I-House matches foreign and American roommates

UBy Charlene Dick University students from different countries will learn from each other by sharing apartments, said an organizer of a new program offered through the Minnesota International Student Association.

The association is teaming up with Jefferson Commons and Keeler Apartments for a program called I-House, which will match roommates from different countries, including the United States.

“It’s like a (foreign) exchange program in the U.S.,” said Kapil Bansil, an engineering senior from India who said he will participate in the program.

Living with Americans could actually make life easier for new international students, he said, recalling his arrival to the University and the Twin Cities.

“You don’t know where the parties are if you want to party. You don’t know where to go for normal stuff,” he said. “If you’re living with (Americans), that totally helps out.”

Bansil said he has chosen to live in I-House to save money and to live in a more diverse environment. He lived with other Indian students his first two years in Minnesota.

The house could serve another function for participants who just arrived in the United States.

Many of these students do not have long-term housing because the research beforehand is so difficult, said Bansil, who arrived in the United States without permanent housing.

“Even if you’re coming from Wisconsin, you don’t know what Dinkytown is,” Bansil said. “You might end up finding a place near the Mall of America which would be totally useless.”

On Aug. 13, between 15 and 20 students had committed to the program, said Sulieman Nader, the Minnesota International Student Association’s president. The program can accommodate up to 60 students this year, he said.

Students must become a member of the association before they sign up for the I-House program, and any University student can become a member. After that, participants can present a voucher to Jefferson Commons or Keeler Apartments that entitles them to reduced rent rates that are up to 20 percent below the usual rates, said Nader, a human relations and engineering senior.

Those with I-House vouchers are not strictly required to share an apartment with someone from a different country, said Ken Perusek, operations director for Keeler’s property management company.

Still, the association presumes that most participants will be open to the possibility, or will at least consider attending international student association events, Nader said.

It will not be the official club events, but the casual meals and friendships among international housemates that will form the thrust of the I-House program, Nader said. The association will add to the experience by working to get access to international television stations and throwing theme parties, he said.

“We want to use these buildings as a portal to reach out to others who live in the same building or nearby,” Nader said.

Because plans with property management companies were not complete until last month, Nader said most Americans will already have made housing plans for the coming school year. A goal for the program is to foster interaction between Americans and non-Americans, he said.

Iciness among nationalities has increased significantly since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Nader said, but he is optimistic I-House can make a difference.

“The way to break the ice is to live together,” Nader said. “The goal is to teach people how to live with people who are different from them.”

Charlene Dick is a freelance writer.

The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]