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mI-House is Your House

Opinion | December 7, 2009

i-house

In October, the International House had its first party.  When it got too crowded inside, we stopped letting people in at the door.  In a desperate attempt to get in (oh yeah, our party was that good), a cheeky kid came up to us and tried to prove his internationality by describing his family heritage and all the countries he’s been to in the past year.  What nerve.  I wondered, is that what people think of the I-House— you have to be international to get into the parties?

Well, no, you don’t.  And you don’t have to be international to live there, either.  All it takes is an interest in different cultures.  This year, American students constitute a fourth of the house.  I grew up in Los Angeles, but my father’s from Japan; basically, I’m an American with a lot of Japanese habits.  So that’s where it began for me.  But my decision to live at the I-House was most strongly spurred by the International Orientation program freshman year.  I signed up thinking I wanted a chance to meet people from around the world.  After all, isn’t college all about meeting people and discovering your niche?  The program surpassed my anticipations, as I never expected that the people I’d meet during this orientation would become some of my best friends at Tufts.

But they did, and now I get to live with some of them at the I-House.  I’ve always enjoyed being surrounded by people who are different from me, so it’s nice to live in a house representing places like Cuba, Cyprus, and Rwanda.  That being said, it’s surprisingly easy to forget that these international housemates have been raised in cultures very different from the American lifestyle.  Jonah, for example, is from Zimbabwe.  He’s Christian, very good at solving puzzles, and is in the process of engineering a music stereo for the house.  Besides what I’ve learned from observations, I don’t know much about his cultural background.  That’s because I’ve never asked him what it’s like to be from Zimbabwe or what his biggest culture shocks have been (I’m sure there have been many).  I’ve been meaning to ask him, but a question like that prompts a life story; between frat parties and midterms, it’s hard to find an appropriate moment for such a multifaceted question.  At the end of the day, we’re all just college students here.  I don’t walk into my house everyday and think to myself, “Oh yeah, I live with international students.”

But that’s a good sign.  It suggests that culture and nationality are just backdrops to our individual talents and personal quirks.  I’ve discovered that Anna-Maria loves coconut-flavored dumdums, Eleni’s soothing voice could lull the sickest insomniac to a deep slumber, Manuel is the only one who uses the kitchen, Henry is the only guy I know who can pull off Shakespearean vests, Will knows how to use his foxy singing-guitar-playing act to his advantage, Malek is never home, Nikki’s magical ginger candies can cure a stomach ache, Tala’s clarinet tunes can aid any heartache when it’s 4:30 p.m. and the sun is already setting, and Pac is just a really chill guy.  Despite our individual habits and diverse upbringings, we all know what it feels like to be heartbroken, disappointed, stressed, optimistic, happy, secure, sad, and lost.  In fact, maybe our varying cultural backgrounds are what highlight the similarities among us. We all know what it’s like to feel unsure of where we belong and where we come from.  Identity crisis is prevalent at a house with people like Samira (who was born in the Philippines, went to elementary school in Mexico, high school in Rome, and now lives in Seattle, but she’s Indian), but it is not a symptom singular to the international student.  Rather, it’s a common complex found in any American college student.

In conclusion, the most interesting part about living here is that fragments of culture unravel not necessarily through anecdotes but through sheer personal habits.  The I-House isn’t about separating international kids from the rest of the campus; it’s about bringing together people that come from all over the world, and that includes America.  The quality I love most about the I-House this year is that people aren’t afraid to point out each other’s differences.  It’ll be exciting to discover more about my housemates as the year continues, whether it’s through laughing, bickering, singing, studying, or just silence.