Trump’s recent Executive Order banning entry to the United States to citizens of seven countries, even those with U.S. permanent resident status, will go down in history perhaps the most vile action during his first 10 days in office. Protests spontaneously erupted at international airports across the US in response to Custom and Border Protection’s (CBP) enforcement of Trump’s edict of hate.
I won’t belabor the point of how flawed or hypocritical his executive order is–the major news outlets have already pointed out how not one of the countries on the ban was home to the 9/11 terrorists. Instead, I would like to redirect my energies to talk about a citizens diplomacy program in which my family previously participated as well as upcoming opportunities now that we have moved from the Washington, DC area to central Pennsylvania.
International Visitor Leadership Program
Last year, my family had the opportunity to host visitors from Armenia, Germany, Indonesia, and the Philippines for dinner through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Thanks to the home hospitality component of the program, managed by Meridian International House, we engaged guests in meaningful conversation which invariably would lead to questions about US social policy.
Topics covered usually included gender equality, healthcare (particularly curious to international visitors is the fact that the US does not offer universal healthcare, an inalienable right in other countries), affordable (or lack thereof) daycare, eldercare and the ‘sandwich’ generation, the US education system (inconsistencies depending on location), the Family and Medical Leave Act (visitors are often perplexed by the complexity of FMLA and how it doesn’t cover all Americans and how for the most part, those covered do not received guaranteed paid time off), and more.
Visitors had the opportunity to see that not all Americans are monolingual. Thanks to our family’s language skills, one of our guests who had trouble expressing herself in English was able to connect with my son who speaks French–it turns out she was a grandmother. She whipped out her iPhone and started showing him photos of her home country and invited him to visit some day!
Last fall, we moved to central Pennsylvania. In the hopes of continuing our citizen diplomacy efforts, I registered our family with Global Connections, a community-based nonprofit. I had attended the organization’s Women’s International Night in November and enjoyed the event which included booths with international artwork, food, and handicrafts as well as musical performances. I was matched with a post-doctoral student who is studying botany at Penn State University. Our first meeting was at a ramen noodle and sushi shop where we conversed about concerns that are universal to moms! I look forward to meeting the rest of her family soon.
Additionally, we will be sending our older son to Japan in the spring where he will revisit Tokyo and Kyoto on an educational tour. He will have the opportunity to tap into his Japanese language skills developed during a two year immersion in Fukuoka, Japan.
Exploring Volunteer Opportunities
If you aren’t familiar with the opportunities to connect with international visitors or residents in your community, try exploring international student exchanges (either as a host family, or consider sending your high school child on an exchange), international friendship programs (for example, conversation partner programs are often offered at public libraries), international film or music festivals, and more.
What if you find your community is lacking opportunities for engaging with internationals? You might consider creating such programs by approaching community members and proposing such opportunities. For example, you could start an English conversation club at the local library or church, or ask a local cafe to sponsor an international poetry slam where poetry from around the globe is read. If you have international artists in your community, see if there is a venue (community art gallery, cafe, or other) where their work could be displayed. Reach out to schools or churches in your community to organize an international bazaar during the holidays where treats and handicrafts from around the globe are showcased.
We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section below with welcoming international guests and residents in your community to promote peace and understanding! Given the current political landscape in the US, it is critical that Americans engage in citizen diplomacy.