Taipei gathering

16thJanuary 2019 – Taipei 

A combined set of I-House NYC and Berkeley alumni arrived around a huge round table in a private room in the Shin Yeh restaurant in Taipei.  The photo of Harry and Florence was placed in the middle of the rotating wheel on the table and so they watched over us and travelled around and around as we chose from the delicious dishes.  

Only touching briefly on the Brexit fiasco in the UK and the US government shut down, we moved onto more enlightening discussion about time spent at I-Houses.  Music, dance, love and food themes wove through the conversations about both Houses.  

We also pondered the challenge of the Houses keeping that magical diversity through careful admissions policy which as countries fortunes ebb and flow avoids one nation dominating the resident population and how vital dining discussion  were to building international friendships and understanding. 

Grace Hong provided a very appropriate relay candle in a Taiwan Beer glass, which is suitably small as Kampai toasts require beer to be downed in one so the size avoids both getting drunk and over full. We lit the candles to pass the light on and said ‘Harry Edmonds’ whilst our group photo was clicked, and there was a sense that a combined Alumni Taiwan group had been formed that together would collect more friends for the next gathering.  We stood up to leave but conversation struck up again around the room in small groups, so it was sometime before we finally said goodbye….

Story snippets…

Pub Disco Romance – Tudor Pasco – Tudor had enjoyed DJ-ing whilst doing his undergrad degree in France and so soon became a regular DJ feature in the Pub in I-House NYC.  He loved the breadth of music that was both appreciated and that he was introduced to.  From South American salsa, to Indian Bangra, to cheezy pop all could get the crowd on their feet.  It was over the DJ turntables that Tudor met his Taiwanese wife and became Sakura Sweethearts.  They now live in Taiwan with their 5 year-old twins.

Entrepreneurial Dreams – Jowy Tani – Jowy is a Consultant Neurologist.  Every year the Taiwanese government gives scholarships to 5 doctors to go to the US to study entrepreneurship for a year, in the hopes of making them more creative.  Gaining one of these scholarships at Berkeley, Jowy was faced with the decision of where to live.  He was thinking of renting an apartment, when he read something by Mark Zuckerberg which said that Facebook was started in a Dorm so he decided that he should go for the more creative and connected life of a Dorm and chose I-House for his year. As well as practicing in Taipei hospitals he is working on a variety of projects that will improve the lives of dementure  patients. 

Food from home– Courtney Gates – Courtney’s memory of her first day at I-House is meeting the only Taiwanese resident in the House at that time.  Having recently returned from teaching English in a small town in Taiwan, Courtney was keen to strike up conversation with him.  Her new friend was also able to provide taste reminders of her time in Taiwan as, in his tiny I-House room, he was creating soya based drinks of his homeland.  A skill he passed onto Courtney.  

Where we ate: Shin Yeh Main Restaurant

Aloha Hawaii

10thof January 2019 – Honolulu Hawaii 

For our short time on the islands we were blessed with beautiful blue skies, a gentle breeze and temperatures that defrosted our European winter stiffened joints.  I can certainly see why retirement to the islands tempts so many.  

Having taken advice on appropriate attire for a Hawaiian party, Chris and I walked the short distance to the beautiful home of the Whitcomb’s.  Their house is set underneath Diamond Head, which is the ridge of the crater of an extinct volcano that soars above the houses at its base, but is also is sufficiently up a hill to offer views down to Wakiki and the ocean.  

I was honoured to receive two floral Lei’s from the hosts and Pat Lee.  They smelt wonderful and one was woven together so beautifully it seemed a shame that it would fade as flowers do.  

Anu Hittle had arranged for her friends’ band to come and serenade us, which added to the atmosphere as both old and new alumni and I-House friends arrived.  As before the event was multi-generational with our oldest guest, Ann being 91 and our youngest Anu’s daughter.  Many of those attending had been in the New York House in the late 1960s and early 1970s and at least two had met Harry Edmonds, which made me very jealous.  This was the first alumni gathering in many years and so it had taken many phone calls by Francis Wong and his band of helpers to track everyone down.  

