Spencer Bowen at I-House
Spencer Bowen in front of I-House

The Great Hall. The Front Steps. The Dining Commons.

All great spots, but none of them are my favorite place at International House.

My favorite is the Southwest stairwell. Hang a right at the front desk and walk past a fresh stack of Daily Californians. Turn right again, up a double flight of tiled stairs, slowly worn down by tens of thousands of residents before me.

Double back across the Chevron Terrace, navigate a web of different languages as residents socialize and play checkers. Through a doorway, the I-House Library is on the left, full of students gazing intently at their textbooks and laptops. Then it’s up another set of stairs, past folks making phone calls at weird times to catch up with faraway loved ones, and spontaneous conversations just outside bathroom doors. The stairway ends at the fourth floor with a set of windows that looks down Bancroft Avenue past Downtown Berkeley to the sun shining off the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge beyond. All this on my daily climb to room 490.

I’m incredibly fortunate to live in I-House. As an American returning to graduate school — and a Berkeley undergrad at that – what could be better than living with 600 of my closest friends from 75 different countries? We get great food, awesome programming, a historic and well-located building, and, most importantly, the chance to build relationships with young, passionate people from across the globe.

I-House isn’t cheap, but we receive a lot in exchange for our fees. This doesn’t make it easier to pay – especially for the son of two public servants who himself has worked in the public sector since graduation.

My International House financial aid package is modest. But it’s the difference between me taking out loans to finance my education and paying with my own savings. It helps me sleep a little bit better at night — in my cozy twin bed — knowing that my family doesn’t have to completely bail me out and get creative with financing.

I’ve only been here four weeks, but I already know I’ve made lifelong friends — from France, Greece, Norway, Australia, and everywhere in between. When I strap on my backpack and leave my room and head for my favorite staircase, I know what I’m about to find. In 30 seconds and four floors, I see everything that I-House has to offer. I’m reminded every day why I’m thrilled to be a part of this community. Thanks to International House financial aid, I’ve got the coolest staircase commute in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


Despite its name, International House is home to students from the United States as well as students from over 75 other countries every semester. Currently, U.S. residents represent some 22% of our 590 I-House residents. From Five Things to Know About I-House.

Rooms are available now and Spring Semester. For more information about I-House financial aid awards and eligibility, visit the International House website.


Categories: October 2018, Student Life
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