All the A’s in Athens

Thursday 14thFebruary 2019 – Athens

I am writing this today from Voulas, which is by the Mediterranean at the end of the Athens tram line.  Winding here through the Athens suburbs the bakeries and florists have embraced St Valentine with heart shaped cakes and bread abounding. 

Voulas near Athens

Once again, I have scant detail about Harry’s time here in Athens, but I do know from the letter he wrote at the end of his trip that “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 to dwell on the face of the earth’.” Which he felt was akin to the I-House motto of ‘Let brotherhood prevail’.  So obviously as I set out early to climb up the Acropolis, I stopped at Aerophagus hill which where Harry is referring to.  

The Acropolis from Aerophagus Hill

It was a grey and blustery winter morning and no one else was about.  I climbed up the metal steps as the original marble ones cut into the rock, that Harry would have used, looked a bit slippery and treacherous and paused on the top imagining Harry there with his two friends looking out over the whole of Athens.  I expect there may have been less buildings and more countryside 53 years ago.  It was very peaceful and looking closely there were signs of spring in the surrounding archaeological site, with small yellow flowers and the rosemary bushes blooming. 

Plaque with Apostle Paul’s sermon to the ‘men of Athens’

I love visiting historical or ancient sites and imagining them bustling with people. The structures on the Acropolis have been adapted over the ages to be churches, mosques, temples and houses, so there is plenty to ponder.  That they are still standing at all today is remarkable.  

It was windy up the top…

Finding alumni in Athens had proved one of my more challenging destinations.  However luckily for me Alex Varelas, took a trip down memory lane last March and visited I-House NYC some 30 years after his time there.  Julie Pape from the alumni office showed him round and subsequently connect me to him.  Through a chance meeting Alex re-connected with Kosmas Michail who had also been in the NYC House at the same time.  Kosmas and his wife Leslie Jones are Sakura Sweethearts who met at the House.  Evangelia Avloniti who stayed at International Student House London completed our small but perfectly formed gathering.

Alex’s resident’s card from 1990, obviously he does not look any older…

Alex had chosen a very traditional Greek restaurant in a residential district of Athens.  One of the joys of my trip is that I have eaten in places that as a tourist I would never have visited.  I was instructed to go and inspect what dishes were on offer at the open kitchen viewing area, full of huge pans of delicious stews and vegetables.  

Alex Varelas, Kosmas Michail, Leslie Jones, Evangelia Avloniti & me at Fillipou restaurant

Around the table we had a mix of arts, with Leslie a cellist and Evangelia an art historian turned literary agent and science and business with both Kosmas and Alex originally training to be Electrical Engineers, but the common theme was the breadth and internationality of the time with others in the Houses.  

Istanbul candle went to Leslie who bought the Athens candle which I shall take to Rome

It was a delightful evening and I hope that it will be the start of alumni in Athens re-connecting.

Leslie, heads up the Music Department at DEREE, the American College of Greece and was taking a number of her students to a concert at the Athens Concert Hall and kindly invited me to come. The hall has amazing acoustics and we enjoyed – Nikos Skalkottas: Symphonic Suite No. 1 and Johannes Brahms: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83.

Story Snippets…

Missing match maker– Kosmas Michail and Leslie Jones – When Leslie Jones moved from Oregon to study the Cello in New York, she originally lived in another dorm, but realizing I-House was closer to her school she decided to re-locate.  She already had an established set of friends and was doing long hours of rehearsing for her recitals so she was not one to be found in the pub or socializing.  It was only with much persuasion that her friend Jan Fießig got Leslie to agree to come to his farewell breakfast as he was leaving the House to go back to Germany. He had mentioned to Leslie previously that she should meet Kosmas as he was a wonderful philosopher and Jan felt they would get along.  Jan was right and romance blossomed after his departure and Kosmas and Leslie became a Satura Sweetheart couple.  Sadly, Jan never knew that his matchmaking was successful.  Leslie has tried to trace him a number of times with no luck.  So, they and I are hoping that perhaps someone reading this might know him still and ask him to get in touch.  

Delights of London – Evangelia Avloniti – Evangelia left Greece to go and study Art History at the Courtauld Institute in London and was offered a place in some accommodation that was some way away from there.  Rather than accept it she enquired again about any other options and was pointed in the direction of International Student House London (ISH). She moved in and was captivated by the breadth of nationalities living alongside her counting friends from Ethiopia, Pakistan and India to name but a few.  When her sister came to London they managed to extend their association with ISH by moving into one of the apartments owned by ISH near Marylebone High Street, not a location where students can usually afford to live in London!  She loves being back in Athens, but misses the international dimension of entering a room at ISH and meeting new friends from new countries every day.  

