“If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success” J.D. Rockefeller
This time last year, I had left my job and I was finalising plans to set out on my 18 country 25 stop re-creation of my great grandfather, Harry Edmonds’ 1966 world trip. Today 9 months since I finished the trip, on the surface I am back in the routine of commuting into London, doing an interesting new job and it sometimes feels slightly unreal that I did the trip at all.
In my heart though it feels very real. Our choices change our lives and I am fascinated by what happens when we commit to action. Luckily for me the welcome, generosity and international friendship I encountered as a stranger meeting strangers around the world meant I returned from my experience with hope and new insight.
As graduate students around the world choose to go and study they will be changed by what results from that choice. For those who then also choose to live at an I-House, that particular choice, I believe is even more significant. I experienced again and again how the mission Harry dreamt of and convinced Mr J.D. Rockefeller of is lived by those who have lived at an International House. Tolerance, understanding and international friendship were certainly embodied by those I met.
This autumn Paul Volcker who served as Chair of the Board of Trustees for I-House NYC from 1998-2012 along with being Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, died. His service to and belief in the I-House mission is a reminder of how keeping institutions such as an I-House, whether in NYC or Sydney, alive is dependent on a whole team of committed individuals.
I would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard to keep my great grandfather’s dream alive over the last nearly 100 years and leave you as you go into 2020 with this thought from J.D Rockefeller.
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”
Wishing that your 2020 is full of international friendship, new adventure and is healthy and joyful for you and all your families. Keep ‘passing the light on’!
As I have been going back through some of my emails about my trip I have found these lovely snippets which I wanted to share too.
I-House Chicago – Sanjib Basu
“Our correspondence has brought back memories of my life in International House. The Director of the House was Prof. Maynard Krueger, who besides being well-known in his field of labour economics, had been the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party in the 1940 U.S. Presidential election. I remember my first view ever of snowflakes from the spacious lounge and through the tall Gothic-style windows, promptly going outside with an Indian friend, and catching the flakes in our hands. I learnt ‘Pool’ from an American friend at the table in the basement, and ‘Hearts’, a card game, in the lounge. I have long forgotten how to play them though! In a programme arranged by the House, i spent the first Thanksgiving in the home of an elderly American couple in Freeport, a very small town in north-western Illinois, the Hardingers. Just to show how small the world can be, it turned out (a) that my host Mr. Phil Hardinger had been posted in Kolkata as an Air Force pilot during World War Two, and (b) that his daughter, whom i met at the Thanksgiving dinner, had been a room-mate in Texas of the sister of one of my childhood friends from Kolkata. The coincidence seemed quite miraculous.” – Sanjib Basu – Alum Chicago I-House
Orest Koropecky – lived at I-House NYC from 1964-66
These are photos shared with me by Orest. If anyone knows Marilyn Manera in the picture below please do let me know so I can re-connect her with her old friend.
I woke up today to a message from a dear friend from my MBA, who lives in Hong Kong, sending me pictures of myself in a newspaper article in the South China Morning Post Sunday Supplement.
Before I even arrived in Hong Kong on my trip the well connected family friend I was staying with had decided that my quest could be of interest to the press and contacted Fionnuala McHugh a freelance journalist for the SCMP. Fionnuala and I met when I arrived in Hong Kong and as the story unfolded over the next few days and she attended my Hong Kong event it became clear that the ‘lonely Chinese student’ was the hook. Writing the article took Fionnuala to the I-House NYC Shanghai gala and also to meeting my cousin (another of Harry’s great granddaughter’s) Mira Edmonds who is currently living in Shanghai.
The full article is at the link below and covers so many aspects of Harry’s and my story. Enjoy…
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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!
When I was planning my trip, I imagined that I might need a bit of space between my final event and going home to decompress and process what I had done. So I thought ending up in very rural Redding CT, where Harry and Florence had a place and Harry lived on and off in his life would be a good choice.
