“I close my eyes, then I drift away, into the magic night I softly say. A silent prayer, like dreamers do, then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you.”
Woosssshhhh!!! the wind blew into our faces as the doors opened automatically and we walked out into the bright sunny morning. Strange….didn’t I manually push it open?
“Lets get married in Vegas,” said my Dutch friend. “But you need to find girls first,” beamed the girl from Palestine.
“Alas! I have been looking for ages now…..but who cares. Did you see that video from Santorum about Obama ?”, remarked the Memphis guy. Then the journalist from Africa added, “The state of affairs in Africa needs us to join hands.”
“Who’s up for a trip to Antarctica after tonight’s party?” shouted the smiling Mexican girl.
Very strange!! Wasn’t that the guy from North India talking about marriage and the South Indian girl questioning us? Weren’t we discussing about the next Indian President and the plight of slums in Mumbai? And I thought that the Delhi girl wanted to go on a trip to the Himalayas! This feels so ‘deja-vu’ish. Something brick red, suddenly swept past and I was rapidly falling. Wait! this looks like the Golden Gate but when did that come to India? Before I could think further….Splashhhhhhhhhhh!!!
Did any of that make any sense to you? Well honestly neither did it to me until I opened my eyes on a morning about two years back and the sun was shining brightly on my bed through the window shutters. Oh! That was just a dream. Interestingly, I had dreamt something similar a long time ago when I was still in my undergrad back in India. People had changed, topics had turned from national to global and here I was now sitting in a well-furnished, nice cozy room looking forward to begin the Spring break with a breakfast amidst my friends from across the world – “Welcome to International House!” I congratulated myself.
On second thoughts, the change in my dreams summarized my I-House experience. Still in bed, I began to ponder over my last eight months at Berkeley. Surprise! I seemed to have learnt more from being a part of the I-House family than my actual graduate studies, for which I came here in the first place. Hmm!! “How?” isn’t that the question in your mind right now? Well I knew that question would repeatedly come and so I decided to pen down my early life at I-House.
“Wait, are you going to tell me a long boring story now?” thanks for asking that. My answer is – No. But definitely it is going to be a wonderful anecdote for you to remember. I can still see that warm August morning when I first walked onto the front steps with my luggage. Unknown faces, colourful attires, incomprehensible accents – I was honestly apprehensive. Then, there was that Resident assistant with a big smile on his face who showed me to my room and explained everything. After I closed the door – “Phew! that was a long journey. I can get some rest now.” I thought the journey was over but little did I know that the adventure had just begun.
From that day till this, every experience has been quite enriching. I had always dreamt of traveling the world. Looking down the memory lane at I-House, I seem to be traveling every day to a new country.
“Well that is bound to happen at any international place with 600 people from across the globe living together. What is so different about it?” A very good question again my friend! Then tell me how often do you dance with a Japanese, an Australian, a German and a Canadian around a bonfire or jump on ropes with a Brazilian and a Norwegian at the same time (that was my first retreat)?
If that sounds different, what about saying hi to a new person every day on your corridor and greeted back with a smile, a fist punch or a simple hand wave depending on where the person is from or brushing your teeth every morning in your night shirts and pajamas next to a guy wearing nothing but his shorts.
“Now you sound interesting. Tell me more!!” Aha! you are getting more and more inquisitive. This conversation is metaphorical of how I-House would answer my inquisitiveness every single day.
After classes, when I would get back to dinner, I would be refreshed by the different cuisines and the nice stimulating discussions. What would otherwise just be a silent dinner turns into a debate on global politics on one day or into an inter-cultural carnival on the other.
Coffee is a single beverage but every Wednesday it turns into a portal to a new culture down in the Great Hall. Even before you can come to terms with that feeling of wonder, you are open to a new vista of experience from a famous speaker on evenings quite so often. Longing for a dose of relaxation? Well, then you can watch a film which would make you laugh, cry and think about the world you are a part of.
I study Civil Engineering and teach Physics. But often on mornings as I walked down to class stressed with the workload, when the Executive Director of I-House would smile and wave to me on the way, I realized what a beautiful family I am a part of. At the campus I grow intellectually but back at I house, I grow personally. Every conversation makes me realize the pride of our nations that each of us carry on our shoulders, as representatives of the cultures we come from.
A very good example of that is the Intercultural Leadership Initiative that I was a part of. The small group has students from across the globe. What strikes me most about it is that we learn about intercultural conflicts and communication styles and live and experience them at the same time.
All of that seems to strike a serious note, does it? Then, let me take you on a recreational intercultural trip where you sing karaoke with a Thai student or cheer your team at football and watch the Oscars together with Asians, Europeans, Africans and Americans in one spirit, under the same roof or go on a hike into the hills with an Italian, an Ethiopian and an Indonesian.
You know you are at the I-House when you can’t solve equations but can read the expressions of a Dutch mathematician at a game where an American lawyer, a South African artist, a journalist from Tanzania, a German political scientist and many more are trying to find who is good and who is evil.
Does this sound like the “long boring story” you were expecting? I can spot that broad smile on your face now. It is that same smile which crosses my face every time I remember my time at I-House. Many residents have found meaning to their lives or at least a good direction, which has usually been ironically different from what they wanted to do when they first landed at Berkeley. If that wasn’t enough, some have even found their soul mates.
It is less of the time that I have spent and more of the people that I have been fortunate to meet, who have given me the confidence to see life in a new light. They say that a man is made of his dreams and at I-House I have learnt to dream bigger. I now see new and better ways in which I can contribute to make the world a better place to live in. Harry Edmunds’ initiative after he met the Chinese student has lived to its mission. A confused and lost student when I first landed at this place, far away from my family, I now feel I am home.
In essence –
With simple small dreams, to myself unknown,
I landed in a world, diverse, new and strange!!
Discovered a new life, every moment I’ve grown,
In this beautiful house, where all dreams change!!!