Hope – Action – Dialogue – Curiosity

Tuesday 19th March 2019 – Maidenhead UK

Signs of spring were all around my walking route this morning; magnolias, fruit blossom, daffodils and catkins. I was out to see if the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other would help me organise my many many thoughts as I reflect on my trip. Finding myself static with no plane to catch and a self imposed need to shape a plan for what next, is somewhat different to my last three months. The fresh air of the grey English morning did allow the space to organise several themes that echoed through my experience…

Hope

Harry’s I-House idea was born out of hope. Hope that by having future leaders live together and interact day to day they would bit by bit shed their prejudices and limiting beliefs about ‘the other’. The stories I heard as I travelled and what I saw at each of the I-Houses I visited, showed me that Harry’s hope was well placed and for the majority what he hoped for does happen. In fact I believe that what actually happens is beyond what Harry had hoped for.

My hope as I set off on my trip was that I would be able to, in some small way, pass the light on of tolerance, understanding and international friendship and I feel that was achieved. Out of that hope, I think a new a bigger hope has emerged which is a hope that the International House idea can be spread further and more Houses can offer future leaders from around the world the opportunity to expand their view beyond what they have known.

Action

One of the things I most admire about Harry is that he was a man of action. In my work I coach business leaders who are often wrestling with challenging or complex situations, one thing we often discuss is about action and choice. Choosing to do something or even actively not to do something, will produce a result, sometimes good, sometimes not what we expected, but not choosing or passively not doing anything or even just talking about doing something but then not actually doing it, will not usually result in anything to move you forward. I could have waited to do my trip and perhaps it would have achieved more, but more likely it might never have happened. Creating momentum by starting or trying something I think is very critical to many I-House stories not just mine or Harry’s.

I did not get to meet Sofia Corradi, who with her sister Gemma lived at I-House NYC, but Gemma attended my Rome event and spoke passionately about Sofia’s work. Sofia is known as ‘Mamma Erasmus’ as she was a driving force behind the Erasmus European student exchange program which she cites was as a direct result of her time at the NYC House. Not an easy thing to do but Sofia again was a woman of action and bit by bit pieced together the network needed to enable the exchanges.

Also in Rome, Claudia Pelicano shared with Gemma and I one of her favourite Gothe quotes “At the moment of commitment, the Universe conspires to assist you.” Gothe sums up well my experience of having stepped forward and taken on this personal pilgrimage.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Dialogue & Curiosity

I-House folk, ask questions, lots of questions and they listen, they want to explore your perspective. They are comfortable not agreeing with it and expressing why that is or what their perspective is. Their questions can be searching right from the start, they make you think, they show you other ways to see things. They know that we can’t always like everyone but with some give and take that we can find ways to live alongside them and are willing find a way through the bumps to get there. They are open to re-exploring and also admitting they have changed their mind.

I don’t believe that everyone arrives at an I-House is pre-disposed to this by being part of a self selecting group. On my travels many I met had arrived at the House randomly, or with less research or understanding of what they were about to experience than you might imagine. However once there eating together and being surrounded by such diversity, their curiosity came to the fore. Many described how being at the house opened up possibilities beyond what they had ever imagined. I love this.

Morgan Randall an I-House Berkeley alum came to my Berlin event, he recently made this 2 minute video for the Berkeley Big Give, which I think summarises the I-House experience brilliantly https://youtu.be/51nJGhurr_A

 A continuing journey – As I have talked about Harry devoted the whole of his long life to the I-House idea and whilst I have come somewhat late to my journey, having just been 50, I feel I am at the beginning so there will be more….

Passing the light on – inspired by the Candlelight Ceremony that is held each year at the 3 original Rockefeller Houses, I wanted to pass the light on of understanding, tolerance and international friendship. So I bought one big candle which travelled the whole world with me. Then in each destination I was given a new candle to take to the next stop and I left the candle from the previous stop and so on in a relay.

Earl Hall NYC

Candle Donors New York starting candle – Susan Storms, I-House Berkeley – Angela Raunch, Honolulu – Francis Wong, Tokyo – Mami Urano, Taipei – Grace Cheng-Huei, Manila – Leah Jordano, Hong Kong – Nelson Fung, Bangkok – Book Mongkol Jarujanya, Delhi – Aditi Mody, Mumbai – Nidhi Shah, Beirut – Dirk Kunze, Istanbul – Nilgun Okay, Athens – Alex Varelas, Rome – Claudia Pelicano, Paris – Isabelle Sionniere, Berlin – Katrin Schomaker, Stockholm – Anders Paulsson, Oslo – Anders Garbom Backe, Helsinki – Anna-Maij Lindholm, Copenhagen – Jack Pederson, London – Patricia Hamzahee, Chicago – Denise Jorgens, New York finishing candle – Anita Haravon

We hope to reunite all or some of the candles at the 100 year celebration for I-House NYC in 2024.

