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Making I-House a home for an international community

image of iHouse students and Matt Schwab

Students from I-House surround Matt Schwab (first row, center).

The Marilyn M. Boyd International House, part of the Office of International Studies and Programs, is a cornerstone of international education programs at Illinois State University. Located in the Vrooman Center, I-House is the hub for social, educational and cultural programs with international and American students working together to promote cross-cultural understanding.

The I-House facility features office space and a comfortable area where students can study, hold meetings and small events, or just socialize. “I-House is an important gathering spot for students and it’s always a busy place,” said Matt Schwab, I-House coordinator. “It’s a place where international and American students become friends and learn from each other.”

As part of the I-House program, American and international students are paired as roommates in a themed living community in Manchester Hall. However, I-House activities go well beyond simple living arrangements and include many students who live both on and off campus. Students plan and participate in a great number of social and cultural activities throughout the year and interact with Bloomington-Normal residents through several community-based organizations.

Since becoming coordinator in January 2012, Schwab has worked to enhance the I-House American studies curriculum that introduces international students to American culture and history. Programs include themed trips to urban and natural areas including: Chicago and St. Louis for arts and history; Springfield for civics and government; Peoria for comparative urban studies; and Starved Rock State Park and Lake Bloomington for ecology and nature. Other organized activities include ice skating, attending Shakespeare Festival productions and Gamma Phi Circus shows, taking part in Homecoming activities, and attending Redbird football and basketball games, and other athletic events.

Through United International and other registered student organizations, international and American students play leading roles in organizing and presenting popular cultural events such as the International Fair and Gala Night.

“I-House provides a number of ways for international students to experience American culture and really get involved with life at Illinois State, whether they’re here for a one-semester exchange program, or here as full-time undergraduate or graduate students,” said Schwab. “As international students have more direct experiences with American culture and institutions, they gain a greater sense of independence and are more comfortable traveling and interacting in the community.”

Giving international students a greater voice on campus is also part of the I-House mission. “One of our goals is to see United International and other registered student organizations become vehicles for getting international students more involved with student governance on campus,” said Schwab. “Though small in proportion to the overall student body, the international student population is a vibrant part of the campus community and we want them to be fully engaged members of that community.”

I-House was established in 1970 and has been located in various residence halls on campus, including Fell Hall, Walker, Dunn-Barton and Atkin-Colby. In 2009, it was officially renamed the Marilyn M. Boyd International House, to honor the woman who served as I-House coordinator from 1982 until her death in 2007. Through more than 40 years of change and growth, the program has developed a strong and loyal following of current students and alumni, some of whom met their spouses through life in I-House.

No stranger to the campus or international education, Schwab, an Illinois State alumnus, holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish and a master’s degree in college student personnel administration with specializations in student conduct, international student programming and residence life. His professional experience includes work for the Department of State’s Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI) program at Benedictine University and eight years with Illinois State’s University Housing Services.

“The thing I enjoy the most about my work in I-House is the level of interaction I have with the students as they shape their educational experiences here at Illinois State,” said Schwab, who was recently recognized as Registered Student Organization Advisor of the Year at the Student Involvement Recognition Ceremony. “I-House provides a unique opportunity for international students in that it allows them to learn and grow alongside their American and fellow international peers, rather than separately or with a host family. It’s exciting as an educator to be a part of that process.”

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