Danielle Turner, long time Home Host with UCCD, has a reputation for becoming fast friends with our International Visitors. What started simply as bonding over a meal has since taken her across the world to see our Visitors in their home countries.
Danielle and her partner Ken Ashcraft first hosted two journalists from Bangladesh. Their time spent with these fabulous young men was a fascinating and fun experience for all. These Visitors were also the first group that Danielle and Ken visited. She shared, “The first [trip] kind of happened by accident, we were searching and found some tickets to Thailand. Then we thought, well Thailand is next to Bangladesh, maybe we should contact those visitors. So we did! They treated us like royalty. I think we were the only westerners in the whole country.”
This made for an unforgettable experience for Danielle. Due to protests in the country, some of their time was spent indoors, but they were also able to visit the beach and take part in cultural activities. “They took us to see all the refugee camps, which was such an eye opener. I had never even heard of the Geneva camps, I didn’t know what they were. They’ve been around since the separation of India and Pakistan. These people have never been accepted in either Pakistan or Bangladesh so they just live in refugee camps with no plumbing, no electricity, nothing. I can’t believe they showed it to us; it’s an education you can’t get any other way.”
Danielle continued, “They took us to places I would never have seen or even heard of, it was just wonderful. We stayed in their homes and met their families. It was just unbelievable.”
After their visit in in Bangladesh, Danielle knew this wouldn’t be the last of their adventures abroad. “That kind of got us on a hot-streak; we wanted to do it again.”
One of Danielle and Ken’s most recent travels was to Georgia and Estonia. Accompanying them was the original couple who introduced them to UCCD, Cheryl Olson and Dave Hardy. After hosting a group from Estonia, Poland and Germany, Danielle continued to stay in contact with members of the group. A young man from Estonia, Egert Ruune, was among these visitors.
“Egert, a couple months [after the program], contacted me and said that he and another friend were going to be in Las Vegas and wanted to know if I had any tips for them, as I had previously lived in Vegas. I wasn’t doing anything, and Ken wasn’t doing anything so we said, ‘You know, we’ll just drive down and meet you!’ So we went down and took them to the Hoover Dam, to Zions National Park and all around the Strip.” During this short trip, Egert mentioned there would be an International Children’s Choral and Dance Competition in Estonia that only happens every four years, with 40,000 children who participate. Danielle shared, “They said, you ought to come and we said, yeah we ought to! So we bought tickets.”
Danielle continued, “This is how gracious they are, Egert moved out of his apartment and let us stay there and took us all over. This festival was so unbelievable… While we were there, we again thought, ‘Wow, we’re in the same vicinity as Georgia, why don’t we see Nana and Zviad, they keep telling us to come.’ So we did!” Although they later found that Estonia isn’t terribly close to Georgia, they took the 6 hour plane ride to see more of our International Visitors and hike the Caspian Mountains along the border of Russia.
Nana Chkarueli and Zviad Eradze graciously welcomed Danielle and Ken into their homes. “They had us drink homemade wine and had dinner with them. It was just wonderful. They really take you in like family. And Georgians like to drink, so you’re toasting to everything!”
Danielle has since traveled to Hungary and Budapest to see our International Visitors. She shared, “All they do is rave about the IVLP program, and they stay in contact with the people they travel with too.” She knows participants who have since had reunions together and continue to keep in touch. Danielle continued, “They make friends from all over the world, and we do too so it seems to me that it’s unfinished if you don’t keep in contact with them. We consider it a great opportunity. We’re not going to the tourist traps that everyone goes to; we are going to places that nobody else would get to see.”
Danielle concluded her remarks to UCCD with a quote by Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Danielle has found that it is easy to have incorrect ideas and assumptions about places, but visiting the people will change your perspective.
UCCD along with Danielle encourages Home Hosts to follow up with their Visitors. Danielle stated, “It’s the finishing tie when they have a home visit with you so you can show them what a real American family is like, and then you go visit them and they show you how they live. To me, it completes the circle.” We at UCCD thank Danielle and Ken for their continued efforts to build bridges between the people of Utah and other nations and are excited for their future travels!