Having been away from home for pretty much 9 weeks, visited 18 countries, met with over 400 wonderful strangers i.e. alumni, from 7 different I-Houses and connected with even more over the multiple digital channels, taken 26 flights travelling over 34,000 miles, I think this was a good piece of forward planning.
It has not sunk in that I did ‘it’ yet. I met my goal of meeting at least one alumni in each destination and overall surpassed my expectations many times.
So it was that on my birthday, after a short and very lovely coffee with the I-House NYC Development and Alumni team of Julie Pape and Emily Wakeling, that Chris my partner took a happy but tired and somewhat emotional me off to find a hire car and drove me out of town.
Stopping for a very delicious birthday lunch at L’Escale in Greenwich, we then headed north to Redding CT. It is a tiny town close to some very pretty reservoirs which were still largely frozen. We were staying above a Yoga centre in the woods, I am not quite sure how we would have reached it in fresh snow, but as the weather gods have been pretty much with me all the way, we had beautiful ornamental rather than hazardous snow. The only noises as we stood in the woods were the running of a small river, the gentle crackle and drip of melting snow and the slight russell of the tree branches in the breeze. Perfect for a pause.
Sandy Edmonds, Harry ‘s granddaughter, who had joined me in Beirut, grew up in Redding in the house that Florence’s parents bought. Built in 1783 it sits on the green by the First Church of Christ Congregational. With Sandy’s encouragement via WhatsApp from Vermont, we broke all British reserve and knocked on the door. The rather surprised Associate Minister who lives there, Jane Moran, very kindly showed us around. The house has been very lovingly restored keeping the wonderful polished wooden plank floor, hand cut beams, as well as the fireplace which is huge, as it was used for cooking over and still has the original bread oven to the right hand side of it.
Also on Sandy’s suggestion we headed off to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which is near Tarrytown NY, to find Harry and Florence’s graves. As well as being the subject of a Hollywood film about a headless horseman, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is the burial ground for many famous people. I have been told that J.D. Rockefeller paid for Florence to be buried there in 1933. It is close to his country home at Kykuit.
Finding a grave on the site is not an easy thing, but with the help of multiple maps from the office we negotiated the many small roads to the right spot. Harry and two of his wives, Florence and Marie are buried together, however only Harry has a stone, which has “That brotherhood may prevail” inscribed on it.
I had a short ‘chat’ with Harry, thanking him from everyone I have met and all those I have not, who have ever lived at the Houses for putting his idea into action and transforming lives. I looked around at the snowy graves and thought his was certainly a life well lived. He was 96 when he died and his legacy lives on. I wondered if I will do enough that my great grandchildren will come looking for my legacy.
It seemed a good place to end my trip and begin what ever comes next. I am convinced that the International House idea is as relevant now as it ever has been and that the original Houses need to keep flourishing.
The light needs to keep being passed on, so this is not the end but a beginning too. I don’t know exactly what happens next but although I will have to get some gainful employment again, I will be continuing to tell Harry’s story and celebrating the residents who have passed through the Houses.
There is some finishing off of this trip to be done when I get home to England and reflections on travelling the world to share.
I know I will see many of those I have met again and who knows what ripples are yet to happen as a result of our meeting, that is the exciting part.
Semla are a special bun eaten in Sweden and also other Nordic countries (although each is a little different) originally just on Shrove Tuesday before Lent started, but was expanded to every Tuesday during Lent at some point in its history. They have nothing to do with Harry and his trip but as I am here and they are available, in the spirit of international food experiences, obviously I had to try one. It is a cardamon flavoured bun filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream. According to Jussi Karlgren, who I met for breakfast (note the bun was eaten later as it is a bit much even for me at breakfast time!) the really authentic ones have a triangle shaped bun cap dusted with icing sugar perched on top of the mountain of cream. So this is a good one.
