Earlham’s newest living-learning community, I-20 House, offers additional support for international students

A new living-learning community that builds upon Earlham’s traditional strengths in global education is providing new support for international students this academic year.

Named after the form that international students must complete to study in the United States, the I-20 House has quickly become a hub for engagement for the 20 percent of Earlham’s student body who comes from outside the United States. Earlham has the fourth largest percentage of international students among all liberal arts colleges in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“Earlham is already a strong educational community, but we believe that we can become even stronger,” said Ahmed Deeb, a senior from Palestine who is one of five international students who established the I-20 House with the Office of Residence Life. His housemates include Cristina Esquivel Rodriguez from Costa Rica, Helena Aleluya José from Angola, Adea Mirashi from Kosovo, and Rafael Peres from Portugal.

“Our main focus this year is to make sure the first-year students are having an experience without the struggles most international students are facing,” Deeb said. “We want to make the resources that are available to international students more visible. If they feel homesick or need help, this is a space where everyone can come and ask questions.”

From left to right, the I-20 House is a project by Adea Mirashi, Ahmed Deeb, Cristina Esquivel Rodriguez, Rafael Peres, and Helena Aleluya José.

The I-20 House joins the International Student Office, Office of International Admissions and the Multicultural Resource Center as centers of support for Earlham’s international students.

“The I-20 House is a great example of students bringing forward a strong proposal for enhancing campus life,” said Shane Peters, the associate vice president of Student Life and director of residence life. “We are grateful that we have been able to offer flexibility from year-to-year with our house assignments based on student input. It remains a process that relies on the work of an all-student committee that reviews submissions each year.

“It’s exciting to see the student committee engage in a consensus process that works to increase the likelihood that a broad range of students will make connections to the community-building initiatives of each house group,” he said.

Other living-learning communities that connect students from multicultural backgrounds include Asian American Pacific Islanders House, Latinx House, Interfaith House, and the African/African American House that are available to every student beginning in their second year.

“Everyone on campus was just really supportive about our idea and open to starting a conversation,” Peres said. “Our work is defined by three words: Cooperation, support and representation.”

And representation isn’t limited to just international students, Peres says: “Everyone is welcome here. When we say international, we mean every single country, including the U.S. We are the entire world.”

The I-20 House has already had a community cookout and an international student gathering to integrate the first-year students on campus. There are other upcoming events and plans to strengthen ties to the rest of campus, the housemates say.

“There’s a big distinction between the international and domestic students on campus,” Mirashi said. “They won’t be able to understand what I feel like and I won’t be able to understand what they feel like. We are starting to change the divide slowly and sustainably, with recreative events.” 

In addition to being international students, all five housemates graduated from high school as Davis United World Scholars, which is the largest international, undergraduate scholarship program in the world. UWC is a global network of educational institutions with a shared aim of “making education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.”

Deeb, Mirashi, and Aleluya José are alums from UWC Robert Bosch College in Germany while Esquivel graduated from UWC Changshu China and Peres from UWC-USA in New Mexico. While many of the housemates knew each other prior to living together, the shared experience of creating something new has brought them closer together.

“There are a lot of expectations for the house,” Esquivel Rodriguez said. “We want to make a difference.”

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