A “Little India” Across From Taco John’s

Who hasn’t heard of the White House in Washington, D.C.? But there’s one in Brookings?

South Dakota State University’s Indian student population has its very own “White House,” albeit a far, far modest version of the famed residence in the nation’s capital.

Across the street from Taco John’s is a little nondescript white house where students from India are housed when they first arrive in Brookings.

After a month of sojourn there, they move to their more permanent addresses at 726 and 708 Medary Avenue, a series of two brown apartments that are, in every sense, Brookings’ “Mini-India.”

Of the 94 Indian students currently on campus, most will make Medary their home for the next two or three years of their life at South Dakota State University.

23-year-old Murali Somavarapu, told the story of his journey, earlier this year, from Hyderabad to 726 Medary.

“I had a friend who used to go to school here. After I got my visa to come to the U.S., I got in touch with him. By the time I arrived, he’d already transferred to Dakota State University and his space had been vacant. So, I moved in his place,” he said.

Donna Raetzman, international student advisor, explained, “Each student incorporates the other. As one student graduates, he or she will usually find someone new to replace him or her in the apartment and the cycle goes on.”

Naseer Mohammed Abdul, who’s getting a master’s degree in civil engineering said, “After I got my admission letter, I went to the university Web site and looked for the Indian students association [on campus]. There, I found the names and contact numbers of the various students from my part of India.”

“I got in touch with them via e-mail. When I informed them of my date of arrival, one of them came to pick me up at the airport. And from there, we drove to Medary, where I currently live.”

It’s hard to say exactly who set up the base at Medary, but whoever chose the strategic location possessed great insight.

Though 708 and 726 Medary are, for all technical purposes, off-campus housing, they are for practical purposes, part and parcel of the campus. Most departments are within easy commuting distance. Snow or shine, students can either zip down to campus in a car or even hoof it to school.

Another draw for newcomers is that it’s a stone’s throw from the University Police Department. The local cop house holds a special appeal for foreign students because of its 24/7 Internet access. On a typical Sunday morning, students wait in line to grab a seat at one of its computer terminals.

Last, but not least, they choose it for economic reasons. “The rent for the apartment is about $550, but since there are four of us sharing it, each of us shells out about $140 each,” said Abdul.

At present, there are 218 international students from 42 countries—30 undergraduates and about 190 graduates.

While the vast majority of Indian students end up living on Medary, the rest of the foreign students are scattered all over town. Undergraduate exchange students, however, are taken care of by the university and are housed at the Berg and Bailey residential hall.

Though the university isn’t responsible for providing international graduate students with housing, the new residence hall, Caldwell—scheduled to open its doors in the fall of 2005—is expected to reserve some space for international students wishing to live on campus, Raetzman said.

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