As I have pretty much no information about Harry’s time in the Nordic countries I thought I would see if he had had any press coverage as he seemed to in many of my previous stops, so I headed to the National Library of Sweden.
It is a while since I have been to a big library, so once I had navigated the system to leave your belongings in lockers and take your essentials in a plastic bag into the area where the books and media are, I headed down to the Newspaper Archive section. A very charming lady helped me get set up and search the digitised archive of Swedish language newspapers. Sadly the search did not come up with anything from Harry’s 1966 trip but it did come up with lots of other references to International House, Harry and also Rockefeller’s involvement. It looks like they did a good job of PR at the opening of the House in 1924 with quite a bit of coverage and further coverage in the late 20s and 30s.
It looks like Harry probably visited Stockholm whilst he was in Europe around 1935/36 and again in 1953. One thing about Harry was that he never gave up and I think he lived his life in optimism that in every country he would find the people who would facilitate the opening of a new House. In Sweden it looks as though his efforts focused around a club for International Students being run by the business school now the Stockholm School of Economics.
It seems that a lady called Ingeborg Axén was involved in the plan and that money was not the issue but land was. Much of Stockholm was re-built during the 50s and 60s to a master plan and getting access to land to build things that were not on the plan was a challenge. As there are no more references to this potential House that I could find, I can only imagine that it never happened.
There may also have been a plan in 1960 to have an International House funded by the Rotary in Goteborg, there is no reference to Harry being involved so it may have been completely separate, although it is interesting that it was Rotary funding that helped build I-House Sydney.
Looking for articles about Harry’s 1966 tour I also came across articles documenting the visit of the two Swedish Princesses, Desiree and Birgitta, to Chicago in November 1960 which tells of them having lunch at the I-House.
Those of you following my trip will know that Stockholm has been one of my more challenging places to find people to meet, so no big gathering was possible here, but I was able to connect over email with a number of alumni and meet with two of them separately.
Jussi Karlgren had two stints at I-House NYC one when he was a bachelor, 89/90, and a later one, 95/96, when his wife and two very small sons came with him and lived in one of the flats. He is actually 1/2 Finnish and told me how with another Fin they had the Finnish stall at All Nations. They managed to get sponsorship from an importer of cheese, who provided them with a mountain of Finnish cheese (yes apparently it is a thing) and they found some black bread and did a roaring trade in cheese sandwiches.
His other recollection was of parties thrown by a young trustee of I-House at his very cool Central Park West apartment. Every month the trustee would put up a sign up list on the Claremont side notice board and when the numbered slots were full the list came down and those on the list were invited to the party. It was Beer and Pizza and also some additional lady guests from Barnard college! Somehow Jussi managed to get on the list a number of times….
My second rendez vous was with I-House NYC alum Anders Paulsson, who is a wonderful saxophonist and also passionate advocate for the preservation of coral reefs. He has managed to combine coral reef preservation, music and science in projects in Hawaii, Philippines, Stockholm, Costa Rica and Zanzibar and this year he will travel to Liberia to work with musicians there too http://www.coralguardians.org
The strangest thing meet Anders was that we quickly found out that both of us had volunteered in the 1990s for the same UK NGO, Coral Cay Conservation, which had taken us both to dive for extended periods in Belize and also the Philippines off Negros on Danjugan Island. We obviously had not done it at exactly the same time and Anders’ experience has inspired him to found the Coral Guardians project and also to compose related music. My diving was curtailed by the arrival of my children but meeting Anders has reminded me of how important this part of my life once was so one I must revisit.
Anders was a Fulbright Scholar and went to NYC to further his music studies on the soprano saxophone through the study of Jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. Arriving in 1985 at the House, he was presented a booklet on how to be streetwise in New York City, the contents of which were somewhat alarming. So much so it was about a week before Anders ventured out of the House. Being a lover of nature, Anders had a room over looking the park, unlike Jussi, who said that he had one of the cheapest rooms in the House but did have a distant river view courtesy of the guy in the room across from him who never drew the curtains!