I-House ‘magic’– Alex Varelas – We were reflecting on the difference between the I-House experience and other multicultural / international study experiences and Alex was comparing his time at I-House with his time at INSEAD business school near Paris, where he studied for his MBA.  ISEAD certainly is international environment with over 40 countries represented in his class. These classmates from all nationalities worked hard and played hard together, but still for Alex it could not compare it to the diversity and cultural understanding he experienced by living at the New York I-House.  Having 70-80 countries represented and sharing a ‘home’ together made it the most international and cross cultural experience for Alex.  Which is the ‘magic’ that Harry described often in his letters to others about living at any of the I-Houses.

Masterclass in Rhetoric – Leslie Jones – Leslie was recalling that Gerald Ford came to speak at the House whilst she was there.  She decided it was an opportunity not to be missed and went along. She recalled what an engaging and charismatic speaker he was but also how when he was done, reflecting on what she had heard, she found that he had not really said anything at all.  An enjoyable masterclass in political rhetoric indeed.  

Post office postscript…

Greece scored highly on the postcard quest.  Postcards are abundant at every tourist spot and stall.  I secured 4 for €1 and there is a handy post office opposite the entrance to the Acropolis.  The lady behind the counter was a bit tardy in opening up and as I waited the post man appeared to collect the cards from the box outside, but he waited for me to buy my stamps and took the cards, speeding off behind the trees in his blue van… 

Where we ate: Fillipou

Istanbul the Half Way Point

Saturday 9th February – Istanbul

I have landed at Istanbul airport many times in transit to other places in Turkey but never actually visited, so I was keen to see what the city had to offer. Chris re-joined me for the weekend from the UK, which was lovely so I was all set for a wonderful time in country 9 out of 18.

Pinar Ozbek, had done all the hard work for the event and it was an all I-House NYC turnout. She suggested BUMED, which is the alumni club for Bogazici University, as our meeting place.

Chris and I arrived a bit early and as we went to the reserved table we were approached by a gentleman. Mehmet Atar, explained that he had never lived at I-House but his friend Professor Dr. Orhan Kural had, but was not able to attends, so had asked him to represent him. He then presented me with his card which said he was the Honorary Consul in Istanbul for the Republic of Vanuatu! A role he explained he had been offered after doing some mining engineering consultancy in Vanuatu.

Chris with the Honorary Consul for Vanuatu, Mehmet Atar

We had a very lovely meeting with a lively crowd. Nilgun Okay and her sister Nesrin, both residents, came with Nilgun’s daughter. They also bought their I-House memorabilia with them. Including a newspaper article from the Turkish press about their performance at I-House at Fall Fiesta. They told me that at least 5 other cousins or relatives of theirs have also lived at the House!

Nesrin & Nilgun Okay with the press article about Fall Fiesta

Brunch turned into afternoon coffee as the conversation continued and I hope that this was the start of many a Turkish alumni meet up.

Pinar had chosen BUMED for our meet up as the Bogazici University also has links to the Dodge family, who gave some of the land that I-House NYC is built on. So I was keen to see some of the buildings. Our first attempt to get onto campus had not gone well due to my lack of Turkish, but luckily Sinan Acikalin (who is hoping to live at I-House from September when he goes to Columbia to do his MBA), son of Tarik Acikalin who lived in the House around 1975, said he would give us a tour the next day. Which it turned out was wonderfully sunny.

The University is set high up above the Bosphorus at its narrowest point, where castles on either side allowed the Ottomans to control the seaway between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the most amazing views. Originally Robert College it was started by two US philanthropists in 1871. The College was to open its doors to students of all races, nationalities and religions without prejudice or discrimination, which was unusual in those days. Over the next 100 years the campus was expanded until in 1971 it became Bogazici University. Today Bogazici is one of the most prestigious in Turkey.

In keeping with his support of the I-House philosophy, Cleveland H. Dodge’s donations to Bogazici were all about encouraging students to eat and socialise together and therefore learn about each other.

We visited the Dodge Gymnasium which is constructed of the blue limestone quarried on the campus. It was financed by Cleveland who was Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1909 until 1926, and his father, William E. Dodge. For many years it was the first modern gymnasium in Europe and had the only indoors running track in Turkey (sadly no longer in existence). The first basketball game in Turkey was played here in 1908. Today the original floor is still in place and the building has been lovingly maintained by its very charismatic caretaker, who was keen to show us around.

Cleveland funded the Henrietta Washburn Hall or the Social Hall, it is called today. It was completed in 1914 and named after Henrietta Loraine Washburn, daughter of Cyrus Hamlin and wife of George Washburn. It is used as a recreational hall by the students, it contains a theater, lounges, club rooms and a canteen. He also donated a famous organ which is in the auditorium.

Again I do not know if Harry visited the campus but with the connections to his friend Cleveland, he may well have done and I am sure he would have approved of the University’s philosophy of inclusion as well as admired the wonderful views over the Bosphorus.

