I recently flew across the ocean to live in a country I had never lived in before.
At 24, the days of dorm life are long gone, but still I opted to live at the International Student House.
Not because I just wanted to “live with international residents”,
not because of its stunning location, or beautiful architecture … – Okay wait, that was part of it.
But mainly, I chose ISH to find an intellectually stimulating environment. To join a group as diverse as our world, strongly tied together by dedication to public service, by a desire to understand.
Here’s how I discovered just that:
Upon arrival, ISH can feel a bit overwhelming. Everyone is wonderfully kind, but also incredibly busy. With 98 people on different schedules, learning everybody’s name is hard. Many come and go, with some staying for a few weeks, others for two years. Thus, initially, you may find you’re having breakfast with different “strangers” every day.
But that’s just the first few days.
Then, when you embrace the ISH community, it’s beauty unfolds:
Ninety eight strangers we may be at the beginning, but each of us just curious to get to know the other. And ready to give a hand or advice. If you are open to it, you always find a genuinely interested – and interesting (!) person at the dinner table.
My wonderful go-to person for the first few days was Arthur. He had greeted me at the front desk, when I first arrived, and he’s always ready to help.
Settling in at the house, wine, cheese and crackers on the first shared Girls’ night kicked off what is now our “Third Floor Family”:
Sleepily greeting each other in the morning, or rushing to breakfast together, Carlijn, Melissa, Mimount, Lyn, Fátima, Noon, Emily, Meg and I head off to work or study. When I return to bed at night, it’s often with the brightest smile. Because after a long day, these wonderful characters, their humor, and our shared passion for a late-night chat in the hall just make me happy.
My roommate Meg and I keep joking about how we hit the jackpot, getting to live with each other: An Indian girl and a German girl, so different in their background, so close in sharing bewilderment of culture shock (sorry, dear America)! Here we are, so similar in our passion for music, and much more. It’s just a joy to come home to someone who will happily join in an evening song and a good laugh.
These are my friendships at ISH. Professionally, all of us center around public affairs. On any day, you may find a development studies major, a world bank consultant and a lawyer at the same table. And off goes a discussion on current challenges at their fields’ intersection. Or they may discuss last night’s debate at Brookings (just 3 blocks away!).
So are we just policy nerds? Far from it! You can find us partying in a salsa club, joining for a soccer game or having a horror-movie night. (Though there’s often a shared cramming session afterward). So we’re pretty normal people. We even struggle with what all flat-mates struggle with: “Who’s occupying so much fridge space?” How can we manage the “Saturday laundry rush?”, and “Has anyone seen my blow-dryer?”
Eventually, all of this falls into place. At the latest, over our weekly Sunday dinner.
As we leave in the morning, we find a quote on the whiteboard, sharing a kind thought for the day. When we get home, there’s always a friendly housemate at the reception to welcome us.
We enjoy sharing not just our meals, but our lives:
When our Jewish residents celebrate Rosh Hashanah, we share the celebration and learn about it. When Oktoberfest rolls around, there’s our own [German residents] Bier und Brez’n feast.
These little big things make ISH a home.
So this house is what we make of it; and day by day, we make it wonderful:
A caring community. A lively think tank on the world.
Coming up: Be a fly on the wall in the dining hall!