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Joy and Connection at I-House Virtual Alumni Reunion

On September 13, 2020, close to 100 International House NY Alumni convened for the annual Alumni Reunion, which due to the pandemic was held virtually for the first time. The online nature of the event allowed Alumni to attend from more places across the world, and they did, logging in from their respective homes in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and several states in the USA, among others. The attendees represented almost every decade of I-House, with one 90-years-young alum sharing his fond memories of living with the community at 500 Riverside. Pooja Merchant ‘10, president of the Freunde Alumni chapter and an Alumna of the WIL program at I-House, hosted the reunion via Zoom. After her warm welcome, several members of the I-House staff and leadership offered updates on the current state of the House. I-House Trustee & Chair of the Executive Committee Peter O’ Neill ’92 spoke about the impending departure of President Calvin Sims (to join the CNN Network), the appointment of Trustee Brian Polovoy as Interim President, and the process being developed to select the beloved institution’s next leader. Responding to questions by participants, O’Neill, himself an Alum, assured the attendees of the care going into the process, and acknowledged two Alums in attendance for their involvement: fellow Trustee Shubh Saumya ’92, and president of the New York Area Alumni Chapter, Anita Haravon ’11. There was a brief but candid discussion of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the House’s community, operations and financial health, with O’Neill joined by Megan Amouzou, Director of Admissions and Lesley Perez, Admissions Associate for Recruitment, who helped facilitate the event. Lead Archivist Caroline Donadio provided an update on the International House Archives, describing how stories of Resident life through the years are beginning to emerge even from the initial stages of processing. Through a flurry of questions and comments, Alumni showed their excitement for the Archives and their willingness to help. A highlight of the Alumni Reunion were the enchanting performances by Croatian vocalist Astrid Kuljanic ’16, who performed songs with her partner on guitar. In one of the songs, Kuljanic included her memories at the I-House Pub, which drew smiles and chat messages with exclamation points all around. One attendee described Kuljanic’s performance as a “true I-House performance,” as her style incorporates elements of Jazz, Brazilian and Indian music. However, the most exciting moments of the reunion occurred within the sanctity of the breakout sessions that allowed Alumni to get to know each other and possibly run into a former Housemate. Reconvening from these sessions, the participants expressed interest in starting more Alumni Chapters in their regions, and holding more mini-reunions online. After the event, Merchant described it as “very special,” and summed up the experience perfectly:

“It was so great to connect with alums across countries and time zones. Covid might have changed a lot of things, but the I-House spirit is still very much alive!!”