(pictured above: virtual Health & Wellness events with Residents and Alumni participants)
Now well underway with the 2021 Spring semester, International House is facing the next phase in the COVID-19 pandemic with an eye to meeting the needs of Residents and engaging the entire global I-House community. Newly appointed Interim President Brian Polovoy is making the safety and stability of the environment at the House his first priority, which he is approaching with the same enthusiasm and dedication he has shown through his longstanding service as a member of the Board of Trustees. His first acts included convening a special COVID Task Force of senior staff and working with them to monitor the evolving risk levels and to develop a comprehensive set of facility updates and protocols informed by the latest state and local health guidelines.
Since July 2020, the North Building, with its apartments and kitchens, has been receiving new Residents, while housing in the South Building remains closed. As the reduced number of Residents in North helps to keep the premises safer and more secure, the staff are constantly reevaluating the entire I-House campus, looking for opportunities to safely reinstate amenities and usable common spaces. Director of Facilities and Site Operations Vincent Melito and his team recently reopened the Main Lounge, Dodge Room, HR Commons, and Map Lounge with enhanced safety protocols for staff and users, which is testament to the cooperation and mutual respect of the Resident community. The hope is that this can lead to making more areas available as guidelines permit.
Programming offered at I-House this past semester has included events focused on health and fitness as well as socially distanced in-person social events like the outdoor Welcome Picnic and traditional Ice Cream Socials, which have historically allowed Residents to meet and learn about one another. Even the signature warm welcome of the in-person Orientation Night went virtual this year: Design Lead Audrey Pray Jr. ’17 tapped staff from each department, who recorded video greetings to the Residents from a variety of onsite and remote locations. Efforts are also underway to provide the same high level of cultural and educational programming for which I-House is known, with the silver lining that these virtual events can be shared with our greater global Alumni as well as current Residents.
On the Admissions front, it is no surprise that it has not been business as usual. “What we’re finding is that we have many applicants and residents interested in living at International House; even with remote learning, they want to be here in New York and make this their home. That’s very encouraging.” says Megan Amouzou, Director of Admissions. Still, the uncertainty of international travel, the fluctuation of university policies, and the COVID-19 forecasts for coming months make applicants understandably risk-averse. In response, I-House has been removing as many barriers as possible, allowing more flexibility with shorter room agreements, accommodations for incoming Residents to quarantine upon arrival, and extended financial assistance. Admissions Associate for Recruitment Lesley Perez is helping applicants make their decisions “sight unseen” through a series of Resident-led video room tours for the I-House website, providing a real glimpse into daily life in the House. And as always, our Alumni continue to be a strong source of referrals for new residents.
The changes implemented during the 2020 academic year thus far have shown that I-House can successfully pivot and evolve during the pandemic. What remains unchanged, however, is our commitment to our mission, which — with the help of our worldwide community – will continue to advance international understanding and lifelong friendships.
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