Worth Walking For
International House is the dorm farthest from UChicago’s campus, and the distance is easy to complain about—but it’s also something to cherish.
I was in the parking lot of a Barnes & Noble when housing placements came out the summer before our first year. I remember the details of the moment for the shock that accompanied it—not because of where I was placed, but because of the reactions I found among my prospective dormmates upon opening Facebook.
“Will trade a single in I house for pretty much anything else pls”; “Anyone at other residence halls interested in a SINGLE room at I House?”; “Will trade away Language and The Mind T,Th from 11:00-12:20 if you promise to switch for my I-House Single third week. PM if interested.” One person even posted a meme of “The 5 Stages of Being Placed in I-House”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. The post garnered 126 reacts.
I had ranked I-House on my housing sheet based on a recommendation from my prospie host the prior April. I had stayed with her overnight in Snell—a strange night wherein I watched a man race to de-layer several sweaters, made banana chocolate chip pancakes with strangers, and screamed what I believe were sea shanties in the Hitchcock house lounge.
I appreciated my night in Snell but wasn’t sure if the experience was entirely for me. My host recommended I try I-House for its perhaps more tame but still present house culture, cool people, and impressive Gothic architecture. I ranked it third. Based on the reactions that a placement in I-House had produced on Facebook, I sat in front of Barnes & Noble afraid I shouldn’t have ranked it all.
When I arrived on campus for O-Week, the only tenuous point of connection between my newfound dormmates was a shared complaint about being placed in I-House despite “not ranking it.” The fact that I did rank it quickly became a secret of mine. It almost seemed embarrassing and naive to willingly choose to live in a dorm so far from campus. I recently confessed my secret to my roommate, whom I had met in I-House our first year. “Oh, cool.” He shrugged. “I ranked it first.”
Now, my embarrassment about ranking I-House stems purely from having been previously embarrassed to admit having done so.
I lived on the eighth floor of I-House in a north-facing single, with a view of what I once thought was downtown Chicago but was really of Regents Park and the apartments above Whole Foods. To the right of my room was a girl who brought me to my first frat party and collected Blue Moons on her desk like glass vases. To my left was a bespectacled girl who was pursuing premed but was a poet at heart. Not roommates, but “room neighbors,” these were my first friends at the College. I remain close with them, and others from I-House, to this day.
When it came time to eat lunch or dinner, we would coordinate times and make the trek to Cathey Dining Commons. The walk over took about 20 minutes but—just as my prospie host had predicted—it was a bonding experience. People from I-House had grit, we had stamina, and we had more reason to protest the mandatory unlimited meal plan than anyone else on campus. I didn’t have a true breakfast at the dining hall until my second quarter at the school.
Breakfast was invariably at Tiffin Café, the white-tiled addendum to the carpeted Tiffin lounge in I-House. I found their overnight oats quite good and found myself disappointed if there weren’t any left by the time I got there. The timing of things in the morning was crucial. In order to get to class, one needed to be conscious not only of the time it took to get to campus, but also of the time it took to get down to the first floor from their room and wait in line at Tiffin’s.
The TransLoc app was a mainstay on my phone’s home screen. One really got to know the shuttles that worked in their favor and which didn’t. The Central to get to Cathey, the South to get home. The Friend Center/Metra to get to campus, but everything else was on your own (unless you were a savvy first-year and got the hang of the CTA). A friend and I felt such tenderness toward the Friend Center/Metra shuttle we took daily that we began to refer to it simply as “Friend.” “Where is Friend?” “Friend is early today.” “Run! Friend is outside!”
Life in I-House required such an intense level of time management that I once mentioned living there in a job interview—granted, for an on-campus position. (The interview was at the Reg, and I sprinted to it, without shame, having left I-House 15 minutes before the appointment instead of a healthy 20 with cushion.)
The distance of I-House was hard to navigate, but I began to think of the subsequent routines it demanded as at least somewhat fun. During the winter quarter of our first year, two friends and I would get a Mexican hot chocolate from Medici on our walk back to the dorm at least once a week, as a treat. Once we got back to I-House, we’d finish sipping our drinks in between games of ping pong and pool in the Tiffin Lounge.
Nowadays, it takes me 25 minutes to walk to campus from my apartment—almost double the time we complained about our first year. If the distance from I-House to campus was the only negative thing people saw about it, then I venture to say that it was all positive. I wouldn’t bargain, swap, or trade my time there for the world.
Angelina Torre is a fourth-year in the College.