For Aditi David, the International House near South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has been a blessing.
“I just love the house,” says David, who grew up in northern India. “When I came here, I was taken care of. I had never left home before. But when I came into a place that looked like a house … it made me feel very welcome.”
David, 27, enrolled at Mines in 2015 as a doctoral student in chemical and biological engineering. It was her first airplane ride and her first experience away from her family and her home. Today, she lives in the International House as a host, one of two women on the main floor. Two men live on the lower level as hosts to male international students.
“Now I try to make sure that new students who come in feel at home just the way I did,” she says.
In the past 20 years, approximately 4,000 international students from 112 countries have crossed the threshold of the International House, which is home to the International Students Inc. ministry, run by Heather and Kevin Fannin.
A non-descript tan house located just blocks from campus, the International House provides a comfy home where international students gather to eat, play games, talk, study, ask for advice and connect with others who are facing similar experiences in a foreign country. Each Friday night, the house hosts a meal, often donated and served by local churches and community partners.
While students are not required to participate, the house is also a place where students can be connected with religious organizations in the community. But most importantly, it’s a home-away-from-home for these students, says Heather. “It’s a place where they can relax and feel supported, safe and connected.”
On Oct. 26, the Fannins and the International House Inc. board celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ISI House. The celebration gathered faculty and staff from Mines as well as community members who have supported the house’s mission over the years. The gathering had a dual purpose — celebration and fundraising.
While the Fannins plan to remain an integral part of the ISI House, they are ready to sell the house to International House Inc., a nonprofit created to ensure that the house remains a permanent home for international students. Heather Fannin and International House Inc. board member Katie Howard describe the sale as a technicality — a legal necessity to make sure the house remains regardless of the Fannins' situation.
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The history of the ISI House started in 1995 when Heather and Kevin Fannin decided their holidays were going to be too small.
Recent transplants to Rapid City, Heather dreaded the nearing Thanksgiving. In Heather’s childhood, “holidays were big, with lots of people and activity.” She wanted the same for her own children — Christine, then age 7, and twins Brent and Brian, then ages 11.
The Fannins decided to host international students. “I think on that Thanksgiving, we hosted about 17 people. The more we worked with international students, the more we fell in love,” says Heather.
At that time, there wasn’t an international house for students in Rapid City, but the International Students Inc., a Christian friendship organization that assists international students, was interested in establishing one. Talks began between the Fannins and the organization. When the Akers family in Rapid City contacted the Fannins and offered to sell them the west wing of the former Rapid City Medical Center building — then located on Mount Rushmore Road and Columbus Street — for just $1, the Fannins took the leap.
The couple moved the west wing down the street to its current Kansas City Street location and spent the next two years working with volunteers and contractors to turn the examining rooms into a home. “We were very reliant on the generosity of the community,” Heather says.
They moved into the completed ISI House on Thanksgiving 1999.
Heather and Kevin lived in the house until 2 ½ years ago when they moved out to live with her parents, but the Fannins are there most days and their role hasn’t changed. They continue to be “mom and dad” to every international student who needs them.
“Heather and Kevin are like international parents to all the international students there,” David says. “They are very special people. And it’s just a very special house.”