Come From Away

I recently joined around 70 I-House NYC alumni and friends in Essen for the annual european alumni reunion. Like most attending I would not normally go to Essen but we came with open minds of true I-Housers and were not disappointed. The beautiful autumn weather helped as we had blue skies for the whole weekend.

Baldeneysee Lake near Essen

Some who joined us had grown up locally and remembered how, as children, a fine black dust covered most things and the air was polluted. Today the area is one of the greenest in Germany and has a great infrastructure of cycle paths and parks. The change in the environment has mirrored huge social change as traditional industries have closed and new employment has had to be created.

Villa Hugel

It is this transition that followed us through our weekend as we visited Villa Hugel home to the Krupp steel family, the Zollverein coal mine (a UNESCO Heritage site) and Museum Folkwang. Albert Krupp was only 14 when he inherited the family steel business with a handful of employees and massive debts. Undeterred he transformed the business to the point where just 10 years laters they had many 1000s of employees across the area. He sounded like a challenging man to live with but he was someone who valued his employees and wanted to ensure they had access to medical facilities and be able to enjoy time outdoors with their families.

It was interesting to learn that we were not unusual in ‘coming from away’ to the area. Now home to over 150 different nationalities, the Rhur area, is one of the most diverse and integrated regions in Germany.

I love a factory so I found Zollverein fascinating, the scale is overwhelming and as we walked through the now silent coking plant and our guide described the process, it was hard to imagine just how awful the working conditions would have been. As 5m square slabs of burning coke tipped into railway cars, breaking up into millions of pieces as they did so before going to be cooled by vast volumes of water. Steam, smoke, dust, intense heat, noise… I doubt my children would survive even a single shift in that environment.

Puja Merchant speaking at the Freunde Des International House meeting

At dinner sat next to a Dutch, American man who I nearly met in Oslo on my trip earlier in the year, but now lives in Austria with his Thai, Austrian girlfriend, I listened to a trio of alumni musicians played Mozart to us and looked around the room. I imagined how proud Harry would be of everything that the weekend had been curiosity, connection, care, joy, continuity and conversation. The light was certainly passing on….

A few weeks later, I joined a Friends of I-House UK trip to see Come From Away. A musical written by I-House alumni writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein about the landing of 38 flights with 7000 passengers from all over the world in Gander Newfoundland on 9/11.

We never know on any one day what might happen and as in the play it is all down to what we do next when something out of the ordinary does happen. It is a play about the generosity and diversity of humanity as well as the darker side of fear of the other and how experiences good and bad shape us. The choices we make in the moment to reach out and find out more or move away or on.

On my way home from the play there was a young girl not much older than my daughter sitting on the bench on the tube stop throwing up. I stopped and asked her if she was ok, she was very drunk but knew where she was headed, what train she needed so I kept an eye on her until I boarded my train home.

Celebrating I-House Birthdays

International House NYC was founded in the autumn of 1924 and ever since every autumn, alumni around the world hold I-House Days to get together and celebrate its founding. Last year there were 21 events in 13 countries and the NYC alumni team are busy connecting with alumni to schedule this year’s events.

The NYC I-House alumni association was started by Harry Edmond’s secretary in 1925 and as Berkeley and Chicago opened it also covered those Houses too. Back in those days they published a little booklet with alumni information in, which was effectively your passport to friendly alumni around the globe. Eventually as the years ticked by and the number of alumni grew, each House started to look after its own alumni. The NYC alumni association grew to a point when in its hey day there were 100 active chapters around the world. To find out what is planned for 2019 visit https://www.ihouse-nyc.org/news_events/ihouseday/ I hope that we can expand the number of events from last year and get even more alumni involved as we get another year closer to the 100th anniversary in 2024.

Berkeley I-House Steps 1931

Meanwhile Berkeley I-House is celebrated its 89th birthday on August 18th and is adding alumni stories to its history pages. http://ihouse.berkeley.edu/stories/

I-House University Alberta founded 4th September 2004

Newer to the International Houses World Wide family is I-House Alberta, which is celebrating its 15th Birthday with an event on the 8th of September. Sadly I cannot attend in person but I am very honoured to have been asked by Leslie Weigl, their current Director, to speak by video link to the students. We are keeping fingers crossed that the technology will work. Alberta welcomes about 150 students a year, from over 40 countries and whilst it is smaller than many other I-Houses has a very active programme and works hard to make it a home away for home for its residents. https://www.ualberta.ca/global-education/international-house

Also celebrating this year is the International House in Romania, Westgate Studios. It is celebrating 10 years since it was inaugurated. It is the largest House in the International Houses World Wide family, being home to around 800 residents. I am very much hoping to visit it soon https://www.westgatestudios.ro/despre-noi

As I have reflected before keeping an International House running effectively takes a brilliant team who attract a diverse set of residents from as many corners of the world as possible and enable them to create international friendships whilst sharing their cultures. I am grateful to every one of those team members for all their work and passion to carry on what Harry and Florence started.

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

Full Circle – back in NYC

Sunday 10th & Monday 11th March 2019 – NYC

After Harry stopped being the Director at NYC I-House in 1935 he no longer lived on Manhattan. He spent time living in Paris, touring the world, living in Redding CT and also Lyons in upstate New York.