Back in Maidenhead having been round the world

Round the World

Monday 18th March 2019 – Maidenhead UK

I find returning home after a long trip a mixed blessing, on the one hand comfortingly nothing has really changed and we still have not sorted Brexit! On the other it is easy to be lulled back into old routines and patterns which new experiences from the trip could fracture and open up new possibilities. So whilst I ponder the deeper reflections on my trip and work out my next steps, I offer up some thoughts and observations from travelling to 18 countries in succession.

Plastic

Being itinerant and basically not cooking a meal for 11 weeks, I became very aware of the amount of single use plastic and other packaging that is associated with food on the go and also food waste. Despite new legislation particularly in India, there is a long way to go to reduce packaging and recycle more. As I moved out of Asia / India into Europe I certainly felt that there was more opportunity to decline over packaged goods and also a greater focus on recycling and finding new solutions.

Beach near Athens

Airport immigration 

  • Worst – JFK 2.5 hours at the start of my trip and Istanbul 1 hour 
  • Best – Tokyo – 2 minutes with extra staff poised to help if any line appeared 

Baggage

  • Best – Mumbai from Delhi – got off plane and walked c 5 minutes to the baggage hall and the bags were already going round
  • Worst – Berlin – the baggage hall was in sight of the airplane but still took over 45 minutes to start arriving
Oslo Fjord

Airport transfers to centre of town

  • Cheapest – Delhi Metro to Connaught Place price approximately 3 English Pence or about 4 US Cents
  • Most Expensive – Arlanda Express in Sweden! 

Water 

  • Least available tap water (in a country where the water is safe to drink) – Berlin – even though the water from the tap is perfectly safe to drink, no one seems to and restaurants are reluctant to let you have some as they like to charge about €6 per bottle!  
  • Most available – Stockholm and Norway – where you are encouraged to not use single use plastic bottles and there are always water fountains or jugs at every restaurant available to use for free. 
  • In Denmark they charge you for tap water in restaurants sometimes €3 or €4, but I learnt from my Danish friends that they cannot charge you if you go in and ask for it without ice! 
Berlin

Hotel amenities 

  • Great – Tokyo – the hotel gave us a ‘pocket wifi’ to use while we stayed in the city, you connected your devices to it and then carried it about with you so you were always online

Ticket processes for public transport

  • Worst – San Francisco BART – the machine was so confusing that we needed considerable help from a very kind local to work out how to choose the ticket and pay
  • Most trusting – Berlin S-Bhan – not a ticket barrier in site, you buy a ticket from the machine and validate it and there are no other checks (although I assume there must be occasional ticket inspector checks somewhere) – also if you have a monthly season ticket you can take a friend for free at the weekends or late evenings.
  • Challenging – everywhere that the machines were supposed to take bank notes – mostly they spat them back out as they did not like their texture, wrinkles or tears! 
  • Curious – Paris – the ticket machine has a strange roller you use to select what you want to buy and then you confirm with another button.
  • Frustrating – Istanbul – If you buy a single 5 Lira ticket for the Metro you cannot transfer between lines, an Istanbul Kart is a must.
Leaf in the woods in Conneticut

Transport Infrastructure

  • Worst – Manila – still very much work in progress
  • Delightful – Athens – you can take the tram from central Athens all the way through the suburbs and then along the coast to the beach all for €4.5 getting off and on as many times as you want during the day 
  • Crime challenged – Paris – the Metro seems to have a real problem with pick pockets – I nearly had my purse and phone stolen even with my backpack on my front rather than back, luckily I was alert to the guy ‘accidentally’ bumping me at a station stop and then realised what he was up to, but we met others who had not been so lucky.  

