, the Program Office hosted an I-House “Bon Voyage” virtual program “to celebrate and close the academic year, regardless of how it ended due to [COVID-19],” according to Ong. I-House 2019-2020 residents tuned in from around the world to listen to watch musical performances from their fellow residents. Among the performances was a virtual rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

May

Before the semester can be considered complete, students must submit their final projects, theses, or complete final exams. Program Office staff put together a motivational video featuring I-House PAs and Resident Council members that encouraged residents to make it to the finish line.

Lastly, a tradition that wasn’t able to be held in-person this year was the Final Snap. Hosted by the program office, the event is where current residents gather on the front steps of I-House and take a group photo to commemorate the end of the school year and their time at I-House if they won’t be returning. Despite the COVID-19 restrictions keeping us apart, the final snap photo was able to come together through virtual means. Over one hundred current and former residents in the 2019-2020 class submitted photos for the virtual final snap and it was put together by yours truly.

While the semester didn’t go as originally planned, residents showed their ability to adapt and make the most of the changes. Whether it was sharing stories of quarantine, having dinner meetings through zoom, or virtual coffee hours, the I-House community stayed, and continues to remain, strong.

June

Although the 2019-2020 school year is over, some residents continued their stay at I-House for the summer. Due to the rising cases of COVID-19 across the U.S., efforts to stop the spread have become stricter. In mid-June, the state of California made masks mandatory for wearing in public as a way to ensure public safety. Knowing the difficulty for some residents to obtain masks, one I-House alumna wanted to do something to help.

In early June, Grace Hong (IH 2016-2018) joined forces with 45 other Taiwanese alumni from I-House Berkeley and I-House New York and raised money to provide current residents and staff with masks to help them stay safe from COVID-19 exposure. In a statement to I-House, the alumni wrote:

“While the pandemic is severe and we are forced to stay home, none of you is left behind. With the I-House spirit in mind, we want to do our best to make you feel our care and support from the other side of the Pacific and strengthen international friendships. Together, we will go through this.”

I-House residents and employees wearing masks sent by I-House alumni from Taiwan.

Now, as June comes to an end, the focus on racial inequality and justice reform has been at the forefront of national conversations with young people leading the way for change. As I-House prepares for a new semester, its foundation around inclusion still holds true today. As I-House Berkeley Executive Director Hans Giesecke stated:

“More than anything, these events reinforce in my own mind the essential need for places such as International House Berkeley, whose mission is to stand for intercultural harmony, civic responsibility, and bringing justice for those who have been dehumanized and, in many cases, murdered. We will continue to stand for these values as we move forward, and we will continue to focus on challenging ourselves to find the most effective ways to use our voices in service of positive social change.”

Follow I-House Berkeley on social media for the latest updates on events and activities.

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Here’s To You, Claudio!

I have worked with students in higher education for about a decade, and have been moved and shaped by many of them. They’ve made me laugh, expanded my heart, challenged me, and taught me new ways of thinking and doing with their fresh and diverse perspectives. 

One student I met this past academic year has done all of the above and more. He has truly taught me how to live a fuller, more joyful life. 

Claudio Berther came to I-House and Cal to study law as a Fulbright scholar. He is from Switzerland, he enjoys being outdoors in the sun, he loves a good slice of Artichoke Basille’s pizza and Swiss chocolates, he has the best sense of humor (more on this below), and he uses a wheelchair. While the fact that Claudio uses a wheelchair does not define him, it does provide important context: Claudio showed me that while he may have a physical limitation, he is limitless in all other ways. 

With Claudio in the I-House Great Hall. Photo Credit: Mary Cinko.

With Claudio in the I-House Great Hall. Photo Credit: Mary Cinko.

Continue reading

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I-House Berkeley Alum Patrick Thelen on “doin’ good”

Every year, I-House receives a generous grant through Davis Projects for Peace that is awarded to a resident for designing a grassroots project that addresses the root causes of conflict. Patrick Thelen (IH 2016-17) won the 2017 Davis Projects for Peace, and has since gone on to grow the impact of his winning project. Patrick, who is from Germany and currently lives in Canada, chatted with the Program Office to share what he’s been up to since leaving International House.

Helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon to live a more humane life

You won the Davis Projects for Peace Prize for a proposal that has since expanded to become “doin’ good,” a full-fledged and growing non-profit. Could you share how the idea for this initiative first came about?

Patrick: When I was in Berkeley, it was the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis and I had heard that many refugees do not have access to education. At this time, I was spending a lot of time in the Makerspaces in Berkeley and really enjoyed building things. Since the living conditions in many refugee settlements are terrible, a few classmates and myself wanted to see if the makerspace concept could also work in refugee settlements and if we could use this space to provide vocational training while at the same time empowering refugees to improve their living conditions by building things they could use in the settlements. Continue reading

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I-House Residents Fighting COVID-19, One Care Package at a Time

With the rising spread of COVID-19, often referred to as the coronavirus, sweeping across the globe, efforts to stop the pandemic have been put in place. Numerous countries have implemented nation-wide lockdowns along with stay at home orders intended for the safety of the public. Those more susceptible to the virus, such as the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, can be left in precarious situations if unable to get the resources they need to quarantine properly at home. 

At UC Berkeley’s International House, or I-House, four residents decided they wanted to do something to help. Graduate students Nitasha Goyal, Marcel Schaack, Marie Rajon Bernard, and Oluwatoni “Toni” Adetayo, created SF Food Friends, a volunteer-matching program to help at-risk residents of San Francisco get their groceries and medication delivered to them by low-risk volunteers in the area. The idea for the platform came shortly after UC Berkeley moved to online instruction and social distancing measures were firmly implemented. Goyal, a native of New Jersey and a graduate student in Translational Medicine, helped pioneer the concept. 

After viewing a flyer online from Oakland at Risk, an organization which launched a volunteer-matching program to help deliver food to the elderly during the pandemic, Goyal was inspired to create something similar.

“I was at lunch, and I mentioned [the flyer] to Marcel, like, ‘Hey Marcel, I kinda want to do this thing. Would you be interested?’ He said, ‘Yeah, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you,’ and that night, he sent me a Google Doc, [where] he’d already laid out stuff,” she said. “And then we had a meeting and within 24 hours, Marie and Toni joined onboard as well.”

The conception of SF Food Friends to its launch happened within a matter of days. “I talked to Marcel on March 20th . . . and then by March 23rd, we launched our platform,” said Goyal.

Over 50 people have signed up as volunteers since its launch, according to the team. Volunteering is open to those aged 18 to 50 in the San Francisco area with no compromising health conditions. Their identities are verified after the sign-up process so the team knows they are real people.

SF Food Friends has partnered with different grocery outlets in San Francisco to create affordable care packages that can be delivered to residents in the area. The packages include milk, eggs, pasta, fruits and vegetables, to name a few, with both meat and vegetarian options available.  One of their first partnerships was with Mission Grocery Outlet which helped create $20 care packages. The official launch of deliveries began on April 13. The group recently partnered with SF Farmers Market which will provide meal packages ranging from $10-$30. 

The group also teamed up with City College of San Francisco (CCSF) to promote their efforts through social media.

“It’s amazing to see students from completely different universities who have no connection to each other whatsoever working together for the same cause,” said Goyal. “I cannot emphasize enough how much [CCSF] helped us in terms of outreach. It’s been great.”

Clockwise top left: Marie Rajon Bernard, Toni Adetayo, Nitasha Goyal, and Marcel Schaack. Courtesy of SF Food Friends.

While the group formed the platform to help those during the pandemic, they are open to exploring ways to continue it after stay at home orders have been lifted.

“I think [SF Food Friends] would definitely be a great thing to do further, but we definitely have to think about what we would do and how we would do it,” said Schaack, who is from Germany and pursuing a master’s in Bioengineering. For Goyal, the financial situation of the current economy is something to consider.

