One of the many I-House traditions, the Resident Orientation Retreat is a fantastic opportunity to get to know fellow residents and to learn about the history of I-House and the alumni that have made their way through its prestigious doors.
I attended the Fall 2023 Resident Orientation Retreat as a resident and a Global Community Ambassador. The orientation took place at the Green Mountain Retreat in Los Gatos in the South Bay Area. I came to I-House from India with no acquaintances and I’ve had that change over the course of the weekend. It was an opportunity for all residents, including myself, to meet people, interact with cultures from across the globe, and make connections for life.
Preparations began at 10:45 in the morning, as the residents who’d signed up for the retreat lined up to check into the three buses parked on Piedmont in front of our iconic steps. Halfway into boarding the buses, we were fortunate enough to realize that we had space for more residents. This led to a hurried hullabaloo of every signed-up resident calling friends of theirs that hadn’t been able to get tickets to pack their bags and take a seat on a bus. 25 minutes later, and after pure bedlam, we were on our way. The bus ride was a breezy one hour from door to door. Most of us chatted along the way and shared our excitement for the weekend to come.
Residents gather outside I-House on the steps and prepare to board the buses.
We arrived at Green Mountain Retreat a few minutes past noon and had time to kick about and play some recreational sports with the equipment at the location. After half an hour of chaotic fun, we were invited inside for lunch. At the entry to the dining hall, the I-House staff handed us an I-House T-shirt and lapel pin. We were also asked to put our names on name tags and wear them for the activities to come.
We had rooms allotted and were able to get some games in after lunch. Residents were delighted to soak in the California sun and laze as they pleased.
At 2:30, we assembled in the hall for icebreakers and a talk from Shaun Carver, the Executive Director of I-House. We were introduced to the I-House staff and leadership and learned about the glorious achievements.. He then took us through the history of I-House, the mission that Harry and Florence Edmonds had envisaged, and the stage that we’d arrived at in the attempt to fulfill that mission.
The leadership then led us (divided into teams) on a ‘Culture Quest’ which involved solving riddles to find flags that were color coordinated to the determined teams. We then set out, with great fervor, to find the clues and collect our flags. Once we solved the riddles, which was the first task, we were faced with a challenge that involved matching chits with the word peace, written in different languages, to the respective flags of countries that used those languages. We were then asked to create an elaborate team cheer which required us to incorporate a phrase of good luck, a cultural dance, and a superstition from the cultures of three different countries. The team to finish first won the Culture Quest and some silverware. (It was not our team and I’m absolutely still salty about it. We were sabotaged).
We then had some free time until dinner. Some residents played sports which included tug-of-war and inflatable bumper balls while I played a game of basketball.
At around 8 p.m., we headed to the amphitheater to hear Mr. Joseph Lurie, (Executive Director of I-House 1988-2007) who kept us enrapt with tales of diversity, varying human perspectives, and the respect he had for the plurality of opinion and cultures at I-House. The talk was hosted in a beautifully lit space with warm lighting amongst the trees, the pond, and the pale moonlight.
Later, we went to the hall for a movie presentation. Encanto was the movie that had been picked by the Staff and residents were thrilled to join in. There were ample snacks, popcorn, and coffee to go around. Residents were free to take as much as they liked, a provision that I abused with the utmost glee, prompting one of my Resident Assistants to playfully jibe, “This is what happens when your parents don’t buy you enough junk food as a kid.”
Once the movie was over we were finally free from the confines of the itinerary. (I’m kidding, it was immaculately planned). Residents then proceeded to play some Pictionary and other fun board games. I personally sat in a room with my friends and enjoyed a few games of UNO, along with some entertaining snacks, both of which left us with enthralling memories. Some of the residents even decided to brave the fog, the creepies and the crawlies to head out for a late night hike and the consensus was that it was absolutely worth it. Most of us called it a night around midnight.
I woke up at 6 in the morning to watch the Formula 1 Qualifying event in the Netherlands. I must be a sports fanatic because I didn’t see anyone wake up until 7 a.m. when breakfast was served. We checked out of our rooms by 7:45 and were treated to some fun activities after breakfast such as archery, hiking, and bead making. (I opted for the last one, having been completely exhausted from the night prior). At around 10:20 a.m. Mr. Carver gathered all the residents for a group photo. We boarded the buses at 10:30 and were back at I-House at half past 11.
It was one of the most exciting endeavors I’ve engaged in in the recent past. Apart from the extensive knowledge, patience and understanding, I took away a ton of memories, insights, and most importantly, memories and experiences to last a lifetime.