Monday, May 16, 2005

living in the love of the common people

I just got an email that my housing application has been approved! I now have a room to stay in Chicago, and it's in one of the coolest digs around - the International House at the Uni.

I'll be living in a simply furnished dorm room, with shared bathrooms on each floor and a communal kitchen for those who want to cook. A far cry from the buildings where many GSB students typically stay - high-rise luxury apartments with city views, gyms, pools, valet parking etcetera. Alator had a post describing the herd mentality around housing. So, why me no do what I'm 'supposed' to be doing?

Money, for one. Yeah, I can be a cheap bastard(exceptions duly made for $50 haircuts :) I will, for the next two years, have no income and have to borrow money to eat every next meal. In my book that's being broke. The single rooms at I-house cost 500 bucks a month which is 500 less than for a studio at the Doral building downtown. A nice chunk of change that can be put to good use elsewhere.

Last week, a 1y student who I was talking with strongly advised I not stay at the i-house. In his opinion, with the amount of loans we are going to incur, an argument for saving money won't cut it when compared to the networking opportunities that come from living with 100-odd classmates in the same building. I'm not too kicked about the networking argument, but he was right about one thing.

It's not all about the money.

I checked out the i-house last weekend with Byron. The first thing I heard upon walking into the 70-year old neo-gothic building was the music. Right off the main hallway is a wood-paneled Main Lounge with well-worn sofas, chandeliers, study tables, and a grand piano which a resident was playing accompanied by another girl on the violin. The building is organized around a tree shaded plazetta-style fountain courtyard where other students were studying and enjoying the gorgeous day. For the times when hunger strikes, there is the option of a cafe in addition to cooking in a huge common kitchen and eating in an attached dining hall with a pool table ! Also on the first floor, though we didn't get to check it out, are a library, map room, and the Coulter Lounge, which is downright bourgeois.

On the way to the upper floors, we did get a peek into the really grand Assembly Hall. On to a mock-up of the room which I thought was pretty adequate for the sleeping I'll be doing there. I'd need to study from time to time also, no? The floor we saw had a study lounge complete with a fireplace ! And, in the building are also private study rooms. Oh, downstairs in another common room - right next to a Music Room and Mac lab - a salsa party was just about getting started. Nice.

Apparently, letting the south americans show off their dancing skills isn't the only social activity at the i-house. They actually have a calendar chock-a-block with events. A sample from this week:
> A night of Afghani Arts and Cuisine; presented by the International House Global Voices Performing Arts Series.
> Middle East Music Ensemble Concert; presented by the above Series along with the Department of Music
> Haitian Flag Day Celebration; presented by the Spring Festival Series
> Author Night with Rachel DeWoskin, Foreign Babes in Beijing; presented by the International House Global Voices Lecture Series and The Seminary Coop Bookstore
> The Annual Festival of Nations; presented by the Residents.

This is really exciting. I am about enjoying what the rest of the University has to offer, in addition to the GSB, and meeting and making friends from around the world who are pursuing vastly different endeavors. Given the time and effort that the MBA is going to ask of me, the I-House seems like the perfect way to weave that into my experience. Living there would, in the words of a friend, "be good for my soul". I can't disagree.

Got to say, this is nothing like the dorms I know of. Except one. One of the main reasons I was so keen on LBS was the opportunity to live at another institution that is in every respect similar to I-house: Goodenough College. A friend who spent her law school years there showed me the place when I was in London last, and I was absolutely taken by the place. She had a great experience and made great friends from all over. I sure am glad I found a similar home in Chicago ! All of you headed to LBS, I highly, highly, highly highly highly recommend you take a dekho. Also, for those headed to Haas, Columbia/Stern and Wharton: check out the I-Houses in Berkeley, NYC, and Philly.

On a more practical note, the one commodity dearer than money when in b-school is sleep. The i-house is located 2 blocks from the GSB. You read it right - 2 blocks. I don't think one can put a price on being able to wake up 10 minutes before class and still making it on time (unkempt notwithstanding :) It's also one block from the train stop into downtown for the times I'll have to head north to party. Convenient with a capital Yes-Siree-Bob.

And, there's the issue of this being the last opportunity I'll have to live a dream that's quintessentially American - starting a company from my dorm room ! I think I have an idea that has potential and will definitely work on it. Not to mention that the money I save on rent can be used as seed capital.

This is sounding too good to be true, no?

Alas, there is a downside: the women. No self-respecting b-school bombshell would be caught anywhere near a dorm room now, would she? [editor's note: the use of 'bombshell' is not intended to be exclusionary; quite to the contrary it is meant to include any and all of the fairer sex. To be read as a feeble attempt at flattery by a man who has been shown his desolate destiny]

But, as my friend Iceman, in his infinte wisdom, observes (in an apt post that begins with 'sex' and ends with 'here's to 2 years of celibacy') : Apparently the ladies aren't feeling most of the 'Top 10' MBA Guys. Harvard, Wharton and Sloan guys included. The non-reference to Chicago (hey, we are Top 10 OK, according to every ranking), especially with the 'included' caveat, can only mean that us nerd boys have been written off even before the game begins. I can safely say that with a dorm room, I have saved them the trouble and taken myself off the roster. Which, of course, does nothing for the already-zero chances of my penthouse-dwelling, valet-parking brethren :-)

So, I might as well save 500 bucks by bunking in my dorm.

Then again, Karma Points exist for a reason. According to the brochure - at the I-house more than 400 marriages have resulted from friendships that blossomed into romance. Oooh, who knows, the GSB's loss may yet be the Divinity school's gain :-)
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