Story Snippets…

Key Positions – Nilgun Okay – Nilgun stayed at I-House for 4 years, which even in the 1980s was over the usually permitted length of time. She worked out that if she was to stay she would need to get one of the ‘Key Positions’ whilst studying for her PHD in Earth & Environmental Sciences. So she got the position of Special Assistant Pub / Vending Machines. Apparently she also worked the till in the canteen and was able to quickly reduce a long line of hungry students by getting them through the checkout fast! Nilgun was the first woman in Turkey to get a PHD in that field.

Nilgun Okay pointing out her entry in the Key Positions book

Dying Swan – Pinar Ozbek – Before coming to I-House Pinar danced for the Istanbul State Ballet for 8 seasons. At the House she performed the Dying Swan solo  Today she still teaches ballet alongside her academic teaching.

Greyhound Touring – Tarik Acikalin – Tarik wanted to do an MBA and in the 1970s the Turkish government would sponsor students to go to the US to study. Tarik got places at 3 US MBA schools including Columbia and applied for the government scholarship. There were 10 scholarships up for grabs and Tarik just missed out by being 11th in the ranking. So he started to study for his MBA in Turkey. Some 9 months later he got a call from the government office that said they would award him the scholarship for the next academic year. Tarik was undecided but got in touch with the 3 schools where he had places, but only Columbia would still accept him and would give him some credit for his year of study in Turkey. He decided to take up the offer and had 2 happy years living at I-House. A huge classical music fan, one of the highlights was access to great concerts in NYC while he was there. At the end of his stay at the House he and a Turkish friend set off to tour the USA by Greyhound bus for a month. No one believed they would last more than to California and back, but they did. They often slept on the bus rather than getting a hotel, and visited many places in their four weeks on the road.

Tarik Acikalin

Where we ate: BUMED –

Humanity in Beirut

Friday 8th February 2019 – Beirut

Beirut was one of the stops I was most looking forward to when I set off, not only because I had never been to Lebanon, but also because it was not so long ago that sadly the war prevented all tourism here and still when you tell people you are coming they ask if it is really safe.  

It, along with the other middle eastern countries were also important in the International House story as from the beginning of the Houses they have had Arabic, Jewish, Sunni, Shia and Christian residents from the region all living side by side.  This has often involved heated debates but at the end of the day they have shown each other respect and sought to understand and developed tolerance and friendship within the I-House context.  

For someone who has been lucky to live in relative peace in the UK, seeing the bombed out and bullet hole ridden properties around the city was disconcerting and sad.  My taxi driver told me about how he and his wife escaped to Saudi during the war, but when they had children they could not afford the schools in Saudi and his wife and 3 children returned to Lebanon in the midst of the War, I could not imagine the daily worry for him and his wife through that period. Thankfully they all survived and he now had 5 grandchildren. 

It is nearly 30 years since the fighting stopped and restoration and regeneration are also everywhere.  There is a focus on design and elegance, art and food and the long and fascinating history of the country.  More than this the people are charming, we were welcomed and helped by everyone we met. 

Sandy Edmonds, Harry’s granddaughter

This stop was also special as Sandy Edmonds, Harry’s granddaughter, joined me from her home in Vermont.  Sandy is my father’s first cousin, but family politics meant that they only met a very few times.  She is the most wonderful woman, a true lover of art and people, having been an art teacher for many years in US Public Schools.  So, it was a delight to explore Beirut together.  

Main gate AUB

I do not have any information about what Harry’s actually did on this stop, but with his close connection to the Dodge family I imagined that he would have visited AUB (American University Beirut) as Bayard Dodge, was president from 1923-48 and Dr. David Stuart Dodge held various positions from 1961-97.

Ada Dodge Hall named after Dr. D. Stuart Dodge’s deceased daughter

Harry may perhaps have met with Samuel B Kirkwood the president at the time.  Originally, we were going to have the honour of meeting Mr. Khouri, the current AUB president, but he was called away on business so we did a campus tour instead. 

AUB tour by Ali, in the pouring rain, they gave us some very smart AUB umbrellas!

Our guide Ali, a current AUB student in Finance was utterly charming and showed us around the beautiful campus. 

The re-built main College Hall at AUB

The University kept going as far as possible through the war and he showed us the tunnel that allowed the medical students to get to the hospital from the campus to go on duty without going up onto the street.  Parts of the campus were destroyed including the main hall, but have been re-constructed and they even have a very funky building by Zaha Hadid  

Zaha Hadid building at AUB

There is an cedar grove in the middle of the campus that were planted by the founder Dr Bliss and are still standing. I imagined Harry standing by the President’s House which has the most wonderful view out to sea, or perhaps he even got to go in! 