Cash or Card

  • Most cash based – Manila – you could not even pay by card in Seven Eleven stores, then Bangkok 
  • ATM Charges – Bangkok every ATM charges you at least £5 per transaction + any exchange rate charges 
  • Cash free – I survived in Oslo and Copenhagen completely cash free – the Nordics are particularly digitally enabled
Gardent at International House Japan

Useful Apps 

  • GRAB – where UBER is not in Asia – sometimes GRAB is and whilst the fare may be sometimes a bit more expensive at least it is negotiated for you 
  • Maps.Me – Has good downloadable offline maps for when you are not on WIFI

Most Musical Transport Systems

  • Tokyo – every subway station has a different jingle to signal arrival and the doors closing
  • Berlin – high quality buskers in the carriages

Pedestrian Crossings

  • Taiwan – the green man is animated and gets faster and faster to indicate that the lights will go red soon
  • Berlin – have East and West figures left over when there was an East and West Berlin – apparently, people like the East figures better so all lights will have these in the future
  • Athens – the lights assume that you can walk very fast as they change very quickly 
Thai temple roof

Visas 

  • I only had to buy visas for Turkey and India and ESTA for the USA
  • Everywhere else was visa on arrival or exempt as in EU or for short stays

Airport security

  • Worst – Mumbai international airport at 5am in the morning – one man supervising the scanner and people putting their stuff on the conveyor

Public cleanliness

  • Best – Tokyo – everything is super shiny and you see people cleaning all aspects of the subway and other public spaces 
  • Grubby – Paris – whilst not covered in litter Paris gives the impression of being dirty and in need of a good clean
  • Delhi and Mumbai – Mumbai is cleaner than it used to be but still commercial, building and personal waste and rubbish are still a major issue here and in Delhi. 

Walking

  • Most challenging – Delhi, not only because of the state of the pavements but also because of the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers looking for a ride or the young men who want to chat or sell you something the moment you slow your step or look like you don’t know where you are going 
  • Most challenging with wheelie luggage – Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki, which all had their winter gravel out to prevent pedestrians slipping but it makes wheeling a bag even short distances challenging.
  • Overall I walked most places in most cities rather than taking public transport, I love seeing the day to day life of people and how the different areas change. 
Rome

Postal Service 

  • Most challenging – Beirut very hard to find a post office that would send my cards, they did however arrive in the UK eventually
  • Most expensive stamp – Copenhagen, a whopping 30kr or £3.50 for a postcard stamp hotly followed by Stockholm, 21kr or about £2 for a postcard stamp, the Swedish postcard did arrive in the UK in 2 days so at least it was speedy
Hong Kong

Shopping

I was very struck by the sheer volume of shopping space currently in place and being built pretty much everywhere I visited but particularly in Asia. In fact I found it somewhat depressing, whilst economies rely on us buying stuff, I was left wondering if we really need so much stuff and imagining that so much of it would shortly find its way into landfill. The other trend which I found sad was the desire to move away from more traditional shops or street markets and bring everything inside air conditioned shopping malls. Although people may be more comfortable shopping in the cooled environment I think interaction and experience will be poorer for it.

Food

  • Best Mango – Bangkok
  • Best Fish – Hawaii
  • Best Carbonara – Rome
  • Best ‘seasonal bun’ – Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki where the Semla pre-Lent buns were in ‘season’, they involve a lot of cream and sugar so not really slimming
  • Fanciest meal – Mandarin Oriental for lunch with Larry Kwok – everything was delicious and beautifully presented
  • Bread and Pastries – as the world’s food seems to be over run by global brands, it is the bread and pastries that seem to stay local and loved in each county.

Harry’s Trip Reflections

Thursday 14th March 2019 – Maidenhead UK

After an uneventful but not quite long enough to get any proper sleep, flight from NYC to London Heathrow, I am home after 73 days.

Harry’s home was Lyons in upstate New York, so he returned there at the end of his trip.

Back at home on the 20th of April 1966 her wrote a letter reflecting on his trip….

Dear Friends around the World:

You who have been following my journey, and whom I have seen so recently, will be glad to know that I arrived in New York April 19, and that I am quite well, though, as might be expected, a little tired. Otherwise no worse for wear, and quite ready to make another trip when there is a new International House to dedicate.

Although I have been a seasoned traveler for half my life, these 100 days top them all. For I saw so many hundreds of you in such a short time in your own countries and capitals –

New York, Berkeley, Honolulu, Tokyo, Taipei, Manila, Hong Kong, Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi, Tehran, Beirut, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, London – New York.

Your kindness, and hospitality and enthusiasm for International House, and its ideals, were far beyond measure, and my ability to thank you.

What were the high points of my travels?

Well, every stop, every country, every city, every Person I saw was a high point.

However there were three times when I was greatly stirred.