One of Anders’ precious memories is of tutoring a young man in English spelling as part of the Harlem Tuition Program and of taking his tutee and mum onto the roof of I-House to show them the view. His other vivid recollection was of being stopped in the hall by a fellow Swede and being told the news that the Prime Minster of Sweden, Olof Palme, had been assassinated whilst walking home from the cinema with his wife. (Feb 28th 1986).
Anders had the privilege of playing for Nelson Mandela and also to compose a CELEBRATION SUITE for South Africa Celebrating 20 years of Democracy. http://anderspaulsson.se/site/tag/south-africa/ He said to me that in South Africa they had taught him that we are all one race – human, just with different ethnic origins, so the concept of racism is therefore absurd. Harry would have liked that thought.
As some of you know I have been trying to send my children postcards from every destination which has almost been harder than finding alumni to meet with! Two Postcard related things from this stop, first once I had finally found a post office which was in itself a challenge, Sweden turns out to be my most expensive postcard sending yet. 21Kr for each stamp which is approximately $2. The young lady at the counter said it is because they upped the stamp cost to handle things up to 50gms?!? It is a very pretty stamp though, in fact I was offered the choice two either the Tulip or the Queen.
The other news is that the handprinted card of an elephant bought in Mumbai and posted in Beirut at AUB (see post about postcards) did actually arrive in the UK! It took 19 days but it got there.
Where we ate – Vete-Katte, a wonderful old pastry and coffee shop, has two distinct halves to it and in fact two counters. The front is shiny and new and the back is quaint and cosy – definitely go to the back http://vetekatten.se/en/
When Harry and Mr. Rockefeller opened the first International House in New York in 1924, they attracted a great deal of attention and Harry talks about them being approached by others wishing to have an International House too. Mr. Rockefeller advised that they should pause for breath and see how the House worked out before building again. But it seems that their passion for the idea and interest from others meant that pause was very short with the Berkeley House being opened in 1930 and Chicago in 1932. These were the original three Rockefeller funded Houses. Then the building of Maison International as part of the Cite Universitaire in Paris.
Since then International Houses have come and gone and some have been closer to the original idea than others. Harry talks in his memoirs of his frustration when those wanting to create a new House did not get the importance of design of the building to create the intermingling of residents and cultural programs.
Madrid – was built in the 1920s and housed 250 residents, it was completely destroyed in the Spanish Civil war
Geneva – 1935 founded by Nellie Tullis and later run by Violette Baulmer
Rome – was much discussed but never realised. The Palazzo Salviatti on the banks of the Tiber just outside the Vatican was identified as the potential building but procrastination meant that the project missed the post war reconstruction project funding.
Japan – Harry was in Japan just before the start of WWII and was along way down the road of finding a site. The war stopped all plans. The Rockefeller Foundation funded International House Japan in the 1950s, which is membership organisation promoting cross cultural activities.
Keil – 1953 with space for 50 residents and 200 to dine
Gottingen – Opened in 1948 as Nansen House with twenty eight German students and eight international students, which increased by 1950 to forty eight students with a 50/50 German / international split. The House was then expanded to 100 residents and was opened to women too.
Today there are 18 institutions in the International Houses Worldwide group, in the UK, Australia, Romania, Canada and the USA. The criteria are simple, that they must offer residential accommodation for a diverse set of international students (usually over 100+ students), have a cultural program for the residents and a dining requirement that encourages eating together a key facilitator of understanding and friendship. The group come together once a year to exchange ideas and discuss ways to keep the I-House idea relevant and ensure it has a wider reach.
Talking to Hans Giesecke the current Executive Director at Berkeley, there is a strong desire from those involved in the current group to continue to expand the group and there already exist institutions with residences that could join. They are looking to Asia, Africa and South America for the next members of the group.
