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.
Michelle Chang, an architecture student from New Zealand, spent a semester living at Berkeley’s International House (known to its residents as Ihouse) while on exchange with the University of Auckland. Here, she tells us the story of her accommodation at the University of California Berkeley, which didn’t really begin with the acceptance letter above. However, it sure as Hedwig should have...
The location of IHouse, at the top end of Bancroft Street at the cross road to Piedmont Avenue, is wonderfully close to campus, especially the architecture and law buildings. And it operates as student accommodation, home to the international advisory offices and an events building as well as having its own attached cafe. The comparison to its magical counterpart aforementioned is one that began while I stepped into my new home for the first time on move-in day.
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 open football games, coffee hours and many more social events hosted by Ihouse. Perhaps it was its grandeur and sense of history and age that initiated the realisation of the Hogwarts-like world that I had entered.
The Post Room
To get to the elevators (which I must add are as rustic as the Great Hall), one must pass by the small post room.
Lined with small bronze letter boxes correlating to the number of your dorm room, the post 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 Ihouse 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 Ihouse, 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 Ihouse: 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 Ihouse that somehow makes everyone extremely friendly, kind and sociable. I have not met a single Ihouse resident who was overtly unpleasant or Slytherin-like. 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 room talking of culture, politics and human endeavors. It is a kind of magic that cannot be explained.
So if you haven’t noticed by now, I am really quite enjoying living at Hogwarts Ihouse 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 and 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.”
I hope to soon meet you all at Platform 9 ¾! Go Bears!
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