View from the President’s House at AUB

After our tour we met up with Chicago I-House Alum Rajab Ghazzaoui, who is currently working at the AUB business school.  Over coffee he was able to explain more about the complex politics of Lebanon and the region and also the challenges of daily life in Beirut. These include electricity being rationed to 3 hours a day for most householders, unless they have a generator, the traffic and lack of public transport.  The newly formed government is a welcome sign, but the continued corruption that is endemic makes it hard to keep hope of real change, good jobs and growth. The war forced many to experience living overseas either, mostly in Europe or Saudi Arabia so they have a broader perspective that you might find in other countries.  

Coffee with Rajab Ghazzaoui

My event at this stop was to be hosted by Dirk Kunze, I-House NYC alum and his team at FNST Lebanon & Syria in their very funky office space Garage 664.  FNST is a German not for profit focused on liberal principles and political education.  They operate in around 60 countries and focus on promoting freedom and dignity in all areas of society and hold events that encourage international dialogue, rights for minorities and democratic control.  

Dirk Kunze being interviewed by the media at my event

This event was to be very different to all the others on my trip as it was open to the wider public as part of FNST’s Alphabet Series of events.  We were letter ‘H’, fitting for Harry!  The title of our event was ‘Humanity in the times of populism, the value of international networks’.  So we could weave together my event and what FNST do in their work.  

Raya Haffer El Hassan, Minister for the Interior Lebanon

On my quest to find attendees at the Beirut event I had contacted an alumna of International Student House DC, which is part of the World Wide International Houses group, Raya Haffar El Haasan.  Raya had been Finance Minister of Lebanon and I though it would be wonderful if she could come.  To my delight she said she would.  

The panel for the discussions including 2nd from right Omar Chatah (IH NYC)

Last weekend Dirk emailed me to say that in the formation of the new and long awaited government Raya had been made the first woman Minister of the Interior.  He thought that this would probably mean that she would not be able to attend.  However, this proved not to be the case.  Raya amidst the whirlwind of her appointment, made time to come because she wanted to tell the audience how important her time at ISH DC had been in shaping her understanding of the other and how she applies this to her work.  She was totally delightful as we chatted before the event began and she and Dirk helped light the candles at the end. 

We had 50 people attend the event, I would love to say I was the draw but Raya in her new role, was that, but I got to share Harry’s idea, the I-House story and also welcome the other alumni in the audience, Omar Chatah and Naoki Takyo from I-House NYC and Rajab Ghazzaoui from I-House Chicago.  It was so lovely to have Sandy Edmonds there too to hear both from Raya but also others about how impactful their time at the House had been on their outlook and lives. 

Alumni, Raya El Haasan (ISH DC), Dirk Kunze (IH NYC), Rajab Raab Ghazzaoui (IH Chicago), Naoki Tokyo (IH NYC)

I will definitely be coming back to Lebanon, I want to see all the other things it has to offer outside of Beirut and truly hope that with continued dialogue and perseverance, the Lebanese people will feel they are living in a thriving and stable country. If you haven’t been do put it on your list. 

Story Snippets…. 

Surrogate Mothers of I-House Chicago – Rajab Ghazzaoui – Having been used to living at home whilst studying for his undergrad, when Rajab was accepted to UChicago for his Masters the thought of finding an apartment and all that entailed was daunting.  So he phoned the accommodation office and they gave him the options including the I-House.   He called them back to ask ‘one flat fee and everything is included?’, ‘Yes’ they said. He was instantly sold.  Arriving at the house he decided to take one of the student jobs and ended up working in the office of the Director Denise Jordan and her team.  They instantly took a shine to him and he ended up with not one but three surrogate mothers, who helped him navigate his time in the House. From explaining how the washing machines worked to ensuring he was eating properly or up to date with his admin, they were there to support him.  He says that he really grew up whilst he was there.  

Challenging stereotypes at Fall Fiesta– Naoki Takyo – Every year at I-House NYC they hold the Fall Fiesta, where the residents showcase culture and food from their countries.  Naoki, said that he had recently found the VHS tape of his Fall Fiesta at the House (I am impressed he still had something to play it on!) and that re-watching it he was reminded how he wanted to break the stereotype that all Japanese are very serious and have no sense of humour.  He and his fellow Japanese residents were dressed in Kimono and it seems that Takyo raised more than one laugh from the audience, achieving his goal. When I asked him and his wife about how he had done this it seems that “what happens at Fall Fiesta stays at Fall Fiesta”, but I think it involved some dance moves and showing more leg than you might normally under a Kimono! 

