By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Westport, CT – Thanksgiving Day promises to be quite a rewarding and unique experience for a number of international visitors and the local families that have volunteered to host them in their homes this holiday.
The collaboration is made possible by the International Hospitality Committee, also known as the Southwestern Connecticut Chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA, which invites people to open their doors to United Nations staff and diplomats, State Department sponsored visitors, Fulbright Scholars and other international students.
The Committee tries to match the interests of the hosts with those of the guests. For example, a few years ago, Westporters who had visited Vietnam and had children studying there hosted six high-ranking guests who were part of a delegation from Vietnam. According to Committee spokesperson Barbara Jay, “The dinner was an enormous success.”
While hosts are advised on any dietary constraints or allergies, most guests are willing to try everything.
Jay explained how a typical Thanksgiving hosting works. “Hosts and guests are given each other’s names and contact information, and usually arrangements are made through email to ensure clear communication. Guests arrive at the Westport Train Station by the 11:11a.m. train from New York and are collected by their hosts. After that, the rest of the day is determined by the host family.”
As to activities once guests are with the families, Jay said, “Some will go for a walk on the beach. Others learn touch football on the lawn or the intricacies of NFL football on TV. Some hosts have taken their guests to help out in soup kitchens. There is no typical hosting experience, just the fascination of strangers meeting and becoming friends over a fine meal.”
Naomi Cruz Ciferri and her family will be hosting for the first time this year. “I thought it would be a nice thing to do for someone with no place to go, who was away from home and needed company and a nice meal,” she said. “We always like having people over. We have an open-door policy.”
Ciferri’s guests, Kishor Patel, 29, and Raksha Kumar, 24, both from India and post-graduate students residing in the tri-state area, were on a waiting list for hosting. Ciferri and the pair exchanged emails. “They are very much looking forward to sharing Thanksgiving dinner with our family,” said Ciferri.
Madelein Schuster is a veteran host who has been welcoming international visitors into her home since the late 80s. “When I first decided to host and told my children, who were elementary school age at that time, they feared for their safety. ‘What if they kill us? No will ever know,’ they said. That’s why I had to do this, to open their minds. Now it’s a wonderful tradition for us.”
Schuster’s guests this year are Yaeji Chun, 27, from South Korea, and Fahad Rahman, 25, from Pakistan. She said both are looking forward to the holiday – Chun, in particular, is excited, as she has only been in the country two months and hasn’t experienced it before.
“We have a tradition to have everyone help cook an apple pie,” said Schuster. “It’s fun to share stories about food as we are cooking, cutting and baking. Often times, as a gift to my family, guests bring food items from their country.”
“One year, we had someone from China who was a classical violinist and he brought his violin with him and treated us to a performance. Another year, our guests wanted to experience Black Friday. We got up at 3a.m. to go shopping in New Jersey,” said Schuster.
Barbara Quincy is another veteran host. “I have invited guests to my home for more years than I can count. They have come from Japan, India, Scandinavia, England, Belgium and Germany. It is such a mutually rewarding experience and a small way of promoting understanding and friendship between nations. Heaven only knows the world needs to go in that direction.”