  1. Going with two Greek friends up the Acropolis, I saw the exact spot where the Apostle Paul made his famous speech to the “men of Athens” in which he said, “God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth.”
  2. In Paris, opposite the U.S. House at the Cite Universitaire, is the statue of Tom Paine, who had such an influence on the American and French revolution; he said “The world is my country,” and “My religion is to do good.”
  3. In Westminster Abbey, London, is a Plaque of the brothers John and Charles Wesley, Founders of Methodism, with the inscription, “The world is our parish.”
Athens Greece – the plaque about Apostle Paul’s speech
US House at Cite Universitaire, the garden was being renovated so it was not possible to see the Tom Paine statue
Wesley plaque at Westminster Abbey

All these are akin to the motto of International House “That Brotherhood May Prevail.”

Will Brotherhood ever prevail?

Yes, I believe man is rapidly approaching that point. Brotherhood must prevail, or else!

Again, thank you for everything. There are enough happy experiences stored in my memory to last a thousand years!

With sincere and affectionate regards,

Harry Edmonds

Full Circle – back in NYC

Sunday 10th & Monday 11th March 2019 – NYC

After Harry stopped being the Director at NYC I-House in 1935 he no longer lived on Manhattan. He spent time living in Paris, touring the world, living in Redding CT and also Lyons in upstate New York.

St Patrick’s Cathedral NYC

When he returned to NYC either to visit I-House for an event or on other business, he writes in his memoirs about how he would also head downtown and visit two spots. The first was St Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue and the other was J.D. Rockefeller Creed in the Rockefeller Centre complex courtyard. So when I returned to NYC, I too headed off on Harry’s itinerary. A service at St Patrick’s prevented me from accessing the ‘Our Lady of New York’ chapel that Harry describes. He loved the statue of Mary, the tapestry screen, candles and flowers. Luckily it will still be there next time I come.

In the Rockefeller complex Harry would look at the statue of Prometheus and the towering building above it and think to himself ‘I know the man who created all this, know him intimately.” And then he would never leave without looking at the great block of granite on which is carved the Creed of John D. Rockefeller. You won’t be able to read it off this picture so I have typed it at the bottom of this post. I too find it very inspiring and can see how it shaped what Rockefeller did as well as influenced Harry too.

Rockefeller’s Creed at Rockefeller Centre

Standing at that spot, nearly at the conclusion of my 9 week trip, I felt really very emotional. The partnership between Harry and Rockefeller was key to the whole story and whilst Rockefeller funded many many buildings and institutions, I like to think that the I-Houses would have been ones he was particularly proud of.

I was able to carry on these reflections as I reached I-House entering by that familiar entrance to so many on Claremont Avenue. I was to spend my first night in the House in one of the very comfortable guest suites.

Anita Haravon calling everyone to attention

My final event was to be at the apartment of the very wonderful I-House NYC alumna, Anita Haravon. Unbeknown to me she had been plotting with my partner Chris and others as the event was also on the eve of my 50th Birthday on the 11th of March. Co-incidentally Harry and I share a birthday, he would have been 136!

Group picture number 1 (as people kept coming we had to have several through the evening)

Anita’s wonderful planning paid off and we had a cross section of NYC I-House alumni from current residents to those who had lived at the House in the 1960s. It was a Pot Luck dinner, which included Ghanaian food, Thai food, Chinese Fortune Cookies (mine said Travel was on the horizon!!) and baked goods from Maine. The piece de resistance was the cake that Anita had arranged which was travel and I-House themed. For those who need to know it was chocolate inside with bergamot filling and it did not last long.

My 50th Birthday Cake

It was a brilliant evening celebrating all that is I-House. I was sung Happy Birthday in multiple languages including Chinese and Parsi. I also received I-House related presents of a sweatshirt and umbrella.

Ladies of I-House Tees

At this last event I was enveloped in warmth and gratitude for the time spent living at the House and to Harry for having the idea and realising it. It was also tinged with some sadness that it marked the last event in my trip and emotion as I reflected on my journey.

We lit the round the world candle for one last time along with the four coloured candles from I-House Chicago. Anita had also bought me a final candle for me to take home to the UK, it is beautifully scented.