Appreciation of the ‘other’– Raya Haffar El Hassan – Excerpt from her speech at the event – “For us residents, ISH (International Student House DC) was a home away from home. It provided a safe shelter from the harsh realities we, as international students, had to confront in trying to adapt to new surroundings and environment. During my stay I was fortunate to have built strong and lasting friendships with many of my co-residents. Friendships, I am happy to say that I still have to this day. These are the kinds of bonds that survive the passage of time. My friends were from all over the world – Nigeria, Colombia, Peru, Morocco, Eritrea, US, Denmark, just to name just a few. What a wonderful place ISH was and I am sure it still is. The bonds I was able to form lessened the feeling of homesickness and were essential for my mental and emotional development and wellbeing. I cannot begin to explain how important and life changing living at ISH was for me. The House offers a crash course in the importance of cultural diversity and appreciation of the ‘other’. It makes one re-examine engrained political and religious views and allows for the better acceptance of one another. So when I received Alice’s invitation to attend this event I did not hesitate for a minute, it instantaneously unlocked all the cherished memories I had from my time at ISH and made me jump at the opportunity to re-live them again and to meet other residents in Lebanon who might have shared similar experiences…. I believe this prepares us to become international citizens better equipped for careers in the Global market and provided us residents with a much larger perspective on life.”

Post office PS – for those that are following the Postcard saga (see Postcard blog post) – Lebanon proved the most challenging to date. Every request for stamps was met with a blank look. Whilst I was at AUB, our guide Ali said and there is the Post Office on Campus. So I popped in full of hope that they would have stamps. Well I may as well have asked for transport to the moon as I showed the man behind the counter the postcards. He asked a colleague and they decided eventually that the franking machine could provide the postage and I handed over $3. He promptly put my postcards in his drawer. I protested and he took them out and put them on his counter nodding that he would do the franking and put them in the post. I had to leave then, so I did not see that done, and I very much doubt they will ever arrive in the UK! Leaving Lebanon, I spotted a post box in near my departure gate at the airport. The only one I had seen in my time there. I made enquiries at the newsstand nearby about stamps pointing at the box and once again a look of incredulity from the cashier. After a lengthy explanation about what a stamp was, he went ‘ahh stamp, NO only outside at Lebanon Post!’

Airside post box in Beirut airport

Delights of Delhi

Thursday 31stJanuary 2019 – Delhi

Way back in the mists of planning this trip, I contacted the Executive Director of I-House Chicago, Denise Jorgens.  She is truly an embodiment of everything my great grandfather would have wanted for someone running one of the Houses.  She immediately embraced my project and when she saw that one of my stops was Delhi, offered for the University of Chicago Centre there to host a tea as my event.

Aditi Mody, who runs the Centre, is an I-House Chicago alumna and so here and her team were equally enthusiastic.  

So, it was that I was warmly welcomed to the U-Chicago Centre.  Being India where attendance is sometimes problematic, even when people have said they would come, Aditi and I were quite prepared for it to be just the two of us having a lovely cup of tea. However, we had the most delightful crowd of alumni and friends of I-Houses join us as well as Bill Mitchel Associate Provost and Exec Director of UC Arts, who was visiting India for the first time. 

I had been particularly excited about meeting two of the I-House NYC alumni, Mr Narendra Jain, who had emailed me that he had met Harry in 1966 when he came to Delhi on his world trip and also Professor P.B. Mangla who had also met Harry when he was at the I-House in the early 1960s. 

Mr. Narendra Jain

Mr Jain, arrived looking about 20 years younger than his 91 years, clutching a plastic folder of carefully preserved papers that he had saved since Harry came 53 years ago! It turned out that Harry’s visit to Delhi was his first ever to India. It was used to inaugurate the Delhi alumni chapter of the I-House and Mr Jain, had the list of names and addresses of the 60 people who became members at that time.  He also had press clippings and the letter outlining Harry’s arrival and the dinner that Harry was to attend to inaugurate the chapter, of which Mr Jain was going to be treasurer.  Finally, he shared a hand written Christmas letter from Harry which had been sent to alumni which he wanted me to keep.  I was quite simply overwhelmed and touched by this wonderful man and the fact that he had so carefully preserved these memories over all these years. 

There used to be a passport to the world of alumni you could visit
Harry’s Christmas letter to Friends around the World in 1977

I have been staying at the YMCA Tourist Hostel which is perhaps not what one would call luxurious, there is a bed and hot water and a simple breakfast.  However, it must have been fate to choose there as it turns out from the letters that Mr Jain shared that that is where Harry’s dinner was held in 1966, with the US ambassador Chester Bowles and his wife attending.  The dinner cost 15 rupees per couple!   (Harry had worked for the YMCA in his early career so that may have had some link too.)

Prof. P.B. Mangla, had come to study at the Library and Information Technology school at Columbia on a scholarship in the early 1960s which set him off on a career that saw him live in 8 countries and travel to over 50. He has long been associated with University of Delhi and held many positions including Dean of the Faculty of Arts.  His time at I-House helped him navigate the cultures of the countries he worked in and visited and as he recounted often found him meeting I-House alumni in far flung locations.  

Vikram Mathur (ISH), Prof. P.B. Mangla (IH NYC)

It was very lovely to have a mix of I-House NYC and Chicago alumni which allowed them to share stories and similarities and differences between the Houses.  We were also joined by Vickram Mathur who lived at ISH London and is now one of their Trustees.  The ISH alumni are very active still in Delhi (and elsewhere), at a recent event they had around 60 attendees.

