Joe and I hope to add a stamp to our passports* every two years or so – a dream that’s not by any means financed! Donations of airline miles now being accepted. Alas, 2013 is an off-year for big travel. (We had a great time in the Dominican Republic last summer for a destination wedding, and in 2010 took our honeymoon to the Alps.)
We’ve discovered one fun way to bring the world to us is by home-hosting international visitors. We’ve hosted three people through two programs — the Iowa International Center and Iowa Sister States. As opposed to having a teenage foreign exchange student, most delegates from these programs are older and only stay for about a week. (You do have to have a spare room for them to stay in.) Our two past delegates were from Tajikistan and this week we hosted Sergey from Stravropol, Russia.
Home hosting can be challenging, depending on the level of fluency of your visitor and cultural differences between your home and theirs. It can also be really fun to meet someone from across the world and find shared interests. (Our first visitor was terrified of our dog, Wilbur, so we kept him upstairs the whole time. Sergey, on the other hand, fed Wilbur pancakes out of his hand and they’re now best friends for life.) We bonded over videos of the Russian meteorite and a super sweet Moscow flash mob this weekend.
Just download Google Translate, practice patience and play at being a tourist in your own city. Almost without fail, though, visitors are interested in just hanging out and doing some shopping and will revel in a trip to the Apple store or request repeat Wal-Mart stops. Sergey was set on getting the newest model of GoPro camera to record all of his adventure sports. Apparently having a portable camera on in the car or while you’re rock climbing is a big thing in Russia?
During the week, the delegates meet with people in the Des Moines metro who I imagine tell them through a translator how things in Iowa are done. (Two of our visitors were on agricultural learning trips and this one is political, I think.) You typically drop them off on your way to work and pick them up before dinner. Sometimes a visitor will even want to cook a favorite dish from their home country! Home hosts also sometimes get together, so on Saturday night we spent the evening at a party in Ankeny with other hosts and delegates and wound up talking with a Russian filmmaker who has traveled to 36 American states. Not my typical night, that’s for sure.
If you don’t have the ability to host a visitor but still want to get some international flavor in Des Moines, check out Irina’s Restaurant for authentic Russian dining, attend one of the Greater Des Moines Partnership quarterly multicultural receptions, or mark your calendar for CelebrAsian and Latino Heritage Fest. Joe also took me on fantastic a bike ride through Des Moines’ Thai Village (I had no idea that spot existed!) this summer, and they host a festival over Labor Day.
*I’m sad that I’ll have to retire my passport with all my stamps because it expires before my next trip abroad. I’ve been to Mexico as a kid on family vacations and Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Lichtenstein (thanks, Girl Scouts), England for a study abroad semester in London, Ireland, Italy and Spain to hike part of the Camino de Santiago and Qatar last spring for the TEDxSummit.