It’s completely different this time around, in that so far the vast majority of the people I could say I “know” in New York are people in the neighborhood or people at school, rather than people in the building. I guess I hadn’t really thought much about the difference—I’m sort of an intutive thinker anyway, I let thinks percolate and then suddenly an question and an answer tend to burst forth at the same time—but in any case, I think I now know what the differences are.
First of all, obviously, it takes a different kind of person to go to Chicago vs. go to New York. I’m not talking about schools or institutions, but about the cities themselves. New York is (without a doubt) for climbers. That’s it. That’s what it’s here for. Chicago, on the other hand, is for sensualists—people who want the experience of being there, despite the knowledge that it’s not New York.
More to the point, though, International House Chicago was an island. It was on the University of Chicago campus, a small school and campus that are relatively alone as “professional” or “academic” venues in the otherwise disadvantaged south side of Chicago. Not only did every single person in International House Chicago attend the same small university, we (the university crowd) were the only people “like us” (young, educated, diverse, professional, representing a small handful of fields for which the university is famous) for miles around.
New York is… New York. Throw a rock here and you’ll hit a college, university, or professional institute. The crowd here attend a ridiculously broad assortment of institutions and disciplines. Musicians, artists, photographers, bankers, hard sciences, social sciences, philosophers, social workers, K-12 teachers… every morning when the leave, they go to different places, and when they return, they return from different places. We all know different people in our “day lives” that are not the I-House people. In Chicago, I had an assortment of different I-House friends in most of my classes. The difference in fields also makes a difference. I can keep up my end of the conversation about traditional university disciplines. Much less so about the insides of the trading floor on Wall Street or the subtleties of antiquarian chamber music instruments.
The diversity is interesting… but it also means that what we have in International House New York is “collegiality,” in the general case, as opposed to Chicago, where we had “deep familiarity.”
Of a particularly different dynamic in New York (and this carries beyond the walls of I-House) is the tendency of the crowd to separate along national lines, or more specifically, according to native tongue. This didn’t happen to nearly the same extent in Chicago as it does here.
I like I-House New York well enough, but I can now say with some measure of authority that it was much easier and more automatic to feel a part of things in I-House Chicago.