After I had shared some of mine and Harry’s story, we went around the room so everyone could introduce themselves and share some of their I-House stories.  I always love this bit as with a range of ages and careers it is so fascinating.  Once again the emotional connection to the Houses as a homes away from home, even many years after leaving was washing around us as well as the images and stories from lifelong friendships made over food, whilst dancing, playing ping pong or surviving snow storms in Chicago.  

Lots of candles at this stop, we had Mr Jain and Prof Mangla light them
Arant Nath – Editor of the Caravan giving me his book

I left the U-Chicago event with a huge smile on my face, so glad to have met such wonderful alumni and so touched that Harry meant so much to those who met him.  

My next stop was a Speakers Dinner for the One Globe Forum https://www.oneglobeforum.comwhich was being hosted by Harjiv Singh an NYC alum. He and his German Sakura Sweetheart wife, Julia, met at I-House in the 1980s.  Julia had taken me out to lunch the previous day and had shared their love story, which has partly informed her first novel ‘Leap of Faith’.  Julia was 24 and coming to do her Masters in Urban Planning at Columbia.  Arriving at I-House the first person she met after being greeted by Romeo on reception was Harjiv.   She went up in the elevator to her floor and as the doors open there was Harjiv and his roommate in their room opposite ‘checking out’ everyone arriving on the floor. Despite Julia’s view that she was too young to get into a serious relationship and consider marriage, romance blossomed and they now have 3 children and are happily navingating a wonderfully complex cross cultural life in Delhi.   Because Julia was not always to be found in her room at I-House, it seems that it was used to accommodate a variety of visitors, many of whom I met during the evening, which gave others the opportunity to experience the House even if not official residents!

Harjiv and Julia Singh

I must also mention the lovely dinner that Anil Chauhan and his wife took me for the night I arrived in Delhi.  Anil, also a NYC alum, was off to Bangalore on business so could not attend the other events.  Anil promotes India Biotech and was wonderful at bringing me up to date with India politics and economics.  Anju teaches home economics and so was a brilliant guide to try all the things on the buffet that I would not normally have done.  I went back to my hotel feeling very full. 

Anil and Anju Chauhan

In the press article Mr Jain shared, Harry is quoted as saying “This is is my first visit to India. I have been round the world three times by ship but never touched an Indian Port.  I now regret not having been here before and not being able to stay long enough now.  I’m too old to cover the whole country, but perhaps in a year or two I will make a special trip to India.” Sadly, I don’t think he ever did but he was certainly warmly welcomed on his visit.

Story Snippets…

Chai and Samosas– Shahana Basu – Chicago I-House has culture hours and one of the ones in Ishaan’s time that was most popular was the ones hosted by the Indian residents which featured Chai and Samosas.  She also recalled how when the I-House Chicago was under threat of closure the alumni rallied round and reversed the decision through a concerted campaign of letter writing about the importance of the I-House to the student life at the University. 

International Students’ House Delhi– Tista Bagchi – Tista shared the work of Anjani Kumar Sinha Ph.D (1935-2018) who set up International Students’ House at Delhi University and modelled a lot of activities on the I-House in Chicago where he was a resident in the late 1960s. Mr. Sinha died in 2018 after a career which saw him promote the I-House ideals of tolerance, understanding and international friendship. 

House Hunting – Sonal Shah – When Sonal arrived in NYC to study she was all set to find a flat to live in for her time there. She had looked around and had found a potential flat mate. However she then heard about I-House from friends. Encouraged to apply she was excited when she got a place, but slightly worried that the potential flatmate would be annoyed, however apparently she was very understanding and so Sonal was able to go off and enjoy her time at the House without feeling bad.

A Bengali Welcome – Aditi Mody – When Aditi arrived at I-House Chicago on her first day to her surprise she was welcomed by the then President of the I-House, Professor Ralph Nicholas, in perfect Bengali. Aditi had grown up in the State of West Bengal speaking Bengali so Prof. Nicholas made her feel immediately like I-House would be home for the next few years. Prof. Nicholas area of expertise was in South Asian societies and cultures with an emphasis on Bengal. Aditi did say that her Bengali heritage may have been why she often enjoyed meals with the Professor and his wife during her time at the house, creating warm wonderful memories.

I-House Berkeley

Sunday 6th of January 2019

After a long and delayed flight arriving in a rainy San Francisco, determined to ensure the weather made us feel at home, arriving at I-House Berkeley with the fire roaring and the Christmas tree still up in the great hall, was a welcome sight.

The House is far more beautiful than I had imagined it largely due to all the many details and patterns woven into the structure of the building. From the patterned tiles on the stair risers to the wonderful painted ceiling in the main hall there is plenty to appreciate.

