University of Oklahoma graduate student Jinhee Seo moved from Seoul, South Korea, to the United States two years ago and learned that adjusting to life in a new country can be difficult. In addition to the U.S. feeling slower, refrigerators open backwards and people carry their keys everywhere.
“It took a lot of time to adjust,” she said. “In Korea, we use automatic door locks, and everything is automatic, so we don’t have to carry around keys. Carrying around a key has been a very new experience for me.”
When Seo and her husband, Seung Hoo Lee, moved to Norman two years ago, they wanted housing that would offer an easy transition to American life. It was too risky to buy a house having never visited the country before, and they weren’t sure about the rental process either. But when the couple found out OU had apartments for married students, they were relieved.
“We decided to live in Kraettli Apartments because we wanted to know what the U.S. is — how they live, what the process of buying a house or selling a house is before we do that,” Seo said.
After starting their lease at the Kraettli Apartments in 2018, they made friends who were experiencing the same adjustments. They connected with fellow students from China and Korea who shared their fears and made them feel like they weren’t alone. After a year and instead of buying a house, Seo and Lee decided to renew their Kraettli lease because they had found community.
Kraettli resident: ‘We have found a lot of friends’
The Kraettli Apartments, located west of Jenkins Avenue between OU’s softball and baseball stadiums, were built in 1963 and are the University of Oklahoma’s oldest residential option. While Kraettli now houses mostly international and married students, the complex is open to all students, faculty and staff.
“Kraettli is the go-to option for those who are married and/or with families,” said Kesha Keith, OU director of media relations. “Currently, the complex is a mixture of OU students, faculty, staff, and families with dependents. All lessees must be affiliated with the university.”
Kraettli serves as OU’s only on-campus option for students with families, so many international students moving to the U.S. with their spouse choose to make the 191-bed complex their home.
“I get to meet people from all over the world by living here at Kraettli,” said Bob Dougherty, a long-time resident of the apartments and an OU IT staff member. “That’s the best part about it.”
The community atmosphere can be a strong reason residents wish to stay. Syed Shah and his wife, Faiza Hassan, both moved to Oklahoma from Pakistan in December 2016 for graduate school. They have met and befriended other Pakistani families living at Kraettli. Having neighbors of the same nationality has made transitioning to the United States easier.
“We have found very good friendships here,” Hassan said. “You don’t miss home that much when you have a good community.”
Shah and Hassan have become close with three families and a few single students from Pakistan. Their group celebrates American holidays together, like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, as well as traditional Muslim holidays, like Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
A lot of meals are shared, Hassan explained, because food brings people together, even on less special days. Eating together reminds those gathered of Pakistan where the cultural focus is on the family. Here, where their parents, grandparents and siblings are absent, Kraettli residents are family.
“They are from different parts of Pakistan, and we get together almost every other weekend. We sit together and all talk in our own language,” Shah said. “It’s the same style as back home, so it’s very good to have them.”
Some of the families have children. Shah and Hassan have a young daughter, Alizah, and they are glad their baby will grow up with friends.
“I am very satisfied that we have a lot of children here, so she will have a lot of playmates,” Hassan said. “When it was summer, we used to go out every day walking, and the kids played together.”
Another reason residents choose to live at Kraettli is its overall safety.
“I feel safer here. I see the campus police all the time around the apartments,” Shah said. “I can stay at the office late at night and not worry about back home.”
Kraettli events help residents meet each other
Meeting the neighbors is easy at Kraettli. Residents encounter each other walking through the complex or at the laundry facility. Shah joked that the tornado shelter is another great place to meet people. But residents also have opportunities to socialize with their neighbors through Kraettli-sponsored events, like Halloween parties and start-of-the-semester gatherings.
“Probably four or five times a year, they have community events here,” Dougherty said. “I’ve gone to them. They’re a lot of fun.”
Shah and Hassan try to go to events when they can. Seo said she went to a few her first year, snacking and meeting other residents while she learned English.
“There are hot dogs, sandwiches, some donuts,” said Seo. “They try to encourage people to meet each other.”
While some residents are more removed from the community events, they appreciate the easy access to campus and the quiet complex.
“I didn’t even know they had events,” resident Gerome Cohee said. “It’s quiet, though. That’s what I like. It’s nice people.”
Some residents hope for improvements
Despite the age of OU’s Kraettli Apartments, most residents find their living situation agreeable. Buses are available for campus travel, the complex is safe, maintenance is quick and neighbors are quiet. However, issues do come with age, so the university tore down one of the complex’s buildings a few years ago. The remaining apartments continue to receive updates, but renovations are still needed, according to some residents.