Looking out of the I-House NYC Main Lounge windows over Sakura Park to Riverside Church

Thanks to an early flight from Chicago being combined with losing an hour in daylight saving changes, it had been a very long day, so I was quickly asleep in my I-House guest bed. I was awake early though on my birthday morning and so set out to wander the House before the residents got up to start their week. It was a perfect blue sky morning dawning as I looked out of the windows of the Main Lounge over Sakura Park to Riverside Church. When Harry and Florence stood at the same window in 1924 after the House was built, their view would have been different as the Church was yet to be built and the park was not as it is today, however Harry would have seen the view with both as they are today many times.

Harry and Florence Edmonds looking out of the ground floor windows of I-House NYC just after it opened in 1924

The house is so full of history and as I wandered through the rooms and looked at the Chairman’s corner pictures. I was reminded of what my great grandmother Florence had inscribed in the elevators when the House opened. “This is a House of echoes, whatever of love, friendship and goodwill you sing into it, will come back to you.”

Story Snippets…

Ice Cream Romance – Helena Dona – When Helena Dona arrived from her home in South America at I-House she was feeling somewhat overwhelmed and emotional at coming to live in NYC and leaving her family. In the elevator she noticed a sign for an Ice Cream social that evening and so decided that she should make the effort and go. She got her ice-cream and decided to sit apart from everyone else in a corner of the patio as she did not actually feel like socialising. However one man, Mitchell Hayes, an Australian resident, had other ideas. Mitchell, went over and started to talk to Helena and somehow the conversation went on all evening. Some 5 years later Mitchell called Don Cuneo (the Director at the time) and asked permission to have his own Ice-Cream social on the patio of the House so that he could propose to Helena, of course Don said yes. Arriving at the House, Helena was puzzled when Mitchell led her over to the usually alarmed doors onto the patio. However the doors opened and no alarm sounded. Out on the patio at the same table where they had met on her first day at the House, was ice cream and roses. Mitchell proposed with an audience of curious residents looking out of their windows at the scene below. Helena said yes and they have now been married for 5 years. For those that have to know the Ice-Cream flavour they met over and got engaged over was Chocolate.

Deja Vu – Sanya Lilly – Sanya lived at I-House NYC and when her father came to visit her and looked out of her window, that overlooked Sakura Park, he kept saying that it looked familiar. It was not until Sanya started to research her family history and looked into her Yugoslavian Uncle Milan Popovic that she discovered that he had been one of the first batch of residents at the House in 1925. She got his Ellis Island arrival record and it said that he was to live at 500 Riverside Drive, and written above it by hand was ‘International House’. Sanya’s father was much younger than his brother and so did not visit him at the House but must have seen pictures taken from his brother’s room which is why he had the sense of deja vu. Milan met his wife a Canadian, Fairlie Honeyman whilst at the House.

John D. Rockefeller Creed – I Believe.

I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession a duty.

I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.

I believe in the dignity of labour, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.

I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character – not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth.

I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.

I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.

I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Candles in Chicago

Saturday 10th March 2019 – Chicago

My first ever trip to Chicago was going to be a brief one. Chicago was not on Harry’s original itinerary, however from the moment I connected with Denise Jorgens, the current I-House Chicago Executive Director, she convinced me that I could not do this trip without visiting all 3 original Rockefeller Houses. As I had already booked the majority of my flights and my timeline was pretty set, it meant that this would be a flying visit.

Denise’s husband Anil Trivedi, is an I-House NYC alum, so to me they are the ultimate I-House couple and are able to carry forward the I-House spirit respecting the history and evolving to keep up with changes in the wider world of student life.

Denise and Anil had first met with Chris and I in Tokyo when they happened to be there at the same time and seeing my candle relay in action inspired Denise to say that we could have a candlelight ceremony when I visited which was so exciting.

Denise Jorgens, Mami Urano and Anil Trivedi on the Roof of I-House Japan

The Chicago House was the 3rd of the original Rockefeller Houses and was opened in 1932. They always wanted a House on each coast and one in the middle. Chicago seemed the obvious choice and it also had quite a significant international student population (c1000) in the late 1920s. Once Harry had helped agree the site, the building seems to have gone quite smoothly. Keeping continuity of Directors seemed to be more of the issue.

The House’s life has not been without ups and downs, including in its more recent history nearly being pulled down, but a concerted campaign by alumni saw it given a reprieve. It has also been extensively and carefully restored as well as continuing to modernise including making it wheelchair accessible. All around the House there are reminders of the history.