St Patrick’s Cathedral NYC

When he returned to NYC either to visit I-House for an event or on other business, he writes in his memoirs about how he would also head downtown and visit two spots. The first was St Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue and the other was J.D. Rockefeller Creed in the Rockefeller Centre complex courtyard. So when I returned to NYC, I too headed off on Harry’s itinerary. A service at St Patrick’s prevented me from accessing the ‘Our Lady of New York’ chapel that Harry describes. He loved the statue of Mary, the tapestry screen, candles and flowers. Luckily it will still be there next time I come.

In the Rockefeller complex Harry would look at the statue of Prometheus and the towering building above it and think to himself ‘I know the man who created all this, know him intimately.” And then he would never leave without looking at the great block of granite on which is carved the Creed of John D. Rockefeller. You won’t be able to read it off this picture so I have typed it at the bottom of this post. I too find it very inspiring and can see how it shaped what Rockefeller did as well as influenced Harry too.

Rockefeller’s Creed at Rockefeller Centre

Standing at that spot, nearly at the conclusion of my 9 week trip, I felt really very emotional. The partnership between Harry and Rockefeller was key to the whole story and whilst Rockefeller funded many many buildings and institutions, I like to think that the I-Houses would have been ones he was particularly proud of.

I was able to carry on these reflections as I reached I-House entering by that familiar entrance to so many on Claremont Avenue. I was to spend my first night in the House in one of the very comfortable guest suites.

Anita Haravon calling everyone to attention

My final event was to be at the apartment of the very wonderful I-House NYC alumna, Anita Haravon. Unbeknown to me she had been plotting with my partner Chris and others as the event was also on the eve of my 50th Birthday on the 11th of March. Co-incidentally Harry and I share a birthday, he would have been 136!

Group picture number 1 (as people kept coming we had to have several through the evening)

Anita’s wonderful planning paid off and we had a cross section of NYC I-House alumni from current residents to those who had lived at the House in the 1960s. It was a Pot Luck dinner, which included Ghanaian food, Thai food, Chinese Fortune Cookies (mine said Travel was on the horizon!!) and baked goods from Maine. The piece de resistance was the cake that Anita had arranged which was travel and I-House themed. For those who need to know it was chocolate inside with bergamot filling and it did not last long.

My 50th Birthday Cake

It was a brilliant evening celebrating all that is I-House. I was sung Happy Birthday in multiple languages including Chinese and Parsi. I also received I-House related presents of a sweatshirt and umbrella.

Ladies of I-House Tees

At this last event I was enveloped in warmth and gratitude for the time spent living at the House and to Harry for having the idea and realising it. It was also tinged with some sadness that it marked the last event in my trip and emotion as I reflected on my journey.

We lit the round the world candle for one last time along with the four coloured candles from I-House Chicago. Anita had also bought me a final candle for me to take home to the UK, it is beautifully scented.

Looking out of the I-House NYC Main Lounge windows over Sakura Park to Riverside Church

Thanks to an early flight from Chicago being combined with losing an hour in daylight saving changes, it had been a very long day, so I was quickly asleep in my I-House guest bed. I was awake early though on my birthday morning and so set out to wander the House before the residents got up to start their week. It was a perfect blue sky morning dawning as I looked out of the windows of the Main Lounge over Sakura Park to Riverside Church. When Harry and Florence stood at the same window in 1924 after the House was built, their view would have been different as the Church was yet to be built and the park was not as it is today, however Harry would have seen the view with both as they are today many times.

Harry and Florence Edmonds looking out of the ground floor windows of I-House NYC just after it opened in 1924

The house is so full of history and as I wandered through the rooms and looked at the Chairman’s corner pictures. I was reminded of what my great grandmother Florence had inscribed in the elevators when the House opened. “This is a House of echoes, whatever of love, friendship and goodwill you sing into it, will come back to you.”

Story Snippets…

Ice Cream Romance – Helena Dona – When Helena Dona arrived from her home in South America at I-House she was feeling somewhat overwhelmed and emotional at coming to live in NYC and leaving her family. In the elevator she noticed a sign for an Ice Cream social that evening and so decided that she should make the effort and go. She got her ice-cream and decided to sit apart from everyone else in a corner of the patio as she did not actually feel like socialising. However one man, Mitchell Hayes, an Australian resident, had other ideas. Mitchell, went over and started to talk to Helena and somehow the conversation went on all evening. Some 5 years later Mitchell called Don Cuneo (the Director at the time) and asked permission to have his own Ice-Cream social on the patio of the House so that he could propose to Helena, of course Don said yes. Arriving at the House, Helena was puzzled when Mitchell led her over to the usually alarmed doors onto the patio. However the doors opened and no alarm sounded. Out on the patio at the same table where they had met on her first day at the House, was ice cream and roses. Mitchell proposed with an audience of curious residents looking out of their windows at the scene below. Helena said yes and they have now been married for 5 years. For those that have to know the Ice-Cream flavour they met over and got engaged over was Chocolate.

