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Why host a WorldDinner?

Each year WorldDenver brings over 700 visitors from around the world for professional programs. To complement an often intense schedule, we love to match visitors with local hosts to share a dinner together in our WorldDinner program. 


WorldDenver’s 2018 Outstanding World Dinner host Iris Fontera, explained it as a way to travel the world in your own dining room. While the principal objectives of our programs spin around professional exchanges, the chance to be hosted by a local is often a highlight of the trip. Spurring business deals, breaking down stereotypes on both sides and forming global friendships. 


Insights into hosting WorldDinners


Iris has been hosting the international dinners for over 15 years and she agreed to talk to me about what exactly goes into being a host and why it is an invaluable experience.  


The first lesson: WorldDinners are not just a tick in a checklist of American experiences for these guests, nor for their hosts. As we huddled over tea she passed me a folder that contained all her hosting records since 2003 (and she’d already been hosting for much longer). Inside were the bios of her guests, business cards, thank you notes, photos and trinkets sent over after the guests had returned home.  


Though, before diving into the treasure trove of international exchanges, Iris passed me a page with a list of the 54 countries her guests have come from. In some cases she’d had many guests from the same countries, like Saudi Arabia and China for instance. She prefers to host two people at a time, and her dinner guests have come from countries as diverse from each other as possible. Including: Iran, Tonga, Pakistan, Denmark, Bhutan and Rwanda, to name just a few. 


When else would you get the chance to travel to 54 countries at the cost of dinner? 



Interview with Iris Fontera, our Outstanding WorldDinner host 2018


  1. For how long have you been hosting WorldDinners?


I started volunteering for WorldDenver when it was still The Institute of International Education (IIE). I began recording the dinners in 2003, and up until this point, people from 55 countries have come to my home for dinner. I couldn’t tell you the number of guests, but usually I prefer two guests at a time, and a translator if it’s needed. Then I invite some friends and family to reach a total number of eight people. This means we fit nicely around my dinner table and can have one conversation. 


Now, this may sound funny, but I realized that the cooking is the most unimportant part! In fact, our food is so bland people from Asia or South America probably don’t even like it (that was joke!). 


Anyway, I advise that you don’t make things too difficult and make dishes you can prepare beforehand. I have some chicken recipes I alternate between and I will also always have a vegetarian option. 



2. Why do you host? 


I have lived in other countries during my life. I lived in England, India and France and I’ve always been interested in other countries and cultures. But I’m not so interested in traveling. I did a lot of traveling, but following the touristic route has never been the highlight for me. Some people want to go to every country and when you are tourist you see churches, buildings and historical sites. In some cases, with a tour company, you can meet with people in that country too.


But that is not half as good as having those people in my house. 


As I host, I have a completely different experience from only being a tourist. You notice that we all share similar experiences and pressures: the good, the bad, and we are from one world. 


It is my selfish way to learn about all these countries. Hopefully, when they think of America and they are listening to the negative things the governments are saying about each other, they can remember about our dinner. 



3. What was your most memorable hosting experience? 



I have a funny memory from a summer BBQ I hosted.

I had these guests and there was one woman who had never seen corn-on-the-cob before. One thing I like to do when I’m hosting is I always explain to the guests what we are eating as perhaps it isn’t familiar. So this lady was very hesitant about picking up the corn and eating with her hands. So I chopped it into thirds and told her she could just try part of it. Afterwards she loved it so much she ate 3 or 4 corn on the cobs with her hands! She just thought it was so delicious. 


I have so many memories, but at one point I had some teachers from Iran. It was exactly 4 or 5 years ago when Obama was trying to get an agreement on nuclear weapons. They were sitting at our table and they were talking about jobs and kids and about school. Normal day-to- day values that we share as humans. And all I could think is that the congressman and congresswomen should sit and eat with Iranians, because there is so much miscommunication in the world.  




4. What advice would you give to someone thinking of hosting a WorldDinner?


My best advice is don’t worry about the food. Try simple recipes, because that is not the reason that someone else is at your house. Make simple dishes beforehand and you don’t have to do anything elaborate.  


At the beginning, I would match friends or family with the area that the guests worked in. But then I realized that they are spending weeks visiting people in their field. So now I just invite friends that are interested in meeting the international guests. 


Often I’ve heard the remark from those I’ve invited, “this is the most interesting evening I’ve had in years.”



In my case, I limit the evening to eight people, because we sit around our dinner table and we can have one conversation together. With more people usually the group splits and they begin having separate conversations. In the summer, I may hold a BBQ outside and in that case I’ll set up a few tables. 


For someone else it just matters what is comfortable around your own dinning table.


Interested in hosting WorldDinners? 


WorldDenver is always seeking out new WorldDinner hosts or even the possibility to co-host (picking up the guests and bringing a dessert). 

There is more information at https://worlddenver.org/WorldDinners, where you can also fill in a hosting application if you are interested.



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