A house to call home: Q&A with International House residents

Kore Chan/File
Kore Chan/Senior Staff
Kore Chan/File

Unique in its dedication to fostering a flourishing multicultural community, International House — more commonly known as I-House — has played an essential role in both facilitating study abroad programs and providing a locus for cultural exchange at UC Berkeley for 85 years now.

In recognition of I-House’s valuable work in cultivating internationalism at UC Berkeley, The Daily Californian sat down for a Q&A about the I-House community with residents Micheal Omeka, a sophomore full-time UC Berkeley student from Nigeria; Ana Munoz Vita, a senior exchange student from Spain; Kohei Shishibori, a junior exchange student from Japan; Meghana Bhimarao, a senior full-time UC Berkeley student from the United States and Yasmin Bou Hamze, a junior exchange student from Germany.

 

The Daily Californian: What’s your favorite thing about living at I-House?

Micheal Omeka: It’s very cool, right? The thing I like is the diversity — it’s the most diverse housing in Berkeley for the housing options students have. There are students from like 65 countries. So you just get to feel cultures, other places. You get to meet people from all over the world. Last year, I lived in Cheney Hall in Unit 1. It was cool, but I prefer this way more. The residence halls are mostly new students, freshmen and transfer students, and they’re still trying to figure out their way around Berkeley. But here, the age range is a bit older: You have to be 18 to live here, and sometimes you have to be a junior to live here. So we have graduate students, older students — some are married. The age kind of plays a huge factor, and here, everybody is from all over the world, so you get the mingling of cultures.

Ana Munoz Vita: I think that you get to know a lot of different people from all over the world, and you learn different ways of life in every little aspect that you could imagine. But at the same time, you find that you are closer to people you would never (expect) — for example, with my roommate. She is from Japan. We sometimes talk and discover that we are from really far places, but we have a lot of things in common that you would think, “Oh, maybe that’s happened in the same country.” And I think people are just really open here. Even if they are Americans, if they are here, they want to get to know more people. At first, before coming here, I was a little bit worried, but I am really happy.

 

DC: What differences do you notice between your home universities and UC Berkeley?

Kohei Shishibori: I came from Keio University in Japan, which is in Tokyo. The main difference I found is that the professors here teach students as if they’re entertainers. Usually in my university, my professors stand up and just talk, and they don’t move as much. But in Berkeley, I was surprised that the professors move around like a stage and present the ideas with a lot of emphasis, (changing) their tone and their voice according to the important messages. So I feel a lot of passion from the professors — that they want to teach the thing they specialize in — from Berkeley especially.

AMV: Here, people get much more involved in the university. And we have majors, but there are some differences, like we don’t get to choose our studies. We choose a major our freshman year, and you have the same subjects as all the people in your major. But here, the professors try to get more involved with you — they look like they care more personally about you — and the participation is higher. Here, people do stuff outside of university, like working for The Daily Californian. At Spain, we focus on our studies, and that’s all we do — like we go to classes and we go back to our house. That’s because here, most people live in the university. And in Spain, most people live in their home.

 

DC: What did you find most surprising about the United States?

AMV: I think the inequality. You hear that it’s a very advanced country, and it’s true, but at the same time, you see a lot of poor people in the streets. So I get that shock sometimes.

(Also), about frat parties — I have seen a lot of movies, and I, of course, thought that they weren’t real. But when I came here, I realized they are exactly as the movies were. In fact, I think that a lot of cities of the United States, we get to know them from the movies, and they’re exactly as you would imagine them. The first time I was in New York, it was like, “I’m living in a movie.” And I watched this movie that was set here, and I study also film studies, so it was like … life here is like a movie.

 

DC: Why do you think that I-House is important?

Meghana Bhimarao: For me, I grew up in the Bay Area and lived in the Bay Area my whole life, so I have a very “Silicon Valley” mindset and the way I look at the world and see my perspective on things. And I think living here has really made me realize that I really need to get out and live in different countries — kind of just see things from a new perspective. And just little things, like nobody here uses temperatures in Fahrenheit. It’s like here, the Americans are the odd ones, because we’re the only ones who use that unit system. … Someone was telling me we have a retreat where we get to know everyone in the beginning, and one of the bonding activities was they told each other what was strange about America. Which was just so funny to me — that’s how they bonded. They told me there was more sugar in the food, which I think says a lot about our nutrition. But it’s just little things like that that just makes you realize how we think the world revolves around the U.S., but it really doesn’t.

Yasmin Bou Hamze: I myself am a quite international person — I don’t live in Germany, I’m not racially German, so I’m used to having that kind of multiculturalism in my life. So I guess I respond well to that environment, and it’s easy for me to be open to other cultures. But for other people, that may not be the case. So coming here, it could be really useful, in terms of personal development, to just be confronted directly with other people. You have to deal with them. If it’s just a culture you’re not used to at all, you have to learn to not be judgmental and just accept other people. So, if you get assigned a roommate that’s from a totally different culture, you’re basically forced to bond and get over the differences.