Our hosts Henrietta and David, met at I-House and so are part of the elite club known as Sakura Sweethearts (named after the Sakura park in front of the House where romance often blossomed).  There were other Sakura sweethearts with us too, some sadly whose husband or wife had now died, but whose lives had been richer for their cross-cultural marriage.  Infact David was very adamant that mixed race or religion marriages have a key part to play in supporting tolerance and understanding between cultures.  

We lit the candles for my candle relay and had the full Candle Ceremony pledge.  The backdrop to the candles was the yearbook from NYC I-House of 1965-66 and we had it open at the page where Harry Edmonds was standing lighting his from the big candle as part of that years’ Candle Ceremony. 

It was an evening full of stories and reconnection and warmth. Thank you to all those who made it possible. 

Story Snippets….

Indian Cross Dressing –  Ann Inaba – aged 91 a NYC alumni from the 60s – Ann came from a very small town in the USA to study at the Teachers College at Colombia. She loved her time at the House and particularly remembered one of the cultural evenings. She was accompanied by another caucasian man and the two of them decided to go in Indian traditional costume, however as she remembers fondly he dressed as the woman and she as the man.

Ping Pong Romance – Asking Sakura Sweethearts Armando and Jo-Anne how they met at the NYC House, I was told it happened over Ping Pong. However their memory of the story was slightly different for each of them. Armando said that he was playing Ping Pong when 3 beautiful Hawaiian girls came in and he started to chat one of them up but she was not interested so he switched his attentions to Jo-Anne and the rest is history. Jo-Anne said that she was playing Ping Pong and Armando came to play and then the rest was history. Whichever way they are still together some 50 years later.

Lucky Chance Admission – Nikki Ty-Tompkins was a young musician and she got the chance to audition for the Juilliard School of Music in NYC. At that time I-House allowed folks coming for interviews to stay for 3 days so she came and stayed at the House. During her 3 days she met a Mrs Feinstein who worked at the House and who was very kind to Nikki over the short visit. When she got her place to study the Piano there she decided to apply for I-House as her residence. Her application was turned down as she was not a graduate student and she was too young. Again though the House offered her 3 days of accommodation whilst she found herself a home in NYC. She arrived at the House and who should she bump into but Mrs Feinstein. Mrs Feinstein told Nikki that it was lucky she had caught her as it was her last day working at the House. Nikki explained that she had not been accepted to live at the House at which point Mrs Feinstein told her to stay right where she was and not to say a word and went off. A few moments Mrs Feinstein returned and gave Nikki the news that she was now a resident of I-House. This miracle by the wonderful member of staff opened so many doors for Nikki including meeting her Indian husband at the House with whom she lived in India for many years.

Blackout– Pat Lee recalled the major blackout that happened in NYC whilst she was at the House. She described how it was turned from an inconvenience to a major party and how the Juilliard School students had put on impromptu candlelit shows to keep everyone entertained.  The only down side was having to walk up to her room which I believe she said was on the 10thfloor.  

Keeping safe– The area around I-House NYC has not always been as gentrified as it is today and particularly in the 60s and early 70s it could be pretty rough as alumni reminded me. Girls studying at Colombia were offered escorts back from their classes after dark.  A violent mugging with a knife at a bus stop did not seem to have put off another of our guests and others recalled how local shops such as the meat shop had entrances with double sets of doors where the street doors would be closed before you were let in the doors to the store. 

Coming to I-House– Asking people how they ended up living at I-House often elicits interesting responses from “I was a Fullbright Scholar, so I was told to live there” to “My Aunt went to Colombia and went to I-House so I was always told you should go to Colombia and live at I-House so I did go to Colombia and live at I-House!”  to “My Mum lived at I-House in the 1930s so she suggested I should live there when I went to study in NYC”.   

A Worldwide movement

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.

To find out more visit

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…

New York I-House alumni

Berkeley I-House alumni

Chicago I-House alumni

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