I remember waking up feeling like I had absorbed the entire house’s jet lag. I remember taking the stairs down to the dining hall. I remember sitting down to breakfast with Anaïs, the first person I formally introduced myself to who would also be the last person I said goodbye to when the year was over. I remember riding the elevator with a girl from Italy and a boy from Turkey. I remember meeting people from over a dozen countries before lunch and a dozen more after. But I wouldn’t meet my roommate, June Soyoung Park until later the next day.
She’s finally here, I knew the moment I heard her fumble to fit the key in the lock. I jumped off of my bed, narrowly ducking the boards of the upper bunk that I had already reserved for her. I opened the door – “June?” I asked, “Welcome! I’m Gabby! Do you need help with your bags? Can I give you a hug?” “Of course,” she laughed as we embraced for the first time.
I had found June on the I-House roommate database shortly after applying just a few months earlier. Since then, we had been emailing back and forth all summer learning about each other’s interests and lives leading up to when we would both be arriving in Berkeley the coming fall- she as a foreign exchange student from South Korea pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies at Waseda University in Japan, and me- a junior transfer student from Sacramento, California studying International Development.
The story of our first meeting has been recanted a countless number of times to our fellow residents who asked how we got along so well. I don’t know that there is any one secret to having a successful relationship with your roommate, or anyone for that matter. But a combination of patience, open-mindedness, and mutual craziness seemed to do the trick for us. We were literally from opposite sides of the world, yet we were able to bridge any differences that we did have by teaching each other about our lives and cultures. I took June to some of my most favorite places in the Bay Area and she taught me how to sing her favorite K-Pop songs. Together we tried to practice Spanish and shared endless antics during our all-nighters. All the while, we created a new world together inside I-House.
After all, isn’t that really what I-House becomes for all of us who live or have lived there? When you have representatives from every continent living in one house, we all end up not only being ambassadors for our individual countries, but witnesses to, and participants in, the phenomenal exchanges that take place throughout the house every day. Even something so simple as sharing a meal with a stranger from across the globe, taking the time to try to learn just a few words of another language, or waking up on the bunk below your new best friend every morning – through every encounter, I-House becomes a world of our own creation.
As residents and dear friends come and go, these exchanges are not futile. The memories that have built the house over the years will not only continue to influence current and future residents, but will come back to us time and time again as we recreate our “real worlds” long after our departure. Places that once seemed distant and foreign, now have couches with our names on them should we ever need them. Once we leave I-House, not only do we have the opportunity to recreate our worlds, but the ability to unite them.