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WHIP stu­dents gather for a St. Patrick’s Day feast. Nicole Ault | Col­legian

At first, the rat­tling chan­delier in Apartment C of the Hillsdale House dragged stu­dents from their rooms, won­dering grouchily if this was an earth­quake or the guys in Apartment D above. It was the latter: D’s res­i­dents tumbled apolo­get­i­cally down the steps to explain that junior Christian Yiu had just been doing his jumping jacks, and the group laughed off its annoyance and piled in doorways to chat, soon joined by the girls in Apartment B. They forgot about homework and talked for a long while.

Annoying yet heart­warming, and often a result of the quirks of a house (like thin floor­boards) and the people who live in it, moments like these define a home. Stu­dents in the Wash­ington-Hillsdale Internship Program didn’t come to D.C. to be at home, not even at the Hillsdale House: They came for new expe­ri­ences, for intern­ships, for people they hadn’t met before.

But with its odd archi­tecture, incredible location, and unpre­dictable occu­pants, the Hillsdale House plays a defining role in a WHIP student’s expe­rience.

Donated to the college not long before Hillsdale’s Alan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and States­manship opened in 2010, the 3,579-square-foot, three-story Hillsdale House is at full capacity with the 17 stu­dents who live there this spring. Built in 1900, it’s a tall house, with a turret, in a pic­turesque Capitol Hill neigh­borhood of brightly-colored town­homes. Redfin, a real-estate website, esti­mates the Hillsdale House’s worth at almost $2 million.

A corner house, the four-apartment building wel­comes day­light and street sounds, and it sprawls, full of sharp turns and steep stair­cases. Apartment B is two stories high, graced with a princess staircase. Apartment C is sand­wiched between Apartment A, below, and D, above. (Between those three, there is a kind of a cold war fought with A’s late-night music, C’s early-morning thonking heels, and D’s heavy foot­steps and jumping jacks.)

After acquiring the house, the college ren­o­vated it sig­nif­i­cantly, Matt Morrell, oper­a­tions manager at the Kirby Center, said. Hillsdale repainted the inside, installed tile flooring and air-con­di­tioning units, and made other cos­metic changes. Every season (the house is used for Hillsdale stu­dents in the summer, too), the college has a few weeks to retouch it, keeping the walls their pleasant blue, the bath­rooms clean, and the kitchen appli­ances func­tioning. Because the house is in a his­toric dis­trict, though, it can’t change the exterior, Morrell said.

But the college can repaint it. One morning this spring, a little com­motion stirred among the WHIP occu­pants when painters started propping ladders against the outside walls, which are well-endowed with large windows. The dis­ruption paid off: Yellow-green when stu­dents moved in in January, the exterior is now a pleasant gray with white trim.

Ceilings in the house are high, and every­thing hangs on the walls in pro­portion to them. So rather than noticing the high ceilings, you notice that you mostly see your forehead in the bathroom mirror, or you can’t reach the kitchen cab­inets without a stepladder. It’s mys­ti­fying (until you find out, as Morrell said, that this was common for Vic­torian-era city rowhomes), and rather hum­bling.

For prox­imity to famous people and places, the house could hardly be in a better place. At least one U.S. senator lives around the block; con­gressmen fre­quent the restau­rants down the street. A 20-minute morning jog easily winds past the Supreme Court and Capitol grounds to the National Mall, or down the bowery streets of Capitol Hill neigh­bor­hoods and Eastern Market. On a rainy Sat­urday, there are too many museums within walking dis­tance to choose from.

You can get any­where in the world from here without a car: A short walk from the house to Union Station will connect you with a train to any of three inter­na­tional air­ports.

For all the excitement its location brings, the Hillsdale House wouldn’t be much without its inhab­i­tants.

The size of WHIP groups varies between semesters; at 21, this spring’s group is the second-largest ever, said Program Asso­ciate Bert Hasler ’15. Four stu­dents board in housing owned by the Her­itage Foun­dation down the street.

Some­times, living with so many people is tough –– tougher than in a dorm, because the floors are thin and the rooms are on top of each other. Boys don’t know how to tread lightly up the steps. The later it gets, the louder girls laugh. There are never quite enough chairs or mugs or WiFi band­width to go around. They have mice, col­lec­tively named Gus Gus, and they blame each other for them. (Noting that keeping up with everyone’s level of clean­liness is one of the more dif­ficult aspects of main­taining the house, Morrell does send cleaners in to sup­plement stu­dents’ house­keeping habits).

But overall, the crowd brings good cheer. On a recent snow day (they exist down here in the snow-wary mid-Atlantic), everyone ate brunch together around Apartment D’s kitchen table, then regathered for a pizza dinner that evening. On St. Patrick’s Day, the group con­gre­gated for corned beef and soda bread. When junior WHIP student Ryan Murphy won election to class pres­ident, they crowded into Apartment C late that night to cel­e­brate with a proper toast, in their pajamas.

Apart­ments have their own tra­di­tions, too. C’s res­i­dents take turns cooking and eat Sunday dinners together. The guys in D watch Korean dramas and play a board game called Diplomacy.

“I’ve played more board games since coming here than I’ve ever played in my life,” Yiu mar­veled.

And there’s the group chat, at first an awkward for­mality reserved for sincere ques­tions about mandatory events, but which quickly loosened into a source of genuine bonding. WHIP stu­dents share mice advice, e.g., glue traps catch more human toes than rodents. They com­mis­erate over homework assign­ments. They trade kitchen sup­plies and organize Uber rides and offer up the leftover cheese from last night’s lecture at the Kirby Center (they consume a lot of cheese and peanut butter, which maybe explains the mice more than any­thing).

Though WHIP stu­dents scatter across the city to their intern­ships every day, there’s an identity and even a security in the group at the house. Much is unfa­miliar and chal­lenging: full-time intern­ships, evening classes, the Metro system. The city demands pro­fes­sional per­for­mance, their most con­fident selves, and that’s good.

But home is where you can be yourself at your worst and your best, laughing over funny moments and crying over hard ones (there are lots of both when you’re young in an adult world). It’s hum­bling and encour­aging, keeping us down to earth and reminding us that we’re not defined by the work they do each day.

That’s why the Hillsdale House such a crucial part of WHIP.

Lugging my bags around the corner of the Hillsdale House as I returned from Easter break with family, it occurred to me that this house was a warm place to come back to, a good tran­sition before work the next morning. A couple guys waved welcome back and offered to help with bags. Girl­friends in Apartment B asked all about the weekend. My room­mates were gen­uinely glad to all be back together again. And because we’re in D.C., one of them even handed out elegant wooden eggs from the White House Easter Egg Roll.

In the end, what makes the Hillsdale House good and mem­o­rable isn’t so dif­ferent from what stu­dents love about the campus they left for a semester: It’s the people.