Keep striking out on new paths…

“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.

When Mr Volcker retired as Chairman he was honoured in this short film. https://www.facebook.com/ihousenyc/videos/10152034253780640/ He continued to be a key figure in the House for the rest of his life.

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’!

Other snippets

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.

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I-House alumna Marilyn Manera on the steps of this ‘International House’ in Providence Rhode Island in 1965
Out of the window

Making the Sunday Papers

Sunday 5th May 2019

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…

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/3008511/international-house-how-anonymous-chinese?fbclid=IwAR1XH1PbQICfw4NaSAgFUg11UL6S9NwTIlxG3c3f_8I7DUgImDiOvlM2tV0

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

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

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

Berlin Freunde

Saturday 23rd February 2019 – Berlin

Blue skies and sunshine blessed my Berlin stop along with wonderful hospitality from the whole Schomaker family but especially Katrin. She had been the mastermind behind our afternoon and evening gathering of the Freunde des International House and in keeping with the sociability of the German alumni had organised a great turnout.

Katrin Schomaker showing me the Brandenburg Gate

The first part of the day was a visit to Schloss Cecilienhof, Potsdam where the Potsdamer Konferenz was held between Stalin, Churchill and Truman in 1945 at the end of the war. We toured the restored rooms where the three leaders and their entourage negotiated and debated what the next steps were for Germany following the war. It is a building with amazing history and with lovely gardens and near by lake was a great choice especially as we ponder the future of Europe with Brexit looming.

The Potsdam visitors, (left to right) Klaus Mossele, Paul Gouras, Chan Gouras, Irina Mossele, Katrin Schomaker, Eckhardt Gouras, Charlotta Shomaker, Katrin Stenner, Gilbert Schomaker, Alice Lewthwaite & Morgan Randell (Julia Rehmet also joined us later)
Hans Husmann and Morgan Randell keeping sporting their I-House Berkeley T Shirts

Our reflections on the politics and history of the palace took place over lunch at the old dairy on the estate which is now a rather wonderful micro brewery. Obviously some of the party had to see whether the beer was any good! https://www.meierei-potsdam.de

After a short pause it was time to head out to dinner. The Freunde des International House are one of the most active I-House NYC chapters in the world and last autumn they managed three gatherings in different German cities to celebrate I-House Day.  

From the start of the I-Houses the alumni were encouraged by Harry and subsequent Directors to come together to celebrate the opening of I-House NYC in November 1924.  I am not as familiar with what happens at today at Berkeley and Chicago I-Houses but last autumn the alumni team at NYC I-House worked with alumni around the world to hold I-House Day meet ups in a long list of locations including Shanghai, New York, LA, London, Frankfurt, Berlin, Honolulu, Manila and several others. 

The Freunde group also work with the Friends of I-House UK chapter to mastermind a gathering of alumni weekend somewhere in Europe each year.  Last year it was Edinburgh with over 60 people attending and this year it will be in Essen the 3rdweekend of September, alumni from around the world welcome.  

The Freunde dinner group photo

Over the most enormous but delicious schnitzel I have ever eaten, I got to hear stories of time at the NYC and Berkeley Houses from the 20 attendees.  We also welcomed Pooja Merchant who is the current Chair of the Freunde group and her new husband who both came along despite being about to move to the US from Berlin. Some of the group had also travelled great distances to join us from Frankfurt & Munich which was very touching. 

Michael Haring & Thomas Schönenberg

For many of the German alumni who come together their time at I-House was relatively short as they were interns either for major banks or corporations.  It is always striking to me that after only 3 or 4 months living at I-House their experience was so compelling and the friends they made so significant that many years later they are still meeting with the group.  Harry would have been so pleased.  

Pooja Merchant, me and Katrin Schomaker
Klaus Mössle one of the founders of Freunde des International House saying a few words
Passing on the gold Paris candle to Katrin Schomaker who gave a beeswax candle for me to take to Stockholm

The blue skies and sunshine continued right through my stay as did the welcome and warmth from everyone I met.  

Story Snippets…

Portrait Project– Morgan Randall – Morgan came from Texas to live at I-House Berkeley and immediately was struck by the possibilities of a more international angle to his career and life.  Talking to him it is obvious that he really embraced every aspect and opportunity offered by time at the House in a purposeful way.  This included finding a novel way to get to meet all of the residents in each of his two years at the House.  He drew their portraits.  Outside each room at the House there is a small whiteboard on which the name of the resident is written.  Morgan started to draw a portrait of each person or people living in the room on the whiteboards.  During the few minutes he was doing this he would strike up conversations that often lasted longer than the time it took to do the drawing and in some cases led to friendships he still has.  He has continued his project ever since drawing people when he meets them using both hands at the same time.  Here is mine, number 8371.  To find out more about Morgan’s projects visit his website http://escher2hands.com Having enjoyed meeting Germans at the House Morgan decide to apply for a Data Scientist role in Munich which he got and has been living in Germany for the past two years.  He has visited over 18 countries while he has been there and arrived on the overnight train from Munich to Berlin to join us for the event.  Morgan later made this video as part of the I-House Berkeley Big Give in March 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51nJGhurr_A

My two handed pen portrait by Morgan Randall

Where we ate – Schnitzelei Mitte – https://schnitzelei.de/mitte/

Postscript to Bangkok

Monday 28thJanuary 2019 – Bangkok

After a day further exploring Bangkok, I went out to a very local Thai restaurant in Sathorn for a delicious dinner and returned to my hotel to pack as I had an early flight to Delhi the next morning.  Packing and re-packing is not my favourite occupation, but a frequent one on a trip like this, so I was procrastinating by doing trip admin.  At 8.45pm an email appeared in my in-box which put a huge smile on my face. 

The letter I had posted on Saturday to the relatives of Harry’s generous host Phya Vidura Dharmabinet in Thailand in 1966, had been received and they had made contact.  I was amazed, firstly that the address that one of my kind Thai IH alumni had found me was correct enough to reach them, secondly that the letter which was posted about 11am on Saturday had reached them on Monday (in the UK this would probably not have been the case). 

It turns out I was so close to the right place when I went on my adventures to try and hand deliver the letter on Saturday (see Thai Trip Inspiration blog post). 

That aside, I was so delighted as I could pass on my gratitude to them for their grandfather’s hospitality and in return they very kindly shared these photos of the house where Harry would have stayed for his two weeks in Bangkok.  

Even more wonderful is the fact that there are both New York and Berkeley I-House alumni amongst Phya’s children and wider family, so they are still involved in the story and ‘passing the light on’ of the International House idea.  I am sure Harry would have been delighted. 

I am sad my time in Bangkok was not long enough for us to actually meet but I hope we will one day.  In the mean time I am still smiling and grateful to Phya for inspiring Harry’s trip and mine. 


Postscript to postscript – I received this photo of Harry and Phya Vidura Dharmabinet which must have been from the 1966 trip, from Phya’s relatives… wonderful!