Dear Ms. Chang, we are pleased to inform you that you have a place at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Term begins on the 21st of August. We await your owl no later than the 31st of July. Yours sincerely, Minerva McGonagall.
So the story of my accommodation at the University of California Berkeley didn’t quite begin with the acceptance letter above. However, it sure as Hedwig should have. Many of you are current residents of the beloved International House and probably share the comparison to the magical counterpart aforementioned. Situated on a prime location on campus, especially for late night architecture students like me who scurry home from Wurster Hall at silly hours of the dark, I-House is a great destination after a long day at school or having been out partying. For a while I couldn’t quite put my finger on the beauty of I-House: I mean, where is the beauty in shared rooms, student accommodation dining and communal bathrooms, right? And then it dawned on me: I-House is like Hogwarts. No, I-House is Hogwarts. The comparison is one that begins as you trace through the architecture of the house.
The Great Hall
My first few steps into the building took me to the Great Hall: a large, high ceiling room with heavy carpets hanging from the walls and a large fireplace and voluminous sofas. The room emulates grandness and the rich colours of the wall carpets as well as the wide spanning iron chandeliers create the atmosphere of a different kind to that of the rows of preppy frat and sorority houses that are located just outside. It functions as a place of meeting, casual studying, watching football games, coffee hours and many more social events hosted by I-House. As a space, it exists as the shared ‘living room’ for all residents of I-House. Perhaps it was its grandeur and sense of history and age that initiated the realization of the Hogwarts-like world that I had entered.
The Mail Room
To get to the elevators (which I must add are as rustic as the Great Hall), one must pass by the small mail room. Lined with small bronze letter mailboxes correlating to the number of your room, the mail room is a deliciously compact area with dim lighting and friendly post office assistants that make the usually banal activity of checking your mail, an absolute treat.
Perhaps not as grand or containing as many books as the great library at Hogwarts, the I-House Library is a modest, yet beautifully furnished, 24-hour study room open to all residence and guests. It is a place of calm and shaded, study-worthy escape from either the beating Californian sun or the busyness of Berkeley’s muggle buzz.
The Nooks and Crannies
There are some times when I walk around I-House, delirious under the stress of schoolwork, when I truly believe that the power of Dumbledore hovers over the building. In these dizzying states I always seem to stumble over a small space of solitude (like a large window space big enough for one person to side comfortably in the frame while people watching and reading a book) or a small, secluded table facing towards a magnificent view over the Bay Area. I tell you, the room of requirement exists. And it is prevalent in Berkeley of all places!
There are two types of dorm rooms at I-House: the single room or the double room. As an undergraduate, I did not have the option of having my own single room and therefore went through the process of choosing a roommate through the online portal. My room is quite compact and has a bunk bed, two desks, a walk in wardrobe and a bookcase. My lovely roommate also brought an additional mini fridge from home and now the room is extremely cozy with furnishing. While the room is nothing to boast about, sharing a small space with someone you have never met in your entire life is quite an enlightening practice and essentially all part of the “American Student Experience.” Also, I do remember that Hogwarts features bunk beds, which make the whole situation a lot more bearable.
The Magical People
Finally, I want to mention that there is something in the air of International House that somehow makes everyone extremely friendly, kind and sociable. I have not met a single I-House resident who was overtly unpleasant or Slytherin-like. (People of this inclination obviously study elsewhere *coughcough* Stanford *coughcough*) People of contrasting background, stories and values. People with juxtaposing dreams, missions and life goals. Approximately 600 students a year. We all sit around in the Dining Commons talking of culture, politics and human endeavors. It is a kind of magic that cannot be explained.
Quidditch at Berkeley
As if my comparison couldn’t be solidified even further, it happens that UC Berkeley has it’s own Quidditch team! Fully equipped with broomsticks, three goal rings and a golden snitch ripper-rugby deal where a sock is attached with velcro to a pair of golden sport shorts, the team competes in tournaments against other schools throughout the year. Perhaps the location of the International House upon the high altitudes of Bancroft is significant here: the magic from our accommodation seems to leaks down into campus contaminating everyone with good vibes and wizarding tendencies… Masters thesis? I think yes. Here is a link to CalTV’s coverage of this sporting wonder: http://youtu.be/YkU2StNkV2s
So if you haven’t noticed by now, I am really quite enamoured about living at Hogwarts I-House thus far. Over the last 6 weeks, I have met many a Harry, Hermione, Ron, Luna, Cho and other colourful characters. I have encountered unexplainable moments of friendship, learning of new cultures, events, dining hall conversations and free cookies. To decide to apply for this accommodation is one that I am extremely glad to have made before coming to Berkeley. It is an exciting thought to know that I am one patchwork in a long legacy of a mission to “foster intercultural respect, understanding, lifelong friendships and leadership skills for the promotion of a more tolerant and peaceful world.” This blog post may sound like an extremely cheesy advert for incoming exchange or visiting scholar witches and wizards around the world. However, I believe that the experience I have had so far at I-House is an experience worthy to be shared and, perhaps for a lack of vocabulary, advertised, so as more people can experience its magic.
I hope to soon meet you all at Platform 9 ¾! Go Bears!