Laughter and animated chatter fill the air in the International House on a Monday evening. It’s the International Coffee Hour, although the gathering is still going strong more than 60 minutes after its 6 p.m. start time.
While this weekly event is open to the entire campus, it is just one of the many activities that the I-House residents enjoy.
Residents are required to participate in at least eight activities per semester, from a selection of seven different categories. Their options include I-Film, I-Angle lecture series, I-Culture night, I-Service, and the very popular I-Cuisine.
“They had an Iron Chef competition between Turkey and India earlier this year, and they make food for each other all the time,” said Katie Pratt, a first year graduate student and the TA for the I-House.
“There’s also an optional one credit hour globalization class offered in which the students talk about international issues and can really get to know the professor, Dr. Kirk Bowman [associate professor of International Affairs].”
Students who wish to live in the I-House and take advantage of all of the many opportunities that it provides are required to submit a separate application in addition to the regular housing application. There is a 25 dollar fee per semester to participate in this program.
Half of the applicants chosen are international exchange students, and the other half are Americans who have lived or studied abroad.
“There are 48 residents in the I-House, but some people stop by so often that they might as well live here,” said Matt Peebles, a third year CHEM and CHBE double major who moved into the I-House this semester.
“Everyone hangs out in the lobby a lot, so we pretty much all know each other.”
“We had a retreat at the Botanical Gardens the weekend before school started so that everybody could get to know each other and get off on the right foot, and we’re going to have another mini retreat at the beginning of spring semester,” Pratt said.
Indeed, fostering a sense of community is a vital part of any living and learning program. The I-House is currently the largest of such programs at Tech.
It was founded during the fall semester of 2005 and was moved to its current location just one year later. The I-House is supported by the Provost’s Office, the Office of International Education and the Housing Office.
“The year before the Hayes house was dedicated for I-House use, they used one of the freshmen halls. They didn’t have the whole building though, so it was difficult to build a sense of community,” Pratt said.
The Fourth Street and Techwood site has served the program well with its single-room suites and community kitchen and lobby areas. Reviews have been so positive, though, that expansion is nearly inevitable.
“I-House is comfortable here for now, but it’s really growing so they’re trying to decide what direction to take it in and what type of facility they’ll need,” Pratt said.
Of course, it’s important to strike a balance between wanting as many students as possible to experience such a culturally rich community and maintaining the original focus of the program.
“One of the main purposes is to help international students feel more at ease and American students to get more acquainted with the world abroad,” Peebles said.
How can these goals be acheived without sacrificing quality?
“They’re thinking of doing more living learning communities next year in different locations around the campus, like maybe dedicating a floor in the North Avenue Apartments to it.
“Housing is really trying to be pro-active in getting people involved in their residential communities,” Pratt said.
Given the success of the I-House, it’s not surprising that the administration would want to replicate it. Ideally, every interested student could have the opportunity to learn from other students in such an environment like this one.
“Everybody’s so close, and you learn a lot. People are always trying new things, learning new things. I wish I’d done it as an undergraduate student,” Pratt said.
“The International House is the best place to live on campus,” agreed Peebles. “I love it!”
For more information on the I-House or to find applications for living there, visit www.oie.gatech.edu/i-house.