I was named Executive Director of the International Student House of Washington, DC on March 16th of 2020, just days after COVID-19 was declared a National Emergency in the United States. While our response to the global pandemic has predominated my tenure at the helm of the House, it has not defined our vision and plans for the future. Quite the contrary - it has reinforced our resolve to deliver on our mission to foster inter-cultural exchange, life-long connections and global citizenship at a time when the world needs it the most. And our most important, consistent and reliable source of support throughout the pandemic has been our community - you. Thank you. I humbly hope you will continue to support our mission by donating here.
My journey to the International Student House actually started over six decades ago and came about because of international exchange. My father, born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, ventured across the Atlantic on a ship in the 60’s to Germany. My mother, who grew up in Würzburg, West Germany, volunteered at the International Working Group (Internationaler Arbeitskreis – IAK), an organization dedicated to fostering understanding through education and exchange, not unlike the International Student House. Both in their early twenties, little did they know they were bound to be transformed by international exchange. This was only the beginning of my long history with international exchange, even before I knew it was “a thing.”
At home in Mexico, our family spoke German and Spanish, later adding English, when we moved north from Mexico City to Monterrey (not the one in California). And, our home was always open and ready to host -family, friends of family, friends of friends- from all over the world. I have some of the fondest memories of my childhood learning about the world, other cultures and hearing other languages over a shared meal.
International exchange, in its more “traditional" definition, also had a tremendous impact on my life, specifically in my education and career. To connect more deeply with my German roots/heritage and strengthen my German-language skills, I took gap year working for an IT firm in Germany. I could write volumes of the things I learned about the world and myself, the sights I took in, the friendships I made and unforgettable experiences I had.
After living and working near Frankfurt for a year, I returned to Monterrey, Mexico, where I started my degree in International Relations. Half-way through college, I secured a summer internship at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, DC. Fascinated and amazed by DC’s cultural, political and social life, I turned the summer internship into another "gap year” experience to work on U.S.-Mexico education, training and exchange initiatives. Ultimately, I returned to Mexico after a year in DC to conclude my university studies. And, as soon as I walked off the stage after graduation, I was on a plane back to DC, where I started a family and spent most of my career working on and around education and international exchange.
International exchange has made me who I am today, personally and professionally (also, quite literally had my parents not met!). It has been ever present in my life, at home, in my education, in my career, and now, in my own family. This is why the International Student House is so much more than “a job” for me - the House is a space where international exchange happens, where relationships are made, where lives are transformed and where future young leaders are shaped. International exchange did this to my parents. And, it did so to me, too.
However, I’m not writing this to share my story. This is really just one story of the life-changing experience international exchanges provide. Just look at the roster of our alumni. Over the past 85 years, the more than 15,000 alumni of the International Student House have become Prime Ministers (past and present), found the loves of their life, have become successful diplomats, government officials, and private and nonprofit sector leaders, and even celebrated their graduations in the most unlikely of times - see Resident Scholar Varsha Thebo's photograph featured in Buzzfeed News, “56 Most Powerful Photos of 2020”. The House is here for them. It is their home. We become their community, their family even. And, your support will help us keep it that way for many more years to come.
The finances of the House were significantly impacted due to the low number of residents living at the House in 2020. We implemented important cost-saving measures and secured local and federal relief funding, however, these challenges will continue well into 2021.
As you consider your final gifts of the year, I humbly ask that you continue to give to the House. Your meaningful support is needed and we couldn’t do this work without you.
The leadership and generosity of our Board of Directors, donors, alumni, friends and family made a tremendous difference this year when we needed it the most, and I am deeply grateful to you for your support. My very best wishes to you and your family as we begin a New Year, and we look forward to having you with us at International Student House for many years to come.