Kirsten Sheppard, director of the Center for International Education (CIE), and her staff members have noticed some confusion about the purpose of the International House (I-House) located by Sutton. More than once, they’ve heard rumors about international students living in the I-House.
“Last week, I explained to a freshman girl what I-House is, and she asked me, ‘The creepy building on the corner?’ And I was like. ‘We’re not creepy,’” said Sheppard’s colleague Brynn Smith.
Besides international and study abroad students who receive support from the CIE staff, not many students seem to know what I-House is and what happens inside.
“They have no need to go there”, says MC senior Callie Crabtree, referring to the general student population.
The I-House contains the offices of CIE staff on the first floor and English classrooms on the second floor. In addition, there is a kitchen and a living room with a comfortable couch, a big table and a TV. And though the I-House is not where international students live, the staff works hard to make it an inviting environment.
Sheppard’s office is located in the I-House where she is supported by her team: Micki Pruitt, Brandy Coley, Delie Bullock, Brynn Smith and Yevgeniya (Yevie) Teyfukova. According to the MC website, they are responsible for international admissions and recruitment; the Intensive English as a Second Language Program (ESL); study abroad program development and advising; and international student services and support. In general, they want to diversify the campus to enhance the international learning environment. They are not only responsible for the international students on campus, but also for those who are or want to go abroad.
However, in practice, their jobs contain a lot more than the formal description entails. This can be as simple as talking to a student and giving helpful advice between class times or comforting someone who is either homesick or experiencing a life crisis. But at times, it can be as complicated as receiving calls from jail involving a student.
Sheppard is originally from Canada, and she has studied and worked in Europe, Asia and South America. She has been working at MC for eleven years. She treats her international students “like she would like her own children to be treated abroad.” Her job is not one she can just “turn off” when she goes home, she says.
“You can’t turn off lives. I hear about an earthquake in Chile and the first thing I think is: Do I have a student there?” said Sheppard.
By her side in the I-House is Micki Pruitt, unofficially called “everyone’s mom.” Even before she started working for the CIE, Pruitt hosted different international students at her own home for about ten years. Today, she has already hosted more than 50 students and has worked at MC for about 10 years.
“I need to be valuable to students here in their time“, said Pruitt.
She also mentions that, like Sheppard, she treats the students how she would like to have her own children treated abroad, and she also agrees that she can’t turn off her job either.
“Last night, my husband and I were driving in the car, and we were kind of reflecting, and we realized that I never talk about anything else than students,” said Pruitt. “I’m glad he doesn’t mind.”
In Bartlett Hall, on the handrail of the third floor, hang 31 flags, one for each country that is represented at MC. Right now, there are 58 international students at MC, but the number changes weekly because some students stay for shorter periods of time. This year, they had to order five new flags to hang up and the space on the handrail is getting scarce.
“The number of the international students is quite stable the last years, but it seems like the diversity of the countries is increasing,” said Sheppard.
No matter the number of students or flags, the I-House staff strives to be a home away from home, to be a place where people care, a place where the international students are always welcome.
“It’s just like a home far away from home”, said Ali Salhi, an international student from Morocco.
“I-House is a place where we can go watch a movie and sit around in the living room,” said Youna Rivallain, a student from France. “It’s not like when you go to Bartlett and Isaacs, the people are welcoming, but in I-House it’s different. They know who you are, where you are in your life. And you know you can have a serious conversation with the students and also Micki or Kirsten, Yevie, Brynn, and they can help you with how to go on with your life.”
Crabtree, who was in Italy last semester, also appreciates the atmosphere in I-House. Before her trip, the staff members helped her with the paperwork and now it is a place for her to share her experiences with others who can relate to how she felt abroad.
The doors to the CIE staff’s offices are always open to students who have questions or need to talk, and students can almost always be found in the house. Everyone is invited to come over and say hi – not just internationals.