Deja Vu – Sanya Lilly – Sanya lived at I-House NYC and when her father came to visit her and looked out of her window, that overlooked Sakura Park, he kept saying that it looked familiar. It was not until Sanya started to research her family history and looked into her Yugoslavian Uncle Milan Popovic that she discovered that he had been one of the first batch of residents at the House in 1925. She got his Ellis Island arrival record and it said that he was to live at 500 Riverside Drive, and written above it by hand was ‘International House’. Sanya’s father was much younger than his brother and so did not visit him at the House but must have seen pictures taken from his brother’s room which is why he had the sense of deja vu. Milan met his wife a Canadian, Fairlie Honeyman whilst at the House.

John D. Rockefeller Creed – I Believe.

I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession a duty.

I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.

I believe in the dignity of labour, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.

I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character – not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth.

I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.

I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.

I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Candles in Chicago

Saturday 10th March 2019 – Chicago

My first ever trip to Chicago was going to be a brief one. Chicago was not on Harry’s original itinerary, however from the moment I connected with Denise Jorgens, the current I-House Chicago Executive Director, she convinced me that I could not do this trip without visiting all 3 original Rockefeller Houses. As I had already booked the majority of my flights and my timeline was pretty set, it meant that this would be a flying visit.

Denise’s husband Anil Trivedi, is an I-House NYC alum, so to me they are the ultimate I-House couple and are able to carry forward the I-House spirit respecting the history and evolving to keep up with changes in the wider world of student life.

Denise and Anil had first met with Chris and I in Tokyo when they happened to be there at the same time and seeing my candle relay in action inspired Denise to say that we could have a candlelight ceremony when I visited which was so exciting.

Denise Jorgens, Mami Urano and Anil Trivedi on the Roof of I-House Japan

The Chicago House was the 3rd of the original Rockefeller Houses and was opened in 1932. They always wanted a House on each coast and one in the middle. Chicago seemed the obvious choice and it also had quite a significant international student population (c1000) in the late 1920s. Once Harry had helped agree the site, the building seems to have gone quite smoothly. Keeping continuity of Directors seemed to be more of the issue.

The House’s life has not been without ups and downs, including in its more recent history nearly being pulled down, but a concerted campaign by alumni saw it given a reprieve. It has also been extensively and carefully restored as well as continuing to modernise including making it wheelchair accessible. All around the House there are reminders of the history.

The ‘Kissing bench’ which was placed by the door to the ‘women’ side of the House and many a couple spent a few moments saying farewell to each other on it

A couple of things really stand out about Chicago, one is that unlike all the other Houses I have visited they rarely rent their facilities to generate income, but keep them for internal and resident programs. The second thing is the very extensive program of events that are open to the wider Chicago community. Covering music, politics, dance, international affairs, film, literature, their program really does have something for everyone. https://ihouse.uchicago.edu/events/

Mr and Mrs Coulter who met at I-House and who have given their name to couple since who meet at the House – who are known as Coulter Couples

Due to a lack of undergraduate accommodation on campus at the moment, the House is home to a fully undergraduate set of residents, but Denise continues to campaign for the House to be reverted to be a home for graduates as it was originally intended. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this will happen in stages over the next few years as other accommodation on the campus comes on line.

The Main Hall before the guests arrived

I have never attended a candlelight ceremony so I was so touched when Denise said that we could have one at Chicago. Her team went to so much trouble to make the evening perfect. Denise talked about the International Houses World Wide group and then I shared my reflections on my trip, this being the penultimate stop.

Harry ‘borrowed’ the Candlelight Ceremony from the YWCA. Just after I-House NYC was set up, his wife Florence, returned from a YWCA meeting and described this ceremony they had done with candles, pledging to pass the light on. Harry immediately saw that this would be a great tradition at the House and started it, obviously tweaking it so that representatives from each Nation came up to light their candle and then having everyone light their candle before the reading of the pledge. Today I-House NYC, Berkeley and Chicago all do the Ceremony as I believe do the Houses in Australia.

The Fellows and those who read the pledge in other languages on stage
Candles lit

Three of the current Fellows led the ceremony and the pledge was read in 7 languages – English, Persian, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian. It was very moving. We then went on to have a delicious dinner of foods from around the world.

Denise Jargons and Deb Jasinski

All in all despite the pouring rain my day at Chicago I-House was so full of warmth and welcome it was truly memorable and huge thanks go to Denise and her team.

Prof. Ralph Nicholas who was Executive Director of the Chicago I-House from 1993-2000

Story Snippets

Room with a View – Christina Whack – Christina joined us for the Candlelight Ceremony, she is an I-House alumna, who was studying Opera singing whilst at the House. She now performs in other genres https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncGv4rXwaTo and has all been working with her mother Rita Coburn Whack on the acclaimed documentary about Maya Angelou ‘And Still I Rise” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihsqa4mVjEw Whilst at the House Christina took a number of jobs including being the Production Assistant / Technician for events. This had some advantages including being offered a room on the 11th floor in one of the towers of the House which had windows on two sides and afforded a beautiful view down the Hudson for Christina to wake up to every day.