Hosting visitors from all over the world for dinner is a favorite activity of members of the Lincoln Council for International Visitors (LCIV). Those dinners in the homes of LCIV’s “dinner diplomats” can lead to life-long friendships and opportunities to visit in the overseas homes of their guests from other countries.
LCIV is the nonprofit partner of the Mayor’s Council for International Friendship, established by Lincoln Mayor Dean Peterson in 1967. Since then, more than 2,100 visitors have come to Lincoln, primarily through LCIV’s local partnership with the U.S. Department of State. The number of visitors is increasing every year, with 97 guests from 46 countries visiting in 2018.
By June, another 60 will have visited from countries like Guatemala, Iceland, Mexico, Pakistan, Panama, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Kosovo, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Poland and other countries in the Near East and Africa, especially through the State Department-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
IVLP participants are chosen after they are nominated by the U.S. Embassy in their country, with the emphasis being on young and emerging leaders. More than 500 current and former heads of state have participated in the IVLP. They include Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico.
Justina and Dick Clark are new members of LCIV and have three children (ages 6, 5 and 4), so their hectic household perfectly suits the purpose of placing international visitors with dinner diplomats to let them see real, regular life in America.
“We've enjoyed sharing American customs and meals with these guests and learned so much about their lives and families,” said Justina. “Having our children involved in the dinners has been the most fun and exciting part of our experience. It is very important to me that my children have the opportunity to meet and learn about different people from around the world and to see that, just as these visitors have come from so far to visit us, they too can go far and wide in their own lives.”
The Clarks have stayed in touch with Cameroon visitors Acham and Benedicte through Facebook and WhatsApp, where they exchange pictures and pleasantries.
“With all of our guests, we've found that we ALL have much more in common than not, and we look forward to more chances to grow our circle of friends,” Justina added.
Longtime board member Elaine Hammer commented that “the opportunity to be a host and visit with our visitors is one way of learning about many different countries.” Hammer and her late husband were able to visit several countries throughout their lives, so she feels that it is a great way to hear about and "keep up with real information about them.”
A new board member and vice president of LCIV is Brooke David, who said she is involved in LCIV because she values new perspectives and the opportunity to meet people from around the world. She added that being involved in LCIV, especially participating as a dinner diplomat, has given her children the opportunity to engage with and learn from people from different cultures and countries.
LCIV member John Brasch first met a U.S. State Department visitor from England in the 1970s. Ian Wrigglesworth was then an up-and-coming young member of Parliament. The two immediately became friends and have visited each other frequently, especially after John started his business in the United Kingdom. Lord Wrigglesworth is now a member of the House of Lords and hosted Brasch’s family in London last year, including a behind-the-scenes tour of Parliament especially for Brasch’s grandsons.
A special IVLP visitor to Lincoln in January 2019 was Biplab Paul, from India, the State Department’s newest Gold Star Alumni member. His field is managing water resources, and he comes from a very arid state in India called Gujarat.
While on his IVLP visit in 2004 in the U.S., Paul learned about several innovative ways to better use water resources. On his return to Gujarat, he created an irrigation system and taught rural women to run it. His approach improves the lives of the rural poor, empowers rural women, and in 2007 was named as one of the best socially innovative techniques for poverty eradication by the World Bank. In Lincoln, he met with faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Water Center, which is part of the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute.
LCIV is expanding its efforts to more fully engage Lincoln citizens in its work of citizen diplomacy. More social events will be open to the public, including a First Friday June 7 reception, from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Foundry, 211 N. 14th St. Eight English-speaking journalists from around the world will be in Lincoln June 6-11. This delegation from Guatemala, Kosovo, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria and Poland will be examining “Media Responsibility in an Age of Disinformation.”
LCIV will also host 10 English speakers in Lincoln June 9-12 from Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Germany, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Taiwan. These delegates will be examining foreign policy in the heartland including international trade and immigration. They will attend Jazz in June Tuesday, June 11.
For times of each event, visit Facebook at LincolnCIV, and Twitter @LincolnCIV. Members of LCIV receive notifications of all visits and are invited to participate as dinner hosts, provide transportation and engage with the visitors at social events.
You can join LCIV through its website at lciv.org. LCIV is an approved nonprofit that is participating in the May 30 Give to Lincoln Day event sponsored by the Lincoln Community Foundation.
Officers and board members of LCIV and MCIF are Crystal Bock Thiessen, president; Brooke David, vice president; Paul Johnson, secretary; Sherri Johnson, treasurer; Lisa Lee, first contact; Gary Heusel, second contact; and Cassidy Bohac, director. Other directors are Lee Rockwell, Barb Hoppe, Justin Spooner and Elaine Hammer. Rockwell is the immediate past president and Brian Ridenour is also a past president.