Community Spotlight Series: Volunteer Hosts Peggy and Alan
October 26th, 2020
In this Community Spotlight, we would like to recognize two of our outstanding volunteer hosts - Peggy Keene and Alan Ross. For over 20 years, Peggy and Alan have hosted international visitors for dinners and short homestays. The couple first volunteered with the World Affairs Council in the early 2000s after learning about an opportunity through their sons’ school to host youth from Paraguay for a two-week exchange program. Since then, they have hosted many others including journalists from Belarus, tourism officials from Kosovo, students from Iraq, a Finnish entrepreneur, Serbian youth, as well as other visitors from South Korea, China, and Germany.
Hosting international visitors for dinners and homestays has always been a positive and enriching experience for Peggy and Alan’s family. While their two sons were growing up, hosting exposed them to people from a wide range of countries, cultures, and backgrounds. This exposure was an invaluable experience for shaping their children's perspectives of the world. Now as adults, their children have gone on to become world travelers themselves, and when the family gets together, they still regularly talk about their experiences welcoming international visitors into their home and how these exchanges have impacted their lives.
Out of the many positive memories that Peggy and Alan have from hosting, two recent memories stand out. In July 2019, Peggy and Alan hosted two young journalists from Belarus who were participating in the USAID funded Community Connections exchange program. During the one-month stay, Peggy invited one of the journalists to accompany her to a Seattle City Council candidate forum. The visitor was effusive about the experience; it proved to be her favorite of the entire program! She was deeply interested in seeing local democracy in action and was moved to see how the different candidates could peacefully share a stage and compete for the council seat. After the forum, the journalist even had the chance to interview some of the candidates and write an article about the experience after she returned to Belarus.
The other recent memory comes from when the family hosted an Iraqi youth who stayed with Peggy and Alan for two weeks in August 2018 as part of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), a youth leadership program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Over the years, Peggy and Alan have hosted many IYLEP students through the World Affairs Council’s long involvement in that program. Peggy and Alan have found that their experiences hosting Iraqi youth have been particularly meaningful due to the greater differences in culture, food, and traditions. Months after this particular student returned home, Peggy and Alan discovered that he had written a good-bye note, hidden away on a blank page in the couple’s movies-to-watch list. The message was a touching, deeply personal thank-you to Peggy and Alan for welcoming him into their home and lives. The student wrote about how living with them not only gave him a safe place to process and absorb the differences between his culture and theirs, but it also allowed him to grow and mature as an individual. Peggy and Alan still keep in touch with this student today.
Hosting is a deeply ingrained part of Peggy and Alan’s lives. Having raised two sons, they loved having the chance to host girls as well as young professionals: “Every time it’s a new experience…It’s like travelling without leaving home!” Beyond the experiences they share with the international visitors, hosting has also given Peggy and Alan the opportunity to meet other volunteer hosts. They have become friends with many other hosts and have expanded their local network.
Their advice to new volunteers looking to host? “Go for it! Keep an open mind and be flexible.” Peggy and Alan have experienced a wide range of different levels of autonomy with the youth they have hosted. While some require more guidance and help, others have an, “Ok, I’m off!” attitude. As a host, their advice is to be flexible and go with the flow. They see hosting as a way to stretch one’s own boundaries and comfort zone, “Hosting allows you to be a tourist in your own city and experience it with fresh eyes alongside your guest.” Knowing that all of the visitors have been carefully vetted in advance and that the World Affairs Council staff are always available to assist should any issues arise helps to ease any worries. “It’s not as hard as you think,” says the couple.
Thank you, Peggy and Alan, for your long history of volunteering with the World Affairs Council, and for welcoming dozens of international visitors into your home and family over the years!
Interested in hosting? While we do not currently have any in-person opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also still ways to connect online with individuals from around the world through our virtual exchange programs! Add your name to our volunteer list for dinner hosting and homestay hosting to stay up-to-date on all of our upcoming opportunities!
New to the Community Spotlight Series? Check out other Community Spotlights where we recognize our amazing community partners and the lasting impact of exchanges!
By Sean Bowman, Senior Program Officer, International Visitor Program