The ‘Kissing bench’ which was placed by the door to the ‘women’ side of the House and many a couple spent a few moments saying farewell to each other on it

A couple of things really stand out about Chicago, one is that unlike all the other Houses I have visited they rarely rent their facilities to generate income, but keep them for internal and resident programs. The second thing is the very extensive program of events that are open to the wider Chicago community. Covering music, politics, dance, international affairs, film, literature, their program really does have something for everyone. https://ihouse.uchicago.edu/events/

Mr and Mrs Coulter who met at I-House and who have given their name to couple since who meet at the House – who are known as Coulter Couples

Due to a lack of undergraduate accommodation on campus at the moment, the House is home to a fully undergraduate set of residents, but Denise continues to campaign for the House to be reverted to be a home for graduates as it was originally intended. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this will happen in stages over the next few years as other accommodation on the campus comes on line.

The Main Hall before the guests arrived

I have never attended a candlelight ceremony so I was so touched when Denise said that we could have one at Chicago. Her team went to so much trouble to make the evening perfect. Denise talked about the International Houses World Wide group and then I shared my reflections on my trip, this being the penultimate stop.

Harry ‘borrowed’ the Candlelight Ceremony from the YWCA. Just after I-House NYC was set up, his wife Florence, returned from a YWCA meeting and described this ceremony they had done with candles, pledging to pass the light on. Harry immediately saw that this would be a great tradition at the House and started it, obviously tweaking it so that representatives from each Nation came up to light their candle and then having everyone light their candle before the reading of the pledge. Today I-House NYC, Berkeley and Chicago all do the Ceremony as I believe do the Houses in Australia.

The Fellows and those who read the pledge in other languages on stage
Candles lit

Three of the current Fellows led the ceremony and the pledge was read in 7 languages – English, Persian, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian. It was very moving. We then went on to have a delicious dinner of foods from around the world.

Denise Jargons and Deb Jasinski

All in all despite the pouring rain my day at Chicago I-House was so full of warmth and welcome it was truly memorable and huge thanks go to Denise and her team.

Prof. Ralph Nicholas who was Executive Director of the Chicago I-House from 1993-2000

Story Snippets

Room with a View – Christina Whack – Christina joined us for the Candlelight Ceremony, she is an I-House alumna, who was studying Opera singing whilst at the House. She now performs in other genres https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncGv4rXwaTo and has all been working with her mother Rita Coburn Whack on the acclaimed documentary about Maya Angelou ‘And Still I Rise” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihsqa4mVjEw Whilst at the House Christina took a number of jobs including being the Production Assistant / Technician for events. This had some advantages including being offered a room on the 11th floor in one of the towers of the House which had windows on two sides and afforded a beautiful view down the Hudson for Christina to wake up to every day.

FIHUK London

Wednesday 6th March 2019 – London

In the UK, I-House New York alumni are organised by a wonderful set of Trustees into the Friends of I-House UK (FIHUK) so I was looking forward to the event kindly hosted by Maurits and Erika Dolmans at their beautiful home in Hampstead.

Between my visits to ISH London and Goodenough College I nipped down the Jubilee Line on the Tube to Westminster to visit Westminster Abbey. In his letter at the end of his trip, Harry picked out 3 spots that had meant a great deal to him on his trip for their links to the I-House “Brotherhood” prevailing moto. He writes “In Westminster Abbey, London, is a Plaque of the brothers John and Charles Wesley, Founders of Methodism, with the inscription, ‘The world is our parish’.” So I thought I would go and find it too.

Arriving at Westminster Abbey I discovered that to visit it is now £22! So I went and explained my mission to the door security who then arranged for me to be met by a colleague who took me straight to the plaque and the also showed me the YMCA window in memory of the founder Sir George Williams (I had always thought the YMCA was a US founded movement but it seems not), sadly I wasn’t able to photograph it but a picture available at https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/sir-george-williams-ymca

The Wesley Plaque was slightly obstructed by things being stored in front of it but I did capture a picture below. I am sure as a former employee of the YMCA Harry would also have been interested in the window too.

Plaque to John and Charles Wesley founders of Methodist Church in Westminster Abbey

In the section in his memoirs about the 1966 trip Harry describes the London event, which was held at the English Speaking Union, https://www.esu.org. “there were 40 or 50 gathered, I wondered why there was so much enthusiasm, because I wouldn’t say the English are over-given to rah-rah-rah. But there was this very jovial atmosphere, and I discovered that there were 5 couples in the group who had romanced at IH, which had glorified the place to them beyond all description. It was most enjoyable.”  This was particularly relevant to our hosts for the evening, Maurits and Erika, as they met at the NYC House and their son also met his wife there!  In fact there were two further Sakura sweetheart couples represented at the gathering so we nearly matched Harry’s total.

