StoryCorps: Tammy VuPham + Paloma Casteleiro Costa

Paloma Casteleiro Costa, 21, and Tammy VuPham, 20, became close friends as roommates last year at I-House. They recently sat down to reminisce about this one-of-a-kind experience as Tammy recalls how she felt as an incoming freshman and meeting Paloma for the first time.

Audio Transcript:

VuPham: And I was scared to be honest. And I had studied abroad a bit in Spain before, in Barcelona, but I never really spent a lot, a lot of time with somebody—especially someone that I would share, you know, like a room with for a whole year. So I was scared, definitely. 

Costa: What about our first conversations trying to figure out, you know, each other’s hobbies and all those things. What do you think about it?

VuPham: Yeah, for me what struck me at first was how friendly Paloma was and how good her English was. I wasn’t really sure—I wasn’t really sure if you would, you know, come in not knowing a lot of English or, not knowing a lot about American culture. And I think that really surprised me when we finally met in person. I remember that one day on move-in meeting you, you know you had your car already and had, you know, all your supplies. And I was here, you know, being like the stereotypical you know, the deer-in-the-headlights freshman—I had no idea what I was doing. 


Costa: That’s funny. Yeah because it was your first year of college. You were a freshman. And we lived in the International House which is a house—half of them are American and the other half are exchange students. But 99 percent of the people in there are upper classmen. So you were the younger one, Georgia Tech was new. And you’re American, you go to Morocco for a year, right?

VuPham: Mhmm.  

Costa: And then you come back to the states, but not really, because you’re living in a place that is the whole world in a house. So what was the shock? 

VuPham: And I—yeah, I definitely can say that I don’t think I had that freshman experience like a lot of other first-years did especially to have you almost like my mom, [Costa laughing], And yeah definitely, our house—our little International House—that was my family for all of last year. Like that was—those were my “moms” and “dads” and “cousins” and I loved it! We really had that such a good dynamic. 


Costa: Yeah, it was actually, it was a pretty great place to live in.

VuPham: So in the International House we have coffee hours to discuss just different topics pertaining to your time here in the U.S.. And so I remember that first coffee hour we talked about different questions about like religion and like owning—


Costa: Oh yes.


VuPham: —like owning guns and like healthcare. And it was really interesting to see like how diverse people’s opinions were of them. And then also like how their countries handled those sort of topics.


Costa: Yeah, it’s also great to have discussions with people that have a very different opinion than you do.

Costa: So that type of conversations—those were the good ones—where you can change your mind set a little bit.

VuPham: Mhmm. Yeah, I really liked how we could really challenge each other, right? 

Costa: Yeah.

VuPham: And it felt like our little family, our home was a safe space. Like I’ve never had conversations where I could talk so openly about like my self-identity and like the things I believed in. Even now, now that we’ve all gone our separate ways and we’re all doing really different things, like all around the world—

Costa: Yes.

VuPham: —like we still find the time to talk to each other, to Skype each other. Like I know that somewhere out there, there’s a couch waiting for me. [giggling] Right? 

Costa: Yes, that’s super cool. So at this point we created this group on Facebook, called “I-House Alumni.” There’s people from every single corner in the world and you can just post in that group and be like, “Hey guys! Umm, I’m thinking about, you know, traveling around Thailand and then maybe steppin’ around Russia and is anybody cool with me staying in their homes?” And I’ve seen it already happen to people that don’t know each other but have lived in I-House and they’re just like, “Yeah! You can just come over and we’ll meet. I’ll show you around.” It’s very cool. 

VuPham: Yeah, I think  our little International House—I mean, that really, if you think about it, that all kind of came by chance, right? We all happened to apply at the same time, right?


Costa: Yes.


VuPham: And we all—out of you know, hundreds of applications of other students like other exchange students, other Georgia Tech students—we all happened to be together in that one little house for a year. And that really—I don’t know where I would be without, you know, our whole family of crazy students [Costa laughing] from wherever in the world. Like I, I really don’t.


Costa: Yeah it would be such a different experience. I value it a lot.


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Produced by Melissa Terry from interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. www.storycorps.org
Special thanks to the interview participants, StoryCorps Atlanta, WREK Atlanta 91.1FM, WABE 90.1FM, and Institute Communications