My I-House Experience
By Amir D. Aczel
I'll never forget that day in September, 1972, when a U.C. Berkeley hospitality volunteer picked me up at the airport and dropped me with my suitcase on the front steps of the International House. My life was about to change forever.
I began to understand that the hatreds on which we had grown up were left far behind us, and that here at the I-House we could see one another as individuals...
After a day of settling-in, moving into my room and meeting a few of the residents, I found myself at the dinner line in the cafeteria. As I walked in with my tray, I was asked by someone I had briefly met earlier to join the group at the first table. Within a few minutes of sitting down, I realized that I was the only person at the table who was not Arab. There were students from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, as well as a Palestinian.
This was 1972, long before any peace accords, and I had just arrived here from my native Israel. I had never before met an Arab, only saw them from afar through a hostile barbed-wire fence of a frontier. Here, at the I-House dinner table, I was about to begin a lifelong education far more important that what I would learn in my classes.
My dinner partners did not exhibit any shock at learning my nationality. To my surprise, they remained civil, friendly, interested and helpful. I began to understand that the hatreds on which we had grown up were left far behind us, and that here at the I-House we could see one another as individuals, as people, as warm and caring human beings. Here, we could explore ideas and learn about the world and about each other. Our friendships developed and matured. Later I met other people who, along with my new Arab friends, would influence me throughout my life.
These were all enthusiastic, idealistic young men and women from around the world who were here to change the old world in which they grew up and make it better. For all of us, I-House was a unique place, which would forever stay in our hearts and minds.
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