Enjoying an international encounter

One of the very best elements of any international encounter is when a visitor can participate in a family or community’s expression of tradition.  Such events are the very center of cultural meaning and are often the most memorable parts of foreign travel no matter what other success may take place in school or business.  In America, Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to express this kind of tradition with an international visitor in your area because it is so uniquely American in its true historic roots.

Maybe you have taken the opportunity to host?  IMG_5229 croppedGood for you!  Do you know how to truly make the most of this diplomatic opportunity as a citizen?  We’ve compiled a few ideas and tips in hopes they will help you make the most of your international opportunities this year.  Maybe you know a friend who is hosting?  Please share this with them, too.

Chances are, your hosting an international for dinner with your family and friends will not contain any difficult political negotiations to hammer out. But that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t a difficult one to navigate in a way that makes everyone feel included and glad to have participated.

What is diplomacy made of?

Any good diplomatic event, small or large, professional or personal, contains these four basic elements:

The plan – a good event will have been deliberately thought through in advance.  This does not have to mean hours of preparation; it may only require a few minutes of clear thinking.

Questions to ask yourself – For Thanksgiving, these questions could relate to the dishes served, the clothes to wear, who will be in the group, the amount of time to plan in the day, the activities planned with family and friends, and whether participation is expected or genuinely optional.

  • What is the visitor expecting?  Do I know?
  • What am I expecting?  Do they know?
  • What do I know I will do that might take them by surprise?
  • How can I reduce uncertainty by communicating clearly in advance?

Tips to consider

  • Even if it seems too late, genuinely seek the honor of the other …align your plan to your purpose…communicate your plan in advance communicating your plan in advance – even if during the drive over to the house – is better than discovering unmet expectations once your visitor is in the door.
  • Think carefully on how to match your real purpose for having a visitor with the activities and expected messages of the day.
  • Genuinely seek the honor of the other; your own self-interest will naturally be at work even when you suppress it for their sake.


The communication method – volumes have been written on verbal and non-verbal communication.  When there is an international visitor in your home for whom English is not their native tongue, remember these tips:

  • Your conversation will be more enjoyable if you are both enjoying it.
  • Help them to prepare to communicate with you by saying their name clearly, then pausing for just a moment, then continuing with your statement or question. This will help their mind to be ready to hear everything you say, reducing confusion.
  • Remember that your English is as foreign to them as their language is to you. They have probably studied English much more than you have studied their language, but it is still foreign.
  • Communication is both sending and receiving.
    • From time to time, try your best to say back to the other what you just heard.  This will help them know they are being understood.
    • Think about what you are thinking about. Compare it to what the other person is saying. Is there a difference? If yes, your listening can improve.
  • Every message has both a verbal and a non-verbal element.
    • The clearest communication comes when both elements are in alignment.  A welcoming phrase with arms extended is in alignment.  Crossed arms while saying “hello” is not.
    • Remember that non-verbal elements speak more powerfully when the verbal is in a foreign language; your English may be foreign to them, so what they see from you is communicating more “loudly” than what they hear from you, even if they understand your words.


The message content – We might be saying something nicely, but what are we saying?  We often struggle with meaningful dialogue in our daily lives.  With an international visitor, new opportunities to express rich meaning can be a treat We often struggle with meaningful dialogue in our daily lives.  With an international visitor, new opportunities to express rich meaning can be a treat for both visitors and family members alike.

  • Consider centering your conversation around:
    • Family history – share some stories which your family might not have heard before.  Talk about the lives of grandparents and how their lives were lived differently than ours today.
    • Family values – talk about how what you truly value can be seen your everyday lives together.  Avoid lectures.  Listen to everyone.
    • Tradition – Intentionally share information about any Thanksgiving traditions your family observes. This sort of information is likely what they are hoping to learn by being in your home, but they may be very unwilling or unable to ask on their own.
    • Movies you enjoy, and why you enjoy themVandenberg games
    • The food on the table, especially if there are culturally interesting elements of tradition, stories, or preparation methods
    • Everyone’s plans for the next year
    • Questions that have personally meaningful answers
    • Appropriate humor


  • Avoid conversations on topics about which the visitor may not have any connection.
    • It can be very tempting (and often educational) to discuss one of our favorites: national politics!  However, this topic is something no one can usually do anything about.
    • Will the visitor feel embarrassed, shamed, or angry if you do not agree with their country’s government?
    • How will you truly feel if you discover they feel the same way about yours?
    • Does the visitor truly enjoy talking about politics?  If so, enjoy it!  Just be sure to find out first before enjoying that rousing discussion.
    • Remember that even though a conversation might not go badly, has it distracted you from enjoying an opportunity to learn about family history and values?


The take-away – All good things must come to an end.  But is it just a new beginning?

  • Above all, ensure you’re not bringing up important unmet expectations “on the way out the door.”
  • At least one hour before the scheduled end of activities, ask your visitor if there is something they were hoping to do that has not yet happened.
  • Likewise, ask yourself if what you were hoping would happen has happened.  If not, take the opportunity that remains.
  • If you intend to see the visitor again, be sure to let them know when and how you will be in touch with them.  If you want them to reach out to you first, be sure to let them know this.
  • Genuinely express to them what you enjoyed about their being in your home.
  • Do not expect, but be very thankful for any “Thank You” card or letter you receive afterward.


A Final Note

A car ride is much different than a house visit.  If you are giving the visitor a ride to/from your house, consider all the four basic elements described here as a separate “diplomatic event” with its own plan, methods, message(s) and take-away.  Thinking of it as just the arriving/concluding part of a house visit does not always work well.  Who will be in the car?  Do they know what to do?  What will the physical environment be like at the beginning and end of the ride when saying hello/goodbye?  Etc…

 Enjoy your international experience and thank you for engaging in citizen diplomacy!