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More Than a Place to Stay

International Houses offer a wide variety of learning and entertainment opportunities to Indian students at U.S. universities.


For students from India, attending American universities can be both hugely exciting and a bit intimidating. Visas must be procured, bags packed and classes registered for. But, what’s the biggest challenge? Finding a welcoming place, halfway round the world, in which to live, grow, learn and thrive.

Luckily, for many, International Houses can be the perfect solution. Also called I-Houses, these institutions are either independent or associated with a university, and provide lodging and enrichment to international students.

I-Houses provide “students of different nationalities and diverse cultures with the opportunity to live and learn together in a community of mutual respect, understanding and international friendship,” states the website of International Houses Worldwide, a consortium consisting of 17 I-Houses located around the globe.

Megan Amouzou is the director of admissions at International House in New York City, the oldest I-House in the United States. It provides accommodation to students attending Columbia University, New York University, the Juilliard School and other local institutions. “Indian students should consider living at the International House because it is more than a student residence. It is a home,” says Amouzou. “I-House brings together a community of people with a remarkable diversity of interests, opinions and lived experiences,” she continues. “Residents grow and learn together, exploring the similarities that bind them regardless of their race, religion or country of origin.”

Amouzou describes the I-House as offering a daily life that adds opportunities and relationships to students’ time in New York City—all of which enhance their academic work. Regular I-House programs include Salon Nights featuring performances by residents and music conservatory students, Resident Round Table Discussions of current events, Language Exchange Program, and formal, family-style Sunday Suppers, a longstanding I-House tradition.

The institution also regularly hosts world-class speakers, including former First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt, former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and former President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

New York’s I-House has a rich history, but it is far from the only longstanding I-House in the United States.

Take for instance the International House at the University of Chicago, which was founded in 1932 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., as a department of the university to offer students, scholars and community members a vibrant array of programs and activities. “Whether it’s a world music or dance performance, a lecture, conference, symposium, an international film festival or a cultural celebration, the International House presents public programming that advances cross-cultural understanding and promotes opportunities for civic discourse on community, national and world affairs,” says Denise M. Jorgens, director of the university’s International House and president of International Houses Worldwide.

For students from India, this means learning from speakers like former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, sitting in on a play reading, enjoying live Macedonian folk music and more. The International House also provides a variety of fellowship and internship opportunities, “to help ensure the exceptional geographic, cultural and economic diversity that is central to its mission,” says Jorgens. “Fellowship recipients have the unique opportunity to play a leadership role within the community.”

Another historic I-House is the one at the University of California, Berkeley, which was also founded by Rockefeller, in 1930. Like its neighbors to the east, I-House UC-Berkeley hosts an engaging variety of films, lectures and concerts, and gathers residents and guests regularly for traditional Sunday Suppers. It also takes advantage of the area’s unique beauty, offering regular expeditions to breathtaking national parks in California.

“As the second of the Rockefeller-funded I-Houses in the U.S., our facility has a legacy of having housed and hosted many influential alumni,” says its executive director, Hans Giesecke. These include California governors Edmund Gerald Brown Jr. and Pete Wilson. “Eight Nobel laureates have lived here. And, many ambassadors and cultural leaders have also been part of our community,” he adds.

I-House UC-Berkeley alumni also include former U.S. Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith, Asha for Education co-founder Sandeep Pandey, President of the India Society of International Law Upendra Baxi and renowned writer Ved Mehta.

In the end, the biggest attraction of International Houses might not be their intriguing programs, welcoming atmospheres or attractive accommodations, but the students themselves. “Residents appreciate the opportunity to live in a diverse and inclusive community that fosters lifelong relationships with those from 100 countries and a wide variety of disciplines,” says Amouzou. “This diversity also serves as an informal incubator, where an engineer can meet a social worker and an idea hatched in the dining room or pub can blossom into an opportunity to experiment with initiatives that will improve lives.”

Giesecke echoes the sentiment, describing I-House UC-Berkeley as “a marvelous incubator of natural talent.”

“There is an incredible amount of peer-to-peer learning that takes place here every day,” he says, “which lasts and endures for a lifetime.”

 

Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.