Finding a sense of belonging and building intercultural connections

Benny Corona and friends on the steps of I-House
Benny Corona (third from left) in front of the International House with fellow students.

My first encounter with residents at International House was during the orientation retreat that was set up by the Program Office at the Point Bonita YMCA Camp. Within seconds, I was in a room with a Japanese-American undergraduate, an international graduate student from Japan, an engineering student from China, and an American student from the Bay Area. On the way to the camp, I sat next to a German student studying ethics and we had a conversation about compassion, race, morality, and the differences in our countries’ perspectives.

This was also the first time I had these full-length conversations with so many people from all over the world. These same students have already become some of my closest friends at UC Berkeley. And just for those small interactions and connections I have made, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to live at International House. Since then, I have made friends from Brazil, Spain, France, Norway, Mexico, Chile, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Paraguay, El Salvador, Venezuela, among other countries. And I have made plans to visit all of them!

In the many weeks I have spent living at International House, I have learned more about perspective, policy, geopolitics, culture, economics, climate change, engineering, and language than I have ever learned in any other span of time. This community is incredibly enriching and it has already impacted me in how I think about difference, ethnicity, culture, compassion, empathy, and human connection. My perspective has expanded immensely. I have learned that despite our cultural differences, our shared geo-political histories, and our different perspectives⁠ — we share a common humanity. I have learned that the emotions, experiences, and values that I have are universally shared by people from all over the world. We are so different in nation, culture, language, socio-economic class, skin tone, etc., but we are almost identical in that we share the same experiences of love, anger, pain, joy, sadness, and hope.

Benny Corona with friends
Benny Corona (second from left) at an International House event.

I have learned that although someone may not understand my history, my perspective, my politics, or my religion, they can understand my story. International House Berkeley is a hub for these stories. Inspiring stories. Tragic stories. Stories of love. Stories of pain. And stories that we can all relate to. As someone from a farmworker family who has faced a lot of pain, discrimination, and disrespect domestically, I am incredibly humbled by how much my global community in I-House has embraced my story and the story of my community. I have also been moved by the people from different continents that have shared with me their own stories, and in sharing that it is similar to theirs. I truly feel that the world has become my family.

If it were not for the scholarship I received to live in the International House, my life would not have changed in the ways I have described. If it were not for the scholarship, I also would not have had the opportunity to share my own perspective and the experience of the people in my community. It is not every day that international students have access to perspectives like mine. As someone that has spent 17 years laboring in the farms of the San Joaquin Valley, there are a lot of lessons near and dear to my heart that I have been able to share with the I-House community. Namely, that my life, like this opportunity, is one big happy accident.

Another lesson is realizing that the devastations that we read about in the news, such as war, violence, death, poverty, homeless, addiction, or the plight of refugees can literally happen to anyone. I was lucky enough to have been born in the United States. I am privileged. And with privilege comes power. With power comes responsibility. With responsibility comes duty. With duty comes action. With action things can change. And if things can change, things can be made better for everyone else.

It is my hope that the I-House community is able to have more perspectives and experiences like mine. The cost of living at I-House itself is impractical for most people from my socio-economic background. But I believe I have made an impact in this community, and I believe making it more accessible for people like me is worth the price. There are some experiences that cannot be bought. One can only live through them. These perspectives are critical for the development of the future international leaders of our shared global community and their future actions. I believe because of the gift of the I-House experience, I now have a responsibility to my community, and that the other residents also have a responsibility to their communities. Namely, of bringing our global communities closer together. It is my hope that by welcoming more perspectives like mine, we really build a greater capacity to live up to the quote on the peace poles at the front of I-House, “May Peace Prevail On Earth.”