A Weekend at Bernie’s (and Mary’s): The World Affairs Council’s Home Hospitality Program

African journalists-Photo for HH Blog post

It’s Friday night and Bernie Hall dusts off his live record collection for a group of people he’s only just met. Bernie and his wife, Mary Boles-Hall, are dinner hosts for the World Affairs Council’s Home Hospitality program.  As a way to break the ice, Bernie lets his dinner guests choose the soundtrack for the evening. On the back of each record cover are a few carefully chosen facts, instant conversation starters introducing his international visitors to a cultural history they may have missed in their brief time here in Seattle.

Bernie and Mary have been hosting international dinner guests through the International Visitor Program’s Home Hospitality program for the past several years. Home Hospitality is a cultural exchange program in which local families volunteer to prepare a meal for a small number of international visitors participating in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the State Department’s premier professional exchange program. The IVLP program features 320 current and former heads of government and many other distinguished world leaders in both the public and private sector.

For Mary and Bernie, it all started after the two saw an ad in the paper for a World Affairs Council international networking event. They jumped at the opportunity to make connections from all corners of the world. What they didn’t realize at the time was how influential these international connections would become.

After meeting with Trinidadians, Iraqis, Haitians, Zimbabweans, and travelers from around the globe, Mary and Bernie’s perspective of the world has changed. While the two have done some traveling on their own, the opportunity to meet with international leaders over dinner has helped them realize that “People are people. People basically want the same things…they want to do better in their lives”.

Thinking back to past programs, Mary remembers hosting a group of journalists from Africa who joined the two for an outdoor summer dinner. After a relaxing three hours of food and conversation, one journalist approached Mary and Bernie with a confession: no one in the group had wanted to attend that night’s dinner, and they had only planned on staying for an hour. The group, however, had so much fun with Mary and Bernie that by the end of the night, no one wanted to leave.

The World Affairs Council’s goal is to bring the world to Seattle and to facilitate meaningful exchanges between individuals and communities.  As Mary and Bernie demonstrate, nothing does that better than the Home Hospitality program.  Our international visitors consistently rank their home hospitality experiences as their favorite part of their U.S. experience, giving them a chance to experience the true vibrancy of the Seattle community. As Mary puts it, “it’s just such a great experience to expand your life.”

For more information on how to become involved with Home Hospitality or to sign up to be a Home Hospitality host, please click here.