Sunday, July 30, 2017

Hodgepodge 274/365 - Dorm

Yesterday at the pig roast a few of us spent some time talking about dorms: Maria's daughter is currently shopping around for colleges, and on their campus tours—in London and Oxford so far—they've been checking out potential living quarters; and Gabriella's daughter has just finished her first year at UC Berkeley, living in a dorm there. There were many graphic stories.

It sounds like dorm life is not for the squeamish!

Me, I spent most of my college life either living with my parents, or for one glorious year when they were in Nigeria, at their house without them (there are tales there that will never be related in this blog); or, mostly, living in apartments with roommates. That was at UCLA (BA and PhD) and at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (MS).

But I also spent my sophomore year at Berkeley, and during those two semesters I did live in a sort of dorm: International House.

An imposing off-white edifice, built with the funding and support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and inaugurated in 1930 as part of a larger "international house" movement, it sits on Piedmont Avenue at the upper end of Bancroft Way, two of the main streets surrounding the campus. It was the largest student housing complex in the Bay Area (it accommodates almost 600) and the first co-ed residence west of the Mississippi. Its mission was, and still is, to "foster intercultural respect and understanding, lifelong friendships and leadership skills for the promotion of a more tolerant and peaceful world."

And indeed, I continue to enjoy the lifelong friendship of my I-House roommate, Jenny. She became an Air Force officer and now lives, retired as an artist, in Virginia; we talk on the phone often and see each other when we can. I also made a good friend in our across-the-hall neighbor Sergio, an Italian nuclear engineering graduate student, who gifted me with my first espresso maker (though sadly, we lost touch years ago).

That year at Berkeley feels like five minutes now, but I had so many remarkable experiences. I am infinitely grateful that I stumbled on I-House. It made that year extra special. (Though I am a little troubled by the fact that, given yesterday's focus of discussion on the meal plans and food in dorms, I can't remember anything about breakfast, lunch, or dinner at I-House—except that Jenny liked to sprinkle not sugar, but salt on her grapefruit in the morning—a Japanese thing. That's it! That's all I remember! I'll have to quiz her, next time we speak. She lived there a year longer than I did. Which means her memories will seem more like ten minutes.)

(I did also live in a dorm of sorts in tenth grade in boarding school, but that's different. That was boarding school. In Germany. I remember some of what I ate then—chiefly goodies I'd pick up at the corner deli on my walks between Haus Roseninsel and the schoolhouse proper: plum kuchen, big dill pickles, and chocolate bars, most notably. Makes my mouth water just to think about. But yeah, what they served in the dining room? No inkling.)

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