Charlotte walked into the office with a smile, and plopped a three inch file stack of international visitor program information on the table in front of me. A long time veteran of Utah Global Diplomacy programs, Charlotte has hosted over 18 groups and more than 55 international visitors over the nine years since discovering the Utah Global Diplomacy. Growing up in rural Tennessee, Charlotte did not always have access to international experiences and resources. Over her life however, she has discovered the joy and energy that internationalism brings to her life. She has lived in Utah for many years and has enjoyed hosting international students through exchange programs and the Bountiful SummerFest. It was through these that she discovered the opportunity to be a home host for Department of State visitors. She gleefully told me, “I signed up to be a dinner host and the rest is history”. Nine years later, she is still just as passionate about international connections as ever, noting that, “continuing the interaction and the conversation keeps me excited to visit and it keeps [international relations] at the forefront of my mind”.
Charlotte is a passionate believer that at the root of strong international relations are interpersonal relationships formed through interactions like a simple dinner at someone's home. It is where people can recognize that the shared humanity is greater than cultural, political, or religious differences. One favorite anecdote demonstrating this principle was the time that visitors discovered Charlotte’s small exercise trampoline. One hijabi woman was hesitant at first to try, but after getting on and bouncing, could not help herself from giggling. Charlotte explained, “people are so different but certain human qualities are so universal”. The visitors came from around the world with vastly different backgrounds, yet through the silly act of jumping on a trampoline, they were able to share in the human experience of joy.
For Charlotte, being a home host is not just about providing a dinner. It is an opportunity to get a snapshot into someone's life and form a human connection, however small or large that might be. While it is impossible for Charlotte to keep in contact with all the visitors that have attended dinners in her home, she does boast an extensive group of friends on Facebook where she sees updates on careers, weddings, and families. One particularly profound connection was made with a man from Afghanistan when he visited in 2015. Upon his return home, he and Charlotte kept in contact, sending each other email updates about their lives including his wedding and the birth of his two daughters. When the U.S. withdrew from the region and the Taliban took power, Charlotte worked to assist him and his small family in any way she could. They eventually were able to move and are now living in Pakistan. As she related his story, she showed me the pictures he had sent to her and noted how his eyes look so much happier now that they are temporarily settled. Because of their connection, the international issue that is often easy to view in quantifiable statistics, has become one of deep personal care and concern.
In addition to maintaining virtual contact, Charlotte has been able to visit some of the visitors in their home countries. On a trip to Kathmandu, Charlotte met up with Migmar Dolma, who had visited Utah in 2014. Just as Charlotte had shared her home and culture, Migmar was able to share her adopted country and culture in return.
In the seemingly small way, the act of “breaking bread” together at a home hospitality dinner has resulted in understanding and empathy between the numerous visitors from around the world, and people like Charlotte, who open their homes. We are profoundly grateful for Charlotte's involvement with Utah Global Diplomacy and for demonstrating the power of citizen diplomacy.
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