This morning before the event I had the huge privilege of spending some time with Sherry Warrick, who was Executive Director of the House for 28 years from 1961 to 1988. He is now 97 and very frail but both him and his wife Betsey still have lots of I-House stories to tell. Sherry talked of floods streaming through the House, managing the turbulent 60’s, and travel to promote I-House, whilst Betsey fondly recalled trips with students to the IH cabin and hanging out with the swimmers in the pool as well as the Christmas parties that she and Sherry held for I-House staff at their home up above Berkeley. Sadly the torrential rain today prevented us seeing the view. Both Sherry and Betsey had met Harry and Betsey talked about the twinkle in his eye and how charming he was!

The afternoon event at the House was in the Home Room and we had a lovely mix of I-Housers from Berkeley and NYC as well as staff and board members. Joe Lurie the Executive Director who followed Sherry from 1988-2007 joined us with his wife Donna and also the current Executive Director Hans Giesecke. We also had the most wonderful piano playing by Kelvin Sianzwi.

There was a lovely reminder that there is a World Wide group of International Houses when Joe Lurie gave me the T Shirt from the 2006 gathering of the group in Melbourne. A very special gift.

The candle relay also started and I am looking forward to taking the Berkeley candle to Hawaii and the NYC candle is staying here in Berkeley.

Story Snippets…

New York Alumni – remembered that during her time in the NYC House there was a lot of conflict going on between Palestine and Israel and that in the House of an evening there would be very heated discussions involving raised voices and table thumping between residents of those countries. And how in the midst of the fray someone from either group would suddenly look at their watch and say ‘pubs open’! The discussion would end abruptly and they would put an arm around each other and walk off for a drink.

Sherry goes to London – Sherry Warrick was telling me about his travels around the world on Berkeley House business and how one day he arrived in London at International Student House in the middle of the night and the doors were locked. He was exhausted and so he just sat down in the corridor by the door and dozed until he was found by a resident of the House who let him in.

Good home cooking – Joy from the I-House Berkeley team shared how much the Berkeley Executive Chef loves to collaborate with residents on creating really special food events. Recently he took on the challenge of an Albanian night of food and was to be found cooking in tandem by Skype with the mum of one of the residents to learn the recipe.

The doors came down – Even though both men and women lived in Berkeley House from the start, the sexes were housed in separate accommodation areas and there were some single sex areas in the House too. Betsey Warrick related, with a twinkle in her eye, how during the time that Sherry was Executive Director of the House, one night the students removed the doors between the living quarters. They never went back up again. “It was time” she said to me.

Continents dilemma – Susan Klee was the Executive Assistant to Sherry Warrick and told a lovely story about a time when she had to allocate residents to different continents for some event. She did well until she came to the Turkish residents. They were discussing the options with her of being part of Asia or Europe and Susan was getting a bit exasperated about how to decide when she had a thought. ‘Who do you represent in Football (soccer)?” she asked them. “Europe” they replied and so it was decided.

With Hans Giesecke Executive Director of I-House Berkeley

I-House New York

Friday January 4th 2019

My tour got ‘officially’ underway as I met with alumni, staff and residents at International House New York. We met in the Home Room which has portraits of both Harry Edmonds and his first wife Florence Edmonds, my great grandfather and grandmother so they were watching over me as I shared my thoughts with the group.

Outside I-House in Sakura Park

One of the things that I have noticed make I-House gatherings really interesting is not only the mix of nationality, women and men but also ages. So our oldest attendee was 81 and our youngest were teenage children of a Colombian resident. Whilst alumni do have a close affiliation to those who lived at the House with them in their ‘year/s’ they are just as interested in meeting those who were there before or after them.

A subset of those who gathered in front of Harry’s portrait

After my talk, there was a spontaneous request to find out more about who was in the room and what their reflections were on their I-House experience and what people were doing today. That curiosity about others and wanting to reflect and learn also seems a key trait of those who really embrace their time at I-House. One gentleman from Haiti was reflecting on the meaning of ‘home’ and the possibility of being a citizen of the world rather than just one place and certainly most of the shared experiences spanned more than one country or even career.

Harry talked about how it was the output of activities that I-House residents take part in rather than the activities themselves that produced the understanding, tolerance and international friendship, but there is no doubt that the shared experience of ball room dancing, language exchanges, Ice Cream socials or nights in the Pub provide the glue.

Being at the start of my trip, I really had no idea what reaction I would get to my personal pilgrimage. So far it has been warmth, gratitude, appreciation and curiosity, quite overwhelmingly so.

Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Emily Wakeling, me and Julie Pape in the Soros Room

Story snippets… from this event

I can not possibly capture all the stories that have or will be shared with me but at each event I will try and capture some stories that were shared and either amused or resonated with the group.