“We don’t see the . . . financial situation getting better right after the shelter in place, especially with the higher unemployment rates and things like that, so there would have to be some clear continuation, if that’s in the form of us continuing it, or merging with another partnership or helping a bigger organization,” she said. 

While several I-House residents returned to their homes due to the pandemic and border closings within their home countries, the SF Food Friends team decided to stay behind. 

“I . . . really wanted to make the most of the experience [at I-House] and stay with some people who are my age and who I could socially interact [with],” said Bernard, who is from France and pursuing a master’s in Civil and Environmental Engineering. “The biggest reason was also because I was looking for jobs, and if I had left the US, then I couldn’t have come back.”

All four are expected to graduate this Spring. When discussing their time at I-House, the group was grateful to be part of its community. 

“I love meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds,” said Adetayo, who is from Pennsylvania and pursuing a master’s in Chemical Engineering. “Moving to I-House was one of the best decisions I made.” 

Schaack shared the same sentiment. 

“International House was probably the most important part of my Berkeley experience,” he said. “I met everyone at SF Food friends here . . . and it just shows . . . how engaging the people here are.”

Overall, the group is grateful to help those in need during the pandemic. Their efforts can be summed up in a West African adage Adetayo heard growing up: It takes a village to raise a child. “[The saying] emphasizes community,” he said. “If you see an opportunity to help, you should take responsibility to help.”

For more information on SF Food Friends, please visit their website at sffoodfriends.org

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Big Thanks for Big Give!

Last Thursday, March 12th, was Cal Big Give. A day where friends, family, and everyone part of the UC Berkeley community could donate to support fundraising efforts for individual schools and programs. Current residents, including myself, and members of the I-House Resident Council, came together to rally support for the event by encouraging others to donate to I-House during the 24 hours of Big Give.

A week prior to the event, Resident Council members Mikey Mohan and Benny Corona wrote letters that were sent to former resident council members about the Nancy Stock Tivol Resident Council Match. Nancy, an I-House alumna who lived here between 1965 and 1967 and served on the Resident Council, pledged a challenge match if I-House were to receive at least 180 gifts before the event was over. With a $10 minimum donation, the Big Give team gathered support from I-House residents and staff who helped us exceed our giving goals before the 9 p.m. (PDT) deadline on March 12th. 

Left to right: Mikey Mohan, Benny Corona, Sumedha Bhat, and Amy Yeung promoting Big Give in the Great Hall.

The Big Give team brainstormed different ideas that would appeal to residents. A table was set up in the Great Hall on March 11th, with cakes and raffle tickets ready to hand out for those who donated. Due to new COVID-19 regulations around public gatherings, the coffee hour scheduled for that evening was canceled, however, students could still come to the Great Hall to study. For the Big Give team, this was a great opportunity to still reach out to students for their support. One idea was setting up a large tri-fold poster display and taping colorful notecards on it that residents signed after giving. Continue reading

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Support I-House Berkeley for Big Give!

The time has finally come for Cal Big Give 2020! We love our I-House community and want to keep it strong and growing! Donate today to help current and future residents experience the joy of living at I-House Berkeley! Watch the video below to see how you can show support! Giving ends at 9pm (PST)!

Our goal is to reach 180 gifts before the night ends!

Below are steps from our I-House Alumni, Communications, and Philanthropy team on how you can donate:

During Big Give:

Make a gift between 9:00 p.m. on March 11 and 9:00 p.m. March 12 (PT) at this URL: ihouse.berkeley.edu/biggive2020
Gifts during these donor contest hours help I-House win extra funds! 

Big Countdown

Post on social media throughout the 24 hours of Big Give. Below are a few contests you may wish to plan for: 

9:00 p.m. March 11 – 7:00 p.m. March 12
Post on Twitter or Instagram: “I ❤ Cal and I-House because ________ ” (fill in the blank and include these hashtags #internationalhouse and #calbiggive) 

12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. March 12
Random Cal Throwback Thursday (TBT) photo on Instagram or Twitter wins (must include #TBT, #CalBigGive, and #internationalhouse).

