Illinois State University’s International House—I-House for short—turns 45 this year. Known as a place where students of all cultures and nationalities come together to celebrate and support one another, what I-House is not, is a house.
“That’s a common misconception, that there is actually a house,” said Matthew Schwab, who oversees I-House for the Office of International Studies and Programs (OISP). There are physical spaces where international students meet—two floors in Manchester Hall dedicated to I-House students, and the Marilyn M. Boyd International Lounge in the Vrooman Center. Yet I-House is more than a place. “I-House is a community, and our office creates programming to not only develop that sense of community, but also to cultivate a greater cross-cultural understanding throughout campus.”
I-House will hold an open house to celebrate 45 years on Friday, October 23, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The event is part of Homecoming 2015.
The essence of I-House began at Illinois State in 1970, when then-director of International Student Services Robert Murley dedicated what he called “a unique experiment” in education. “International House will be open to American and International students—men and women, graduates, and undergraduates—who possess a sincere commitment to global education and a desire for international understanding,” wrote Murley.
Providing opportunities for students from the U.S. and abroad to interact has always been a focus of I-House, noted Schwab. “It’s one thing for international students to come and just hang out with other international students. That interaction is great, but it leaves out a key element, and that is learning about the culture where you are living.”
Schwab added that the OISP helps to plan activities and excursions to get international students familiar with the area, “but even better than visiting Chicago, is having the chance to spend time with someone from Chicago. Those kinds of conversations do more than give the international students a new perspective; they enrich the lives of the students who live in the states.”
Providing a place where students of all nationalities could interact was the dream of longtime employee Marilyn Boyd, who was in charge of I-House programs from 1982 until her death in 2007. “Marilyn was wonderful and very charismatic,” said Schwab, who worked with Boyd when he was a residential assistant for I-House. “In a way, she was like the grandma to us all. She was incredibly engaging with not only the international community, but with the ISU community.” The I-House lounge was named in her honor in 2009.
Schwab’s vision for I-House is to carry on the connections Boyd established. His goal is to build an alumni network of I-House students, who can offer advice and support. “Alumni can give students a perspective of what life is like in the United States, answer questions and offer support for someone who has been where they are,” said Schwab.
Alumni who do return to campus say even though there was no “house” for I-House, it was always a home. “Living with my International House family was one of the happiest times of my life,” said Deborah Lubbert, a 1983 graduate of Illinois State. “There were people from all over the world, living in one building, right here in little Normal, Illinois. If you were not able to visit another country, that was OK. It was like having these other countries visiting you for a short time, in one place.”
“International students are truly the last ones who are ‘going away’ to college. They leave their family and all they know, and travel to experience something new. That used to be the way it was for all students. For them, it is an adventure, and I want it to be a meaningful one,” said Lubbert.