NYC Blackout from Gary Smoke, alumni – He was returning from a trip out of town by bus and NYC was hit by a blackout. At the time the Port Authority was a pretty grim place and when he arrived there was no way for him to get back to his home in Long Island as the trains were not running. Not fancying sleeping at Port Authority he decided to head to I-House. He described how he arrived, the door was opened, he was given a candle and warmly invited in. I think there was also quite a party atmosphere, which he enjoyed before returning home once the blackout ended.

Envelope Entry from Gary Smoke, alumni – When Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York died in 1979, his funeral was going to be held at the church at Riverside Drive. Gary saw that the funeral was going to be attended by 4 US Presidents and as the church is only a stones throw from the NYC House he wanted to attend. He went to the I-House Director and asked him how he could get in. The Director said that it was, obviously invite only, and showed Gary his invitation. The invitation came in a fancy envelope and Gary was able to persuade the Director to give him the envelope. On the day of the funeral, he walked assertively through the door to the church with the invited dignitaries and waved the envelope confidently at the security guards and was admitted!

A Russian Evening: With the help of Yelena Grinberg, we gathered a good handful of NYC alumni for an evening of Russian food and drink.

Yelena Grinberg, Sherman and Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Anita Haravon, ??, ??, Joyce Fan, me, Chris Swinhoe-Standen
Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Anita Haravon, me, Chris and Sherman Dhindsa Sidhu

Where we ate: Russian Vodka Room 265 W 52nd St, NYC


Mrs Frank L Babbott was invited to join the Board of I-House NYC in 1925 and I have a copy of a letter written by her in 1974 to Howard Cook in the run up to the 75th anniversary celebrations.

She writes of a memory of one board meeting: “We were discussing the acceptance or rejection of an offer of the Gideons to put a bible in every bedroom. My naive reaction was an affirmative rely to their generosity. At that point then the Wise Ones (referring in particular to Mr. Cleveland E. Dodge and Mr. Frederick Osborn who were on the board at that time) countered with the suggestion of having re-printed excerpts from the volumes of great religion as included in Dr. Charles Elliot’s “Five Foot Book Shelf”. Therein lay an opportunity to prove our respect for the beliefs of others. Thereby students from non-Christian countries could feel at home among the selections from their own holy book. Because of no tinge of proselytizing the students might be more inclined to explore religions other than their one, finding likeness as well as differences. This passing recollection emphasises the constant fact that every decision was thoughtfully beamed toward international understanding”

As we move into 2019 how will your decisions over the next year be beamed towards international understanding?

Happy New Year!


This scarf of New York landmarks including the Statue of Liberty belonged to my grandmother, Harry Edmonds’ middle daughter Margaret. Sadly, even though she had grown up at International House and was surrounded by Harry and Florence’s ethos of tolerance, my memories of her are of someone who had very set views on who she would and would not tolerate, to the point of being uncomfortable and embarrassing. Her influence on me, if any, has been that I determined to be curious and interested in people no matter their background, religion or country of origin. I am however curious about what it is that either encourages us to be tolerant or to choose to be fixed in our views. I will never know what the switch was in my grandmother, but I do believe that International House allows for that exploration and hopefully residents are touched with a new level of tolerance as they go out into the world.

Joe Lurie kindly shared his informal history of I-House Berkeley with me again last week and as I was reading it I was struck by the piece about an amazing lady Delilah Beasley who was a black journalist on the Oakland Tribune in the 1930s. There was a great deal of protest at the House being built and the idea of having somewhere where people of all nationalities and races and both men and women living was very controversial. Delilah was never a resident of the House but she turned up when there was a big protest (c800 people) and passionately advocated the need to let the House be built. She also took on the local property developers who were unhappy about the House going up. She was in my view a champion of tolerance.

International Friendship

As Christmas approaches here in the UK, I have been thinking of the International Friendship part of my aim for my trip. Whilst my life has not been quite as international as some of the I-Housers I have already met, I have been very fortunate to have worked and lived in a number of different parts of the world.

My trip is an opportunity to connect with new I-House international friends, but is also allowing me to meet up with old friends too. I love my friends here in the UK, but there is something really special about meeting up with friends in other countries, it nearly always involves new experiences. By reaching out and catching up with friends on my travels I can honestly say I have had some of the most enriching times of my life and I hope have bought something to their lives too.

About three years ago I went on a trip to China with an organisation called Leaders Quest who create amazing leadership quests for NGO and business participants and I met Ashok Rathod, founder of Oscar Foundation in Mumbai India. They work with children from slum communities changing lives through football and education. Three years on this encounter has bought me so many new things and friendships, as I am a trustee of the UK side of the charity. The feet in the picture are kids from our Jharkhand project.

My Christmas request for anyone taking the time to read this is to remember your I-House friends and to reach out and say hello to them and whenever you are travelling and have a spare evening, breakfast or lunch slot, why not spend it with someone you have not seen for a while and ‘pass the light on’.

Wishing you a happy and peaceful Christmas.