See more Big Countdown contests at biggive.berkeley.edu/leaderboards#contests.

Pro tips: Set an alert to remind you to post during your favorite contest time(s).  Make sure to use both hashtags, #internationalhouse and #calbiggive, for posts to qualify for contests.

Check our Big Give page for updates and details of our Big Give Matches.

Big Thanks” for your support!

Video by: Chan’Cellore Makanjuola
Big Give Photos: Friedrich Wegmann and Keegan Houser

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Big Give is a week away!

Participate with VIP gifts, challenge matches, and contests to unlock extra funds for I-House!

Pictured at Coffee Hour are current residents (from left): Ipsha Banerjee, Alina Bieschke, Chris Solomis, Felipe Navarro Martinez and Diler Cavdar. Photo by resident Friedrich Wegmann.

The countdown is on and I-House is buzzing with excitement about UC Berkeley’s Big Give on March 12th! We are grateful for all of your support throughout the year and wish to thank you in advance for considering taking part in this annual all-campus fundraising drive.

Generous donors want to help encourage participation, so challenge matches will be made if we hit our goal of 180 gifts during Big Give! Continue reading

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Celebrating Black History Month at I-House through Food

Throughout the year, International House, Berkeley hosts themed dinners, honoring cultural heritage and holidays celebrated around the world. Dinners range from Oktoberfest to Native American Heritage, as well as Diwali and Lunar New Year. For the month of February, residents and guests were treated to a special dinner in honor of Black History Month. The February 20 dinner, led by sous-chef Ray Sharp, featured a range of Southern food which paid homage to African American heritage. “Red Beans and Rice, Stewed Okra with Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Gumbo, Braised Collard Greens w/ Ham Shanks, and Southern Fried Chicken, there were so many dishes I could choose from for this event,” he said.

Sous-chef Ray Sharp (left) and cook Morgan Townsend (right) posing in front of a banner honoring African heritage.

Sous-chef Ray Sharp (left) and cook Morgan Townsend (right) posing in front of a banner honoring African heritage.

Sharp has been the lead chef for the African American Heritage dinner at I-House for the past two years. Born in San Francisco but raised in Berkeley, Sharp has been cooking Southern cuisine for years. “Most of the dishes I placed on the menu for this event are dishes that I have made hundreds of times working as the Chef de Cuisine at Elite, a New Orleans inspired restaurant in San Francisco.” Continue reading

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I-House, a Gateway to Love: Mexico Meets Bangladesh

Fall 2015 was the beginning of a new journey for Dania Orta-Alemán. A native of Mexico City, Mexico, she came to UC Berkeley as a master’s candidate at the School of Public Health. Little did she know that an I-House Gateway Fellowship dinner the following year would lead her to her soulmate.  The dinner was to honor fellowship donors and recipients. Zunaid Omair, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering from Bangladesh, happened to be at the same event. 

“We were just sitting at the same table and I remember he changed his card to sit by my side,” she said. Although he had to change tables again, Alemán said she was able to get his contact information. “I asked for his Facebook, and when he first told me his name, I didn’t understand it,” she said, giggling. “I just pretended I understood it. I added him on Facebook just to make sure I got the name correct and, yeah, that’s how we met, basically.” Continue reading

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Last Chance to Support I-House in 2019

Sharing a message on behalf of I-House Executive Director Hans Giesecke:

Best wishes for peace, prosperity, and progress in the New Year

If you have already made a gift in 2019, we sincerely thank you. If you still would like to make your annual gift, it’s not too late to donate.

I-House residents created these peace dovesDear I-House Friends,

As we make the transition to 2020, I-House is most grateful to all who have participated in our Annual Appeal or otherwise made a recent gift. If you haven’t yet had a chance, please consider donating now or visiting the online version of our Annual Appeal.  If you still would like to make your 2019 gift, it’s not too late!  With your support, I-House is able to foster a more just and peaceful world through intercultural understanding and mutual respect. Continue reading

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