Alumni Associations: The ebb and flow of the world wide alumni community of the Houses is also interesting. Harry and Mr Rockefeller’s ambition was to have a strong alumni community that was applying their learnings from their time in the House to both their personal and professional lives, particularly in the promotion of peace, tolerance and understanding. From 1947 this was particularly strong tens of active ‘Chapters’ across the world, these groups welcomed alumni from all the Houses under the umbrella organisation International House Association. International House Day on November 10th was a particular highlight when there would be gatherings around the world on the same day.
By 1961 there was no longer the funding to keep this central organisation going, so it was down to the enthusiasm of the alumni in different locations to meet up. Today the different Houses work hard to keep alumni connected through events and there are enthusiastic groups as well as individuals looking up fellow alumni when they travel. Meeting and hosting fellow alumni is a great way to keep passing the light on…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Where we ate: Russian Vodka Room 265 W 52nd St, NYC
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 http://www.oscar-foundation.org 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’.
With days rather than weeks before the my 100,000 Grains of Sand world tour starts I have been reflecting on the last 6 months of preparation and what I have taken from the process.
When I started planning in earnest I had no idea what the reaction to my story and plans would be. Happily it became apparent that such is the depth of imprint of time spent living in the House that my reaching out as a complete stranger to members of the community received encouraging responses back. As I started my Facebook page and gradually I moved from 10 connections to 50 then 100, I began to believe that I would find alumni to meet in each country.
As I searched for connections, I was also drawn further into the history around the different Houses and the people who have worked at the Houses over the years. This led me to reflect on how an institution like an I-House continues beyond its creation and is still thriving, in the case of the NYC House, nearly 100 years later. It is down to every resident, every person who has worked there, every donor, every trustee of the Houses that ensures Harry and Mr. Rockefeller’s vision continues. It seems to me that it is always a fine balance between staying relevant to the current age and holding true to the founding principles. The trick I believe is to really identify the essence of what makes I-House life so special and protect that. I hope to learn more about this as I meet people around the globe.
I have also spent time thinking about my motivation behind taking on this project. I know that I saw a window of opportunity that my children leaving home for school and university gave me and was in need of a project to help me transition to this new phase of parenthood. It was also about the sheer curiosity of seeing what is possible if I decided to do something and committed myself to it. More recently I have found that the idea of a personal pilgrimage has come to mind. A pilgrimage with its purpose being as a homage to Harry and Florence, my great-grandparents, and also as a quest to both understand and pass on the light of tolerance, understanding and international friendship.
A few weeks ago I joined the Friends of I-House UK at their I-House London meet up and was lucky enough to meet Ping Shum an alumni of the NYC house who said to me that he thought we could find out more about the Chinese student who Harry met on the steps of Low Memorial Library that frosty September morning in 1909. I was intrigued and was excited when an email came through from Ping that showed that only 47 Chinese students came to the USA in 1909 (pictured here before they left China) via the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship program and of those no more than 10 graduated from Columbia University and in fact there were probably only 4 or 5 that started there in 1909.
With the help of the Columbia Archivist and Ping, we are still on the trail of who the student might have been but we probably will never know exactly unless he told his family of the encounter with Harry, which is unlikely.
It did however bring a whole new perspective to the ‘lonely Chinese student’ story. As whilst there would have been many Chinese people in New York at the time that there were so few Chinese students and made me think, like Harry did, about how we do or don’t welcome others to our country.
As I set off on my trip and for the most part am going to be meeting with strangers, I hold the thought that the strangers I am meeting have all had a common experience at an International House, which has made them more open and curious about others as a fellow human being. I know I will be welcomed.
In 1985 Gerald Ford spoke at I-House and said “Remember your convictions, respect the convictions of others. Have faith in the decency of others. Make the whole planet as full of friendship as this room is tonight.” (p106 Berkeley memoirs). I am looking forward to exploring the planet of friendship….