Sara Bakhtary (IH 2004) and Augusto Giovanni Gonzalez (IH 2003 - 04)
My wife, Sara Bakhtary (Iran/US) and I (Guatemala/US) met at the I-House during the first coffee hour of the semester. I invited her to a trip to Cancun I was organizing with a few friends from I-House but she could not join us. Instead, I had to wait to court her during ping pong games and I-House parties in the Game Room, during the salsa class I used to teach in the auditorium (she was my student and I would make sure to pay extra attention to her among the 120 other students).
Within a month and a half, we started dating. Our first kiss was at the Big C. We would eat all our meals together and with friends, took a spring break trip with 70 other I-house residents, and continued to foster our relationship.
Our most trusted friends are from the i-house and that trip - most of them came to our wedding and we went to theirs!
We got married 4 years later (after 3 years long distance, me in NYC/Berkeley and her at UCSD for Medical School).
We now have a lovely family of four, two young girls (2y - Leila, and 4mo - Aria), we speak Spanish, Farsi to them and hope they're trilingual.
Hasan Diwan (IH 1997 - 98)
I first came to know about Berkeley growing up as my mother had a PhD from its Chemistry Department. I have a few other relatives who've been through Berkeley. To a man, all have had positive things to say about the environment, the school, and the academics. At age 16, a physics instructor at school suggested I apply to a summer research program at the Livermore Lab. I ran this by both my parents. After much haggling and bargaining, I arrived at San Francisco Airport in June of 1998. Upon walking into the International House, I realized this is one special place unlike any other.
I was born in Newcastle, England, a city that had very sharp sectarian divisions. My father had been born and raised in Glasgow, another city with sharp sectarian divisions. I-House had none of the, quite frankly, silly fights over what one calls God. Here, the fights had been relegates to the chess board in the Great Hall where one's focus was the trumping metric.
Even when France beat Brazil in the finals of the 1998 World Cup, there was no fighting in the Great Hall. Having grown up in England, where punters have replaced religion with soccer, this was a bit of a (pleasant) surprise.
I found that I-House was a place where I could let my guard down and not have any worry about suffering any criticism based on who I am, where I'm from, or what I've been through. In short, I-House helped me become comfortable in my own skin. I am not exaggerating when I say that the experience of staying at I-house will lead to replacing the sectarianism that is tearing our world apart with a respect for intellect and what every single one of us brings to the table.
Mirarman Jalali (IH 1999 - 2002)
The months leading to my first year at I-House were awful. I had so many problems that I missed out on the orientation camps and other initial activities as I struggled to cope with the fallout from a bad break-up and health concerns. Sometime in early October, I took a seat at a long table across from two unassuming residents seated side by side, not knowing or having met anyone but my withdrawn roommate.
The small talk about our individual travels led me to make the following comment, still unaware of my companions' names or origins, "The most depressing place I've ever been to is Copenhagen in the Summer time." The two young chaps turned to gaze at each other, both reacting with puzzled expressions that could only mean one thing. "No," I yelled, pondering the chances of such an occurrence, "You guys aren't from Copenhagen?" The two young men gently nodded at me confirming my fears. In a rush to diminish any insult, I quickly exclaimed the truth, "I love Copenhagen, it's one of my favorite places!"
For my next three years at I-House, I made sure to keep such jokes out of my conversation with others until we became more familiar with each other, not wanting my dry wit to begin any future friendships off on the wrong foot. In five weeks, we will be gathering for yet another of our regular reunions that have in the past included a Spaniard and German, and that occur on both sides of the Pond since that fateful day nearly sixteen years ago. Whenever we are together, I make sure to introduce them to others as "The friends I made by insulting their country."
Neil & Marloes Smyth (IH 1996 - 97)
Marloes falling for a foreign guy was her mum's worst nightmare - so I had some significant impressions to make on her family :) Despite only having a short time together in Berkeley, we kept it going long distance for a couple of years - eventually settling together in London in 2000. The long distance was not easy at all, but when you have found the "one" you want to spend your life with you do go through a lot to make sure it can work. Now happily married with 2 lovely kids in the Netherlands (women tend to win these things!). Marloes still remembers talking to another Irish guy who convinced her that I was serious about her after I had told her she was "not bad, actually" - a typical Irish understatement that she was not too impressed with! One of many cross cultural alignments we've had to work through during our nearly 20 years together...
Milos Petrovich (IH 1999-02)(Featured in I-House Video: If These Old Walls Could Speak )
The first time that I made a relationship with anybody who is disabled was with Victor and I didn’t know how to handle him. I didn’t know how to talk to him. I didn’t know how to physically handle him. As a matter of fact he would ask me, “Lift me here, lift me there, can you help me brush my teeth?” or something and I thought to myself, “Now how do I do this without looking clumsy?” I was uncomfortable and the people who lived in I-House with us for those three years, I think were, for the first time, exposed to that.
Victor Pineda* (IH 1999-02)
(Featured in I-House Video: If These Old Walls Could Speak )
I remember when I had no way to get from my wheelchair to my bed and I remember that I felt so stuck and alone but I could knock on Milos’ door and he would be like, “Alright! Let’s get you into bed.” It became almost a regular routine that in the middle of the night, I would wake Milos up and so without even opening his eyes, in his pajamas he would just go across the hall and turn me around and go back. And it’s that kind of friendship that makes you realize that you can do anything if you have a good person who’s watching your back. And people like Milos and other people at I-House actually show me that I have so much to share with the world.
*Read more about notable alum, Victor Pineda’s appointment by President Barack Obama to the United States Access Board on page 15 of our Spring - Summer 2016 I-House Times Newsletter.