Virtual Global Connections: May IVP Happy Hour!
May 19th, 2020
Usually, the summer is a busy time for the International Visitor Program with many opportunities for our incredible network of volunteer hosts to welcome global leaders to their home for dinner. Due to the pause in programming and international travel, we are finding new ways to connect our volunteers with each other and to the world. In that spirit, we hosted our second virtual happy hour on Tuesday, May 19th with volunteer hosts, staff, interns, and international exchange alumni! The informal Zoom call stretched across four continents as we were joined by long term and future volunteer hosts in and around Seattle and Tacoma and International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumni from Guatemala, Australia, and Mongolia, who recently traveled to Seattle on programs ranging from NGO Management to U.S. Foreign Policy in the Indo-Pacific.
The Happy Hour began with introductions and reflections on the changes to our world and our lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IVLP alumni shared how they are coping with the situation in their countries. Dario Rodriguez from Guatemala is working at one of the four hospitals treating Covid-19 patients in Guatemala. He joined us during his evening shift to fill us in on what he’s been up to since returning home after visiting Seattle in February 2020 on the “NGO Management” IVLP. Dario, the Clinical Services Coordinator of Collective of Friends Against AIDS, talked about the impact of COVID-19 on the work he is doing within his community and the innovative ways hospital staff are working to expand their virtual services.
If you’re interested in learning more about Dario and IVLP alumni from the “NGO Management” program, follow their conversations on their own YouTube channel.
Dean Carlson from Australia is the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Defense Minister, and traveled to Seattle in early February 2020 for the “U.S. Foreign Policy in the Indo-Pacific” IVLP. He mentioned that Australia flattened the curve a month ago and had just recorded their 100th death due to Covid-19 in mid-May. Dean shared about the hopeful situation in Australia and provided some reasons why the country has been improving and their work on restarting the economy.
Zolboo Dashnyam from Mongolia joined us during his early morning coffee and explained that Mongolia was still in lockdown due to the pandemic. He also shared that Mongolia is one of the few countries in the world which has not had any deaths due to Covid-19. Zolboo is the Director of The Institute of International Affairs Mongolian Academy of Sciences, and he was also a part of the “U.S. Foreign Policy in the Indo-Pacific” IVLP. Both Zolboo and Dean recalled that they had attended the World Affairs Council Community Event A Rapid Response Discussion on the Coronavirus and Global Health Emergencies and reflected on how this information had helped to shape their understanding of policy and response to the growing concerns around the novel coronavirus.
The conversation then turned to the importance of being welcomed into a local home to share a meal and conversation. The IVLP alumni reflected on their experience with Seattle hosts, especially how it helped them to learn about American culture in an informal environment. Dean shared how important it was to have home hospitality and build relationships with Americans in their homes, and Zolboo shared how important it was to connect with the volunteer hosts for dinner to truly understand American culture. Zolboo reflected on one of his earliest jobs working as a tour guide in Mongolia and how he always treated people with kindness when they visited his country. As a visitor to the United States, he was happy to be welcomed and treated with the same kindness.
Our community of volunteer hosts chimed in with their stories of hosting people from around the world and how those experiences help them understand our world better. The visitors and hosts shared their stories about how it is challenging to navigate cultural differences but it can be a rewarding experience if we make the effort to ask questions, do background research, and stay open-minded in the face of unfamiliar conversations. We are so thankful for the opportunity to continue to connect our hosts and exchange alumni, and we hope to continue these virtual exchanges until we can meet again in person!