Barnaby Hughes, Thomas Hazelton, Benjamin Lim and Annabel Yap

The Dolmans have a very beautiful house in Hampstead which is perfect for a party and so we had a lively evening of reminiscences and conversation.  We were blessed with a good number of musicians who reminded us of how the diversity of institutions that people study at whilst living at I-House NYC is one of its great joys as the range of subjects and disciplines adds another layer of breadth to the range of nations represented. 

One area of interesting discussion was about the relatively recent addition of Televisions to the Dining Hall at I-House NYC and how bringing the outside in potentially distracts from the interaction over food that has so long been a key tenant of the Houses.  Not only do you get drawn to the moving pictures, but you also potentially loose the richness of the opportunity of hearing and debating news from many angles, sometimes with direct contact to the area the news is coming from, rather than the perspective of what is presented by a US new channel. (Note: that when I stayed at I-House on March 10th 2019 there were now no TVs again in the dining commons, as far as I could see)

London candle from Patricia Hamzahee and Patricia takes the green candle from Jack in Copenhagen

Attendees in London: 

Patrick and Margherita Von Aulock, James Davenport, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Pankaj Kumar, Ruth Waterman, Thomas Hazleton, Adela Suliman, Diane Bickley and Jonathan Burton, Vish Wanaathg, Erol and Denise Gelenbe, Emily Rose, Annabelle Yap and Benjamin Lim, Barnaby Hughes, Fabian Graimann and Kim Chan, Patricia Hamzahee, Maurits Dolmans

Diane Bickley, Emily Rose and Jonathan Burton

Story Snippets….

I-House Musical – Emily Rose – Emily wrote a musical about I-House NYC and was part of a group that performed it in the great lounge that overlooks Sakura Park.  She described with enthusiasm the different songs as well as the artistic process to bring it to its audience.  Firstly as it is not possible to close the lounge, being a thoroughfare to other parts of the House, it meant that rehearsals which needed to be ‘site specific’ had to be done with an audience.  Groups of other residents would be ‘studying’ in other areas of the room whilst they were rehearsing.  The production was also a lesson in compromise and tolerance as director, choreographer, conductor and cast often had strong and differing views on how things should be done.  These discussions were often undertaken with some passion and volume, much to the delight of the rehearsal audience.  In fact the inter-cast and production team drama proved great fuel for the I-House grapevine.  The production was a great success and following Emily’s vivid descriptions, the FIHUK team are thinking that a production at the Freunde IH / FIUK events in autumn 2020 would be a good plan so watch this space. 

Copenhagen in the Rain

Monday 4th March 2019 – Copenhagen

It is a very long time since I last came to Copenhagen. We drove up from Belgium when I was 6 or 7 to stay with friends of my parents, I don’t remember much apart from going to Tivoli Gardens and looking across the water and my mum telling me I could see Sweden.

It was in fact Sweden across the now bridge, that was my first port of call after arriving in Copenhagen. I had been connected with an alumna from I-House Sydney who lives in Malmo, Linda Jonsson. We had a delightful evening discussing educational approaches around the world as she is an IB teacher in an international school.

Linda Jonsson – I-House Sydney alumna in Malmo

My only I-House NYC alum at this stop was Lars-Erik Houmann Christensen. He has a wonderful office in an old building in the centre of town. Over some very lovely traditional pastries we discussed student housing and how Harry’s ideas could fit in the current market place for developing new places for international graduate students to live in Copenhagen and beyond. I failed to get a photo of us so one of the square his office is on will have to do!

I wanted to see if I could find Danish press articles about Harry’s 1966 trip. I was searching at the rather aptly names Black Diamond building which is the Det Kongelige Bibliotek and had just found the relevant article when the power failed across that part of Copenhagen. Keen to get the article, I waited nearly an hour until the lights came back on, however the computer system did not so I had to abandon the idea. I did ask a librarian very nicely if she would find it and email it to me, so we will see…

It is not easy to find restaurants in the Nordics that serves the local food at reasonable prices, but with the help of Jake Kirk Pedersen (I-House Berkeley) we met at Klubben which manages just that. The portions were enormous and I tried the Danish meatballs which are different to the Swedish ones as they are friend not boiled and are accompanied by creamed cabbage.

