A century of global hospitality

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Officially known as the “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia is also a city of firsts. The first brick house in America was built here in 1682. The first American flag on record was sewn here in 1777. The first U.S. Congress met here in 1789, and the world’s first International House opened here in 1910.

Officially known as the “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia is also a city of firsts. The first brick house in America was built here in 1682. The first American flag on record was sewn here in 1777. The first U.S. Congress met here in 1789, and the world’s first International House opened here in 1910.

Last month, International House Philadelphia (IHP), an independent, non-profit organization at 3701 Chestnut St. that houses nearly 400 students, scholars and interns from more than 65 countries, officially marked 100 years of service with a Centennial Gala. More than 350 guests, including Mayor Michael Nutter, attended the affair.

Tanya Steinberg, executive director of IHP, says a distinguishing characteristic of International House is its focus on leadership development. “We consider ourselves as incubators for future leaders of the world,” she says. “We provide education outside of the classroom.”

Although IHP is an autonomous entity, it has deep roots at Penn.

In 1908, the Rev. A. Waldo Stevenson, a Penn alumnus and Presbyterian clergyman, began hosting foreign students at his apartment. Stevenson later became the foreign mission secretary of the Penn Christian Association (CA), and persuaded the CA to sponsor a home for foreign students at 3905 Spruce St. The CA continued to sponsor IHP until 1943.

Steinberg says the organization has been “good friends” with Penn since its inception, and IHP and the University continue to collaborate on many different programs.

International House moved into its current home in 1970, and Penn’s Office of International Programs is housed in the building. IHP has spawned 22 other homes for international students around the world, including places in Berkeley, Calif., New York, Tokyo and the Netherlands.

Part of the IHP mission is to help foreign students adjust to American society. Steinberg says miscommunication, misunderstandings and cultural differences can damper a student’s success.

“For example, a student from another country might not understand that in order to get the highest grade, you need to be participatory in class,” she says. “For them, constantly participating, asking questions, interrupting, is rude. We introduce the American experience to our residents so they can understand what the norms are.”

Steinberg says she would like to see an international house in every large city with a college or university. “We all speak different languages but we have one common goal: we would like to be successful, we would like to be strong, we would like to be productive.”

Originally published on June 9, 2011