“I used to live in a room full of mirrors, all I could see was me.
I took my spirit and crashed my mirrors, now the whole world is here for me to see.”
– Jimi Hendrix
Zzzziipppp!!! Throwing the bottle in, I closed my bag and locking my room I zoomed past the busy corridor. “And off you go!!” exclaimed my surprised Irish neighbor. “OMG watch out!” shouted the stunned Norwegian girl as I leaped over my crouching French buddy. Glimpses of a couple Finns, some Germans, a huddle of pumped up Chinese and my friend from Kenya all holding colorful bags shimmered past, as I flew over stairs and across hallways. “Goodbye!!” I beamed at the smiling custodians waving to me.
Avoiding near fatal collisions and past a few awestruck faces, I reached the front and with a jet of fresh breeze the doors opened, Swoosssshhhh!!!
‘Wow, I love the opening sequence, what movie is it?’ Did you just think that? Well that was me at the starting of the Spring Break a year back. Ready and agog for a long awaited trip, I stood there staring into the faces of my co-passengers – the agriculture economist and the civil engineer from India and the Korean political scientist. The journey begins….I congratulated myself.
Little did I know that the five days ahead would be such a metaphorical experience, reminiscent of my transformation at my home – the “International House” ‘How did that happen?’ Hmmm! Curiouser and curiouser!! Then fasten your seat belts as I take you on an adventure across three states that brought me face to face with a personal encounter of global proportions.
Tired with a semester’s workload, wary yet curious of what lay ahead, as the engine revved up and we started, it reminded me of how exactly I was when on a warm August morning I first walked into a plethora of unknown faces, colorful attires and incomprehensible accents – tired and lost. The conversation in the car turned to us learning more about each other and like deja-vu, it showed me glimpses of those wonderful retreats where I always had my first discovery of the vast cultures I live, dine and grow with every day.
Triggered by the scenic panorama of California with grasslands, houses, hills and clouds moving past my window, I slipped into the memories of times when you dance with a girl from Uganda, an Indonesian and a Korean cheer leader around a bonfire or jump on ropes with a Brazilian, an Italian and a Turk at the same time. Simply transforming were some of those first late night sneak outs and Great Hall chats where from a Palestinian girl, an American historian or a Dutch mathematician, I had a deeper first hand insight to the world I hadn’t seen. Strangely, although I came to Berkeley as a Civil Engineering student, unbeknownst to me, my transformation to a global outlook had already begun.
The next day, we set off into Arizona – the state of canyons and gorges. On one of our infrequent stops for food, we sat around a table discussing some historical and political issues. In a jiffy, I was teleported to our very own dining hall where every now and then I would encounter some of the most stimulating discussions on global issues. Food became a mode of celebrating festivals across cultures as we rejoiced like a family breaking all interior and exterior borders.
As the setting sun that evening and the rising one the next morning glowed on the Grand Canyon, I gazed in awe. How symbolic were those multicolor layers of glowing rocks? They were reminiscent of the layers of cultural impact that shaped each one of my fellow residents I ever encountered. Nature showed me again the beauty of the diversity that I had been a part of for so long. What I learned from the Intercultural Leadership Initiative about intercultural conflicts and resolving them by just looking deeper within stood fortified in front of me in the walls of a mile deep canyon.
‘It is heartwarming but where’s the fun quotient? Were you not taking me on an adventure?’ You know when to ask the right question. And guess what, we crossed into Nevada and reached Las Vegas by night. I see the smile on your face now. The colorful lights and the carefree and jaunty people enjoying around reminded me of how after a tiresome week, we would often celebrate our weekends partying and dancing together late into the night. A confluence of cultures is a cause for celebration and truly so every Wednesday, a cup of coffee would open the portal to the beauty of a new culture. In a completely new place, joining in the frolic of the night reminded me of how along with my fellow resident Asians, Europeans and Africans, I often cheered our team at football, without a clue of the game but joined together with our fellow Americans in true spirit.
Visiting the Hoover Dam and looking at the engineering marvel built in harmony with nature brought back memories of experienced speakers who on evenings shared with us insights into global issues trying to bridge the gaps between cultures.
Journeying on, the serene sights of Death Valley and the exquisite landscapes along the Sierras bore witness to my frequent encounters with the I-House films exploring tales of untouched lands and untold stories.
Deep in reminiscence, I then heard the soft sprinkles of rain on the windshield. That natural rhythm stood like testimony to my cultural exploration even through music, singing karaoke or jamming with an American and an Argentinian. Sitting on the shores of Tahoe, staring into the calm cool water, I felt that spirit in me rekindle. The tales of I-House are unending and unique. When you are alone or lost, you could just rejuvenate yourself on a walk with an Indian journalist, a South African artist and an Azerbaijani comic. If the tension of midterms is killing you, you could swat some Norwegians, French and Koreans with a sock at a friendly game of Assassins. Small encounters and deep impacts transform you every moment and you become a completely new and better person.
Our final dinner on way back to Berkeley marked the end of this adventure. We enjoyed it to the core celebrating how each one of us revisited the transformation at I-House through the metaphor of nature. So, do you now see how it happened in five days? I can see your smile broadening.
This morning is new. The time at I-House has showed me my true persona within. I came as an engineering student but now I want to travel and explore the world further, maybe even make travel documentaries to bring cultures together. Widening my perspective, I now see everyone who has imbibed the spirit of I-House has gone through this transformation. Whom do I owe it to? Well every single person who is, was or will ever be a part of the I-House family. At a place where my dreams changed, I now saw my spirit transform. Staring into the rising sun, from this majestic testimony to global cultures, I am reborn.
Straight from my heart, I just feel –
Discovering the world, under a single dome,
I evolve as a person, breaking all norms!!
Imbibed by the essence, of a place I feel home,
Rekindled every moment, the spirit transforms!!!