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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The blue skies and sunshine continued right through my stay as did the welcome and warmth from everyone I met.
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
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!
Harry’s round the world trip in 1966 was inspired by a Thai gentleman – his name was originally Toa Amranand and subsequently changed in 1915 to Luang Nathanbanja as he was honoured for his work by his country. He was a member of the Intercollegiate Cosmopolitan Club from 1921-23 while he was studying Political science and public law at Columbia.
Harry set up the Cosmopolitan club as a result of the success of the original Sunday Suppers. He wanted to be able to support newly arrived international students and also to give them somewhere to socialise, debate and connect with each other. It was seeing the success of the interactions there that led Harry to the idea that he needed a way to have the students live together to really benefit and foster the understanding, tolerance and international friendship that was his vision.
Luang was given the title and name Phya Vidura Dharmabinet by the Crown in 1929 and served his country in a variety of roles including Judge of International Court, Director-General Legal and Vice-President of the National Assembly. Harry must have engaged Phya in the I-House idea as he was a member of the Building Committee for I-House NYC and laid the corner-stone of the House.
Even when he returned to Thailand, his correspondence with Harry must have continued over the years as Harry describes Phya asking in his Christmas Card for him to come and visit Bangkok and Thailand.
Over 40 years after he left New York, Harry was still on Phya’s mind and realising that Harry must now be in his 80s he offered to pay some of Harry’s expenses if he would come and visit him. Never one to turn down a funded trip to meet alumni, Harry of course said yes and as he was going as far as Bangkok he decided to make it a world trip, the one I am re-creating.
So here I am in Bangkok. This is where my timeline and Harry’s start to diverge slightly as Harry spent two weeks staying with Phya and his family. He describes Phya living in a small palace with a lovely atmosphere and how he was a ‘connoisseur and an expert on the raising of orchids’.
Researching anyone with a Thai name has proved challenging, they can be spelt differently in english script and decedents often have very different names. However with persistence I have narrowed it down to a name and a location in the same area as the Bank of Thailand complex off Sam Sen Road and the family surname today.
I have written a letter of gratitude to the decedents of Phya, that he funded Harry’s trip which has then become the inspiration of my trip and led to the already unbelievable experiences of the last 25 days and those still to come.
I wanted to hand deliver the letter to the address that I had, not because I expected the relatives to want to see me but more so I could see where Harry had stayed. So I set off on the river boat from Sathon Pier to Thewes Pier, enjoying the riverside world of temples, shopping malls, tumbledown warehouses and homes large and small as they flashed by.
Leaving the Pier, I walked along the canal down to Sam Sen Road. The canal is lined near the main road with stalls that are like mini garden centres stuffed with beautiful plants and flowers and of course Orchids. I love Orchids anyway but these were so gorgeous, from delicate white with the palest pink edges to huge flashy purple flowers all bobbing in the breeze that was blowing in from the river.
I was drawn into the peace of Wat Noranartsoontarikaram, where a lady sat with her back to me in a loose flowered top cross legged and motionless meditating in front of the raised buddha, with the breeze rippling her hair. She looked totally at peace. I wondered if Harry had been here, I imagine as it was so close to where he was staying that he may well have been.
Going round the corner onto Sam Sen Road with my letter in my hand I was hopeful that I might find the house and either post it in or give it to a smartly uniformed guard (I know the family are still well to do). However Thai addresses are far from simple and even with the help of a lovely young man at the post office and various kind people in the vicinity, it eluded me.
Having planned for this eventuality with my friend at the post office I applied the 5 Baht stamp he had sold me to the letter and decided that I would post it in the post box nearest to where I thought Harry would have been staying.
Having done that, I walked up onto the edge of the bridge that towers over the Bank of Thailand complex and took photos of the renaissance buildings designed by the German Architect, Karl Dohring which were commissioned by King Chulalongkorn for his son Somdet Phrachao Borommawongthoe Chaofa Boriphat Sukumphan Kromphra Nakhon Sawanworaphinit (some name to learn to spell!) in 1932. I believe that the Palace Harry stayed at was in a similar style and was on this compound somewhere.
I am not expecting an answer from Phya’s relatives, but I am truly grateful for his generosity to Harry and his engagement with the I-House idea and how that lasted through his long life.
Random aside…. Bangkok is very very full of tourists possibly because of the Lunar New Year, so I took refuge from the mid-day sun and the tour bus gaggles into a long building at the edge of the park by the palace. It was cool and airy and turned out to contain an exhibition about the Thai Kings. Looking for postcards at the end of my visit I turned over the picture below to find that it was H.M. King Chulalonkorm, the Crown Prince, and his sons at Taplow Court in Maidenhead (where I live), England on 7th August 1897. My great grandmother on my mother’s side had grown up in Taplow in one of the large houses there so my mum and I were imagining her great grandparents being invited to tea to meet the Crown Prince of Siam, who would have seemed very exotic. He certainly had a lot of sons!!