We were joined by Julie Thayer Elming (I-House Berkeley) and John Venning (ISH London) and his wife Inez. With a wonderfully diverse set of backgrounds our conversation ranged from music to catalytic chemistry, from international education to digital journalism as well as friends and love formed at the different Houses. John met his first wife, a Greek lady, at ISH London when he was there in the late 1960s.

Me, John Venning, Jack Kirk Pedersen and Julie Thaysen Elming – taken with John’s fancy camera
The group taken on my I-Phone and including Inez, John’s wife

One of John’s hobbies is photography, so he bought his camera and accessories with him to the restaurant and so we have some slightly more glamorous shots than usual from his lens.

Julie had her I-House Berkeley umbrella with her to survive the rainy Copenhagen night. It still has an ‘If Found’ sticker saying Piedmont Avenue on it!

Jack provided the lovely green candle to go onto London and was the recipient of Anna-Maija’s white handmade, heart shaped Finnish candle, quite appropriate as Jack met Serena his Hong Kong Chinese girlfriend at I-House and we are all hoping that it continues as a beautiful I-House love story.

Danish Press article (kindly translated by Julie):

83-Year-Old Goes Around the World for Old Students

The founder of International House, Harry Edmonds, in Copenhagen (04-03-1966)

An 83-year-old American, Mr. Harry Edmonds, has arrived in Copenhagen, which is one of the last stops on his 104-day long world tour. 

Harry Edmonds is the founder of International House in New York, which houses 500 students from a number of countries, during their studies in the USA.

International House is the life’s work of Harry Edmonds, but he has now reached an age, where his daily presence at the student house is no longer required, which is why he has set out on the strenuous journey to visit as many International House alums as possible all around the world. 

The journey started out by passing the Pacific Ocean to Asia, where many trusty old students gathered to meet him. Now Harry Edmonds has arrived in Copenhagen, after a visit to Rom, Paris, Berlin. He was recently the center of attention at a celebration at The Royal Hotel, where 25 Danes, who were all former residents of International House, where present. 

Yesterday Harry Edmonds toured Copenhagen with two of his dearest Danish students, the sisters Olga Butterworth and Hildur Lange, who arrive at International House just a few years after its construction I 1924.

The world tour goes from Copenhagen to the other Nordic capitals and afterwards to London, before returning home to International House in New York. 

Image text: The 83-year-old Harry Edmonds is resting by the statue of Hans Christian Andersen with the sisters Hildur Lange and Olga Butterworth. 

Story snippets…

Love makes the world go round – Linda Jonsson – When Linda was at I-House Sydney, she would often go to the movies with her two best friends. One evening they were not available so she joined a group of 3 other girls to go and see a film. It was a romantic comedy and they all enjoyed the film. When they came out they were all exchanging their admiration for the rather handsome male lead in the film and the romantic storyline. It suddenly struck Linda that between them they represented 4 continents and 3 religions yet the themes of the film around love and romance were universally understood. It is a story that she uses with her students to this day when exploring how we are all more similar than different

Partying with I-House Friends in NYC – Julie Thaysen Elming – Julie was at I-House Berkeley in 2016 whilst she studied Media and Journalism. When her mum came to visit her and saw the Hall of History pictures she made a connection to Julie’s grandfather’s memoirs as he had written about attending wonderful parties with I-House residents in New York whilst he was living in the city as a medical scholar at Rockefeller. He was not a resident but as the international community was much smaller then in NYC he knew people who were and attended events with them. He wrote about how he admired the way the House tackled cultural divides at the time (especially in the wake of WWII).

Chance Encounter – Lars-Erik Houmann Christensen – A good number of years after living there Lars-Erik decided to stay back at I-House NYC when visiting on business. Returning from his meetings he decided to go into the Pub for old times sake. Walking in to his surprise, he found one of his best friends from his time at the House sat at the bar. The Australian in question explained that on Wednesday evenings some of the alumni who are in town sometimes come back for a drink (I am not sure if this still happens before you all rush to go). Lars-Erik and his Australian friend had a wonderful evening and Lars-Erik was reminded of his friend Anu Sid Hittle who lived in Hawaii, who he had not been in contact with for some time. So he decided he would get back in touch. He picked up the phone and called her number. A lady answered the phone and as soon as Lars-Erik spoke she said ‘Hello Lars-Erik’ instantly recognising his voice even after all the years. They have since met up in their home countries and countries in between and it is Anu who connected me to Lars-Erik too.

Where we ate – in Malmo – Bullen http://www.bullen.nu in Copenhagen – Klubben https://www.restaurant-klubben.dk