“It reminds me of my grandma’s house,” said Seo, mentioning that her faucet was an older model than what she had in Korea. “I can’t believe it still works.”
Issues mostly lie in the technology within the apartments, residents said. Thermostats have heating and cooling modes but no way to set a specific temperature. The internet has connectivity issues, and washer and dryer hookups are nonexistent. There have also been recent mice sightings.
“The last six months, we have had difficultly getting rid of mice,” said Seo. “The other day, I was so freaked out because there was a dead body of a mouse in the middle of our kitchen.”
OU says the apartments are maintained just like their other properties.
“As is the case with all OU housing, Kraettli Apartments are on a regular renovation and upgrade schedule,” Keith said. “The scope of work varies by unit, but upgrades can include a new HVAC system, water heater, flooring, paint, countertops, light fixtures and bathroom tile.”
Regardless of complaints, some residents are perfectly happy to live just as they have since moving there. Dougherty has lived at Kraettli for 25 years.
“I love living here,” he said. “I’d recommend these apartments to anybody.”
OU in 2020: Kraettli Apartments here to stay
Over the years, rumors have percolated that the Kraettli Apartments might be slated for closure, but the university currently says no such plans exist.
But during a June 2018 call with investors in another university housing project, OU’s former chief financial officer, Chris Kuwitzky, mentioned that the Kraettli Apartments were “scheduled to come offline somewhere in the next few years.”
International students coming to the country with their spouse have only one on-campus housing option: Kraettli. As the only option for married students and students with families, it isn’t clear if another current OU complex could replace Kraettli on that front. It is also unclear if single residents would want to move to another OU property like Cross Village, currently the university’s biggest question mark when it comes to campus housing.
‘Quite a mess’: OU’s Cross Village risks ramifications by Tres Savage
“The Kraettli Apartments, which are our oldest non-freshman housing, will likely come offline in the next few years,” Kuwitzky said in the 2018 call, obtained by NonDoc. “That facility serves primarily families, faculty and staff, and it’s unlikely that any of the people displaced there would migrate to the Cross project.”
OU has dealt with displaced students before. The Parkview Apartments, owned by OU, closed in May 2006. In a meeting with OU housing officials in late March 2006, residents were notified that they would have two months to find a new residence. Families living in Parkview had the option of moving into Kraettli. Single students could move into Traditions Square or the university’s dorms. All former residents kept the same rent rate they paid at Parkview until May 2007.
Neither Chris Kuwitzky nor Chad Cochell, the former director of real estate operations who joined Kutwitzky on the 2018 call, remain with the university. Their positions have been filled by Kenneth Rowe and Beau Jennings, respectively, and the university now states that Kraettli Apartments are not facing closure.
“The university plans to keep Kraettli Apartments open and available to the OU community,” Keith stated in a Feb. 14 email responding to questions about the complex.
However, some residents say Kraettli remains hard to find on OU’s housing website.
“Very, very hard to find,” said Seo, who spoke about navigating the website with her husband. “In a certain little bottom corner, there is kind of the introduction to the Kraettli Apartments, but we were not sure if they were real or not.”
Kraettli, unlike other housing options, can only be found by clicking through a few other pages.
“LiveOU is a marketing campaign for upperclassmen-housing options, which includes Kraettli,” Keith said in her email.
But while stated to be part of the campaign, which launched in 2017 to encourage students to continue living on campus after their freshman year, Kraettli does not appear on the LiveOU homepage like the other upperclassmen options
“As an upperclass student, you can choose from the Residential Colleges, Cross or Traditions Square,” the website states.
Kraettli also does not appear in the sidebar inviting students to live at the other three options listed.
OU has reason to keep the apartments available to students, though.
“[Kraettli was built] to accommodate for increased demand for low-cost, affordable family housing,” Keith said. “This demand continues.”
At the January 2020 OU Board of Regents meeting, a 3 percent increase in rent rates for Kraettli and the residence halls was approved, as well as a 6 percent increase for residential colleges. For Kraettli, this means the cost of an unfurnished, two-bedroom unit will increase from $706 to $727 per month. A furnished, two-bedroom unit will increase from $795 to $819 per month.
“From time to time, to continue to make Kraettli a housing option to the OU community, the university must increase rental rates to cover maintenance, renovations and other operational costs,” Keith said.
Kraettli’s offerings largely appeal to families like Seo and Lee, and Shah and Hassan.
“We have a community here,” Hassan said.