Greetings from Berkeley. This month, we’re delighted to feature an I-House alumni couple in our Where are they now series. Alumna Sophie Marnette visited Berkeley in January and we chatted at the I-House Café where she shared some favorite memories. Highlights from our conversation are below.
So, where are they now?
Hint: It has been dubbed “The City of Dreaming Spires.”
LF: Hi Sophie. Please introduce yourself.
Sophie: I am Sophie Marnette from Belgium and lived at I-House from Fall 1991 to – Spring 1993. My husband Ted Piepenbrock was born in the USA but also holds a Dutch passport. He lived in I-House from Fall 1990 to Spring 1993.
It is a odd to think of how fast time has gone by since we left Berkeley 25 years ago. Ted and I exchanged our first romantic kiss in December 1992… Now we have been married for 18 years and our son Garry is 11!
LF: You are among good company with the 1,000+ I-House Couples – that we know of!
Sophie: Love is in the air at I-House. Here is a photo from May 1993 on the front steps after Ted’s graduation.
Sophie: We were married on the beautiful Brussels Grand-Place (Belgium) and we held the reception in a little village in the Belgian Ardenne where I spent my holidays as a child and where my parents retired. The day of the wedding was September 16 1996. My parents and Ted’s parents were married on a September 16 too, so it was very easy to pick a date!
LF: What have you been up to since you left?
Sophie: Ted and I moved around quite a lot. After Berkeley, we spent many years in London, then in Boston, where our son Garry was born in 2003. Since 2004, we have lived in Oxford, England.
Garry, our pride and joy, is full of life and energy. He is passionate about sports, especially soccer, which he is very good at, and he really enjoys school too. He loves traveling, discovering new places and meeting different people, which makes us believe that he will be an ideal I-House resident one day!
LF: Garry will fit right in at International House!
LF: How has your I-House experience shaped your view of the world or different cultures?
Sophie: Coming to I-House was my first ever experience of living away from my family and my own country (Belgium). It did not so much change my view of the world than shape it: first of all I was living with people who were all like me, passionate about their studies and eager to talk about their research. Everybody was there because they were truly curious about the world. So we were all very open to dialogue and to learning about other views and traditions. Sometimes this meant talking with people from very distant countries and sometimes with people who lived very close to Belgium. For example I had never really spoken with many Germans before (as strange as it may be). It was also fun to speak with people whose English was very different from what I had learned at school: I remember having lots of difficulties understanding an Australian friend at first and then one of my American friends said it was difficult for him too!
After I-House, I lived for a couple of years with I-House friends in Rockridge and we called it “Our House” or “O-House” for short. Again it was a mix of nationalities and of different views, with great discussions in the evening around the dinner table; and I guess I have replicated that everywhere I went after that, at home and at work since I have always taught at very international universities: UCLA, Harvard, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford. I am still in touch with many I-House and O-House friends via Facebook. Of course I-House is also where I met Ted, my husband and we have traveled around together, united in the same spirit. And this is how we are raising Garry too.
LF: What is Ted up to these days?
Sophie: Ted is still as dashing and charming as when I first met him! After we left Berkeley, he became a Fellow and an Associate Director of the international design consultancy, Ove Arup & Partners, before joining the international management consultancy, McKinsey & Company. Later he received his MBA, MSc and Ph.D. in Technology, Management and Policy from MIT and then was a Fellow at the London School of Economics for a few years. He has now joined the Ashridge Business School, one of the world’s premier centres for executive education in Strategic Leadership, and he is a founding fellow of the International Institute for Strategic Leadership.
LF: Did your experience at I-House help your career search in any way?
Sophie: I don’t think I would ever have thought about working in another country than mine before I came to I-House. At first I thought I would only spend one year in Berkeley but I loved the experience so much that I stayed for the whole Ph.D. and after that I have lived and worked at great universities in the UK and the US. So I-House has amazingly expanded my horizon from Belgium to the whole world!
LF: What is your role now?
Sophie: I am a professor of Medieval French at the University of Oxford and I really love my job, research and students. I am particularly interested in how stories are told in medieval French literature; and from a more modern perspective, how and why people quote other people’s words or their own. I wrote two books on that topic and am in the midst of writing a third one, this time examining how female characters’ discourse is framed and how it is expressed in medieval French narratives.
Sophie: I was honored to be invited as a guest lecturer at the UC Berkeley French Department. It was lovely to see some old faces (one of the secretaries still remembered the chocolates I used to bring her from Belgium when I was a graduate student!). And also to see new faces: the students were very interested and interesting. I felt really happy to discuss my current research and I also was thinking fondly about my wonderful Ph. D. supervisor, Prof. Suzanne Fleischman, who sadly passed away in 2000. It was funny to see my talks advertised all over the Dwinelle corridors I used to walk through!
Yesterday, upon arriving back in Berkeley for the first time in 15 years, one of my first stops was the I-House Café. It was a bit nostalgic to be there as I reminisced about how things were when I first arrived 25 years ago. I could see myself back then sitting in the sun on the terrace, and marking students’ French tests, or having drinks with many friends in the evening, or my first dates with Ted and how we would ride in his old car to the hills to watch the sunset, many many wonderful memories.
LF: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I thought about what I would say if I could go back in time: my old self talking to my younger self, what would I have told her? I think she would have been very surprised and proud about all the things Ted and I have accomplished in our life together and especially about having such a wonderful son. And as I was watching the sunset at the Café, I saw two young women (probably the same age I was at the time), chatting and working together at a table overlooking the bay, with the sun setting on the bridge far in the distance. And I wanted to tell them: enjoy, enjoy where you are living because it is so precious and it is such a great start to all the wonderful things you will do with your lives.
LF: This is great advice for our residents. I love your stories! Sophie, thanks for sharing the I-House love.
If you are an I-House alumnus and would like to be featured in our Where are they now series, email email@example.com or call (510)643-7735. Video format messages are welcome!
Also see Where are they now? Sunny J. Mistry