For all good things, we give thanks and ask for blessings upon this house
Who knew that this beautiful note of thanks would take root in my head and create something beautiful?
My experience at International House was an eye-opener. My name is Reena Bhojwani and I had the privilege of staying at IH from July 2006 until December 2008. I studied Creative Arts (majoring in Creative Writing) at the University of Melbourne. Little did I know that going to IH was going to be my time in a cocoon but then I guess no caterpillar knows what's in store for it until after the magic happens.
My university offer was deferred by six months, and in the meantime a friend of mine from home had already started living at IH. I grew up in Hong Kong and was used to being in a multicultural and multinational environment. When my friend said "Reena, this IH place feels just like home. It's a buffet of cultures here!" She didn't have to say more. I was sold.
Living at IH was transformative for many reasons. Many firsts are associated college. It was my first time staying away from home and family for such an extensive period. It was my first time experiencing the chance to control my finances, and it was also the first time I had needed to really pick up after myself. The entire "self-help" programme humbled me greatly. I learned many new skills from Vassi. For example, who knew there were that many different types of cutlery and glasses and that they all had a "special arrangement" for High Table dinners? I now know how to set those tables! I also learned the importance of not taking people for granted and for showing gratitude. My respect for anyone in any service or hospitality industry grew tenfold after I had to shell over 200 eggs during my breakfast shifts. These were values I was taught in theory and I was now living them in practice. A golden lesson in humanity.
IH taught me friendship. I met my second family at IH, people that were complete strangers to me became integral parts of my life within a term.
I ended up staying with some of them for most of my time there. One of my most memorable experiences was being part of the IH Student Club as Communications Officer. Yes, I was in charge of making The Globe every week for the bulk of the year! I considered Student Club my extended family and am happy to say that I'm still in touch with some of them now! The memories from my experiences at IH are engraved in my mind. I found myself here. I came out of my shell and I blossomed. The transformation was complete. IH made me the butterfly I was meant to be and gave me a community of valuable friends, scattered around the world who will always share this bond.
IH also helped me gain confidence as a performer and helped me overcome my fear of being on stage and public speaking. I took part in Theatre Sports, Cultural Dinners, choirs, parties, board game nights, preparation for Café, dance events and a whole truckload of other activities. And of course, making announcements during dinners. It's not as easy as it looks!
As a writer, IH supplied my first beta readers. This is another memorable moment for me. As part of a university assignment, I had to write a scary story. IH was my setting and an experience at a party provided the seed of an idea. After I wrote the story, I passed it to everyone on Wadham’s 4th floor and the reactions I received were priceless! I had the opportunity to see firsthand what kind of response my writing could evoke. I still have the story and am happy to share it upon request. Although, readers should be warned that the night that those people read the story, they weren't able to leave their rooms, not even to go to the toilet!
Now that it's been eight years since I left IH, I can happily say that IH hasn't left me. From the occasional outburst of "Taxi" when someone breaks a glass to encouraging people at parties to "Yum tsing!", to getting in touch with friends of friends from college, IH is pretty much alive in my life. I feel IH isn't just a place - it's a culture. There's an "IH way" and that never leaves a person if they've really made an effort to be part of it. What changed inside me was the courage to feel comfortable enough to strike up a conversation with complete strangers. This has become part of my personality and is one of the many gifts I feel I have received through this experience.
Today, all these experiences provided me with the strength and courage to write and self-publish my first children's picture book, Surprising Mrs Rhubarbson. It's the first title in Marble Mangosteen's Good Deed Collection. I tried to take snippets of what I've learned about gratitude and kindness from IH and share it with kids under 10 through this book. It's available in hard copy and you can order it at inspiredmusehk.com. If you'd like to contact me regarding my time at IH, my new book, organising Skype author visits or to learn more about my life as a creative writing teacher and writer, please feel free to message me.