Well the DDOS hit me pretty hard: I didn’t realize how compulsively I checked LJ (at least a couple of times a day) until I couldn’t anymore. Yes, I’m an addict. That’s how much you guys mean to me :).
International House is nestled at the bottom of the Berkeley hills, so from my room (fourth floor) I have a pretty good view of downtown Oakland. Today there’s just the right amount of haze for the setting sun to illuminate the whole city in a kind of otherworldly glow. At this minute it’s as much Camelot as it is Oak-town. Funny how anything can look good in the right setting.
I resolved not to bore you with my quotidian goings-on, although I must say it’s really tempting to do so. You see, otherwise I’ll have to think when I write these things. And we all know I’m too lazy for that :).
Regardless, instead I’ll try to give you an idea of the bigger things that matter in the life of an unmotivated yet soul-searching Berkeley grad student.
It all really centers around International House. There’s no question that IHouse been the defining influence on my experience here so far. The propaganda says that it’s the first coeducational, multi-racial dormitory west of New York City, which is pretty cool. It’s an amazingly integrated environment: half guys, half girls; half Americans, half foreign students; half undergrads and half grad students. It’s a safe bet to say I’ve learned more about the world in the last six months than I did in four years of high school history classes. The first things you notice about foreign students are all differences — difference senses of humor, different methods of greeting (no one, really no one outside the U.S. has any idea how to respond to “What’s up?”), different clothing styles, different political viewpoints.
But we’re all young adults and culture can only separate us to a limited degree. Slowly you begin to tease out the similarities: academic ambition (it is Berkeley, after all), love of parties, knowledge of the Beatles, penchant for late-night conversation marathons, obsession with gossip and relationships. People are people, of course, and I’m not saying anything new; for me the revelation was not in the knowledge that we’re all in it together, but the actual experience, the kind of jaw-dropping I’m really doing this feeling that arises when I find myself sitting at the dinner table with people from a dozen different countries discussing the latest Coldplay album or whether six degrees of separation really holds for the whole world.
There are three additional factors that make IHouse so awesome. The first is that people are, in general, amazingly fluent in English. Ridiculously fluent. Good-at-Taboo fluent. Six years of French classes left me with a vague ability to comprehend Georges Moustaki lyrics, whereas most of my friends here who started learning English in sixth grade have no problem arguing complex issues with me. It’s humbling :). The second is the mandatory meal plan. The food isn’t so hot (but it’s improved dramatically since the start of this semester), but the dining hall is a terrific place to meet new people. I can’t count the number of times a quick half-hour dinner has turned into a ninety-minute talk-fest. The last reason is that people who are willing to live in such a diverse environment tend to be really, really nice. I’ve learned as much about being a good person (still a long way to go, of course…) as I have about anything else here.
And, for the first time, I’m considering what it might be like to not live in the US the rest of my life…. I would never have even dreamed of it before.
More stuff later. Gotta go out to a dinner birthday party now. Oops, I wasn’t supposed to mention any stuff like that!