This post is a part of our weekly International Voices column, writing by UT students, for UT students. Enjoy!
I smell reunion. For days and weeks, D-hausers have been plotting and planning, and hopefully a month from now, we will all be flying, busing, or training in to the quaint town of Würzburg in Bavaria to meet up and gossip the weekend away.
What’s a D-hauser, you might ask. A D-hauser is a rare brand of human being who willingly foregoes the cleanliness, janitorial services and general order of apartment or dorm living for the drama and camaraderie that is the co-op experience. D-haus stands for Deutsches Haus and refers to one of the many co-ops on West Campus. It was founded as a boarding house in 1968 by Chuck Schmidt, a professor in the Germanic Studies Department who thought of it as a space where American and international students could meet and learn from each other.
In 2011, when I moved into the German House, not much of the immersion spirit was left – back in the day, evening meals were held in German and your application wouldn’t be considered if you couldn’t show at least some proficiency in what Mark Twain lovingly called the “awful German language”. In my day, the application form still asked whether you had any knowledge of German, but a negative answer no longer got your application shredded immediately. Nevertheless, there were seven of us (Germans) in my cohort, in addition to several Americans, a Mexican-American, a Russian girl, and a bunch of grad students from India, Czech Republic, Norway, and Canada.
So what’s so great about co-op living that it warrants such a nostalgic post? Well, it’s pretty much an over-sized but better organised L’Auberge Espagnole! (If you’re an exchange student and you haven’t seen this movie, go do it now. No movie or book describes the excitement and novelty of being an exchange student in your 20s quite like it.) To American students, coops offer affordable living close to campus with the added benefit of getting to know people from all over the world. To an international student, a coop on West campus means a place to arrive and get your bearings after a looong trip, 20 new friends at once, a communal meal per day (cooked by your more or less culinarily skilled house-mates), and a well-stocked fridge – at least on the night the designated house members have gone shopping and the shelves are bulging with family-sized containers of peanut butter, cereal, and sometimes even fruit.
Communities are forged over epic semester parties, exhausting labor days (biannual spring cleanings) and house meetings that resemble parliamentary sessions in both length and inefficiency. With most people sharing a room and everyone sharing three bathrooms, there’s plenty of room for conflict, for petty and not-so-petty grievances. But then you clear the air with a couple of German beers and a game of cards on the porch and bond over your shared outrage at yet another house mate.
Trust me that when the class of 2011 meets in Würzburg this December, we’ll laugh at our petty differences and bond over the shared misery of five-hour meetings, way too many pasta dinners and dishes forever piling up in sinks while spoons go missing. However, we’ll spend much more time remembering the fun we had at movie nights, hanging out on the front porch, a capsized canoe at our mid-February paddling adventure, baking Christmas cookies and roasting Thanksgiving turkeys, and even studying together. So I thank my fellow D-hausers for a very memorable year and wish the next generations at least the fun we had.
For more information on co-ops in Austin, check out:
Intercooperative Council Austin: http://www.iccaustin.coop/
College Houses: http://collegehouses.org/
Deutsches Haus: http://www.dhauscoop.com/