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  • Writer's pictureLeila Assadi

Bring the World to Your Dinner Table

When we host our international delegations, one of the most impactful volunteering opportunities is the Iowa Table dinners. In between the busy schedules of professional meetings and cultural excursions, Iowa Table dinners provide our international guests with an informal time to be relaxed and comfortable. Though it may seem like an Iowa Table dinner host would need a large house and fancy dining table, this is a false notion and may discourage people from volunteering to host dinners.  

As an organization, we strive to create volunteer opportunities that are accessible to any age, and Iowa Table dinners are no exception. As MkpoutoAbasi James, a university student at Cornell College, has shown, all you need to host a successful Iowa Table dinner is determination and a desire to learn from other people and cultures. What makes MkpoutoAbasi’s hosting unique is that she hosts delegations at her college’s dining hall.  

MkpoutoAbasi became interested in hosting a dinner after asking herself, “What better way is there to talk to people than over a plate of food?” To MkpoutoAbasi, it then seemed like a no brainer to host at her school’s dining hall because the food was already provided, making it simple to host a dinner and casually sit, talk, and eat with people.  

Although she has hosted four successful Iowa Table dinners, MkpoutoAbasi highlights the very first one as having her favorite memories. The delegation she was hosting was from China, and MkpoutoAbasi did not know what to expect. She was initially intimidated by the prestigious bios of the delegates. “However,” MkpoutoAbasi said, “after eating and talking, I was able to see them open up and warm up. I felt more comfortable and could be myself.”  

MkpoutoAbasi believes that the biggest misconception about Iowa Table dinners is that they entail a great deal of formality and can turn boring quickly. However, they are so much more than that. Groups often love eating with MkpoutoAbasi and her friends, saying that they did not miss home while attending the dinners in Cornell College’s dining hall. “The impact you can make in two hours or less is the most treasurable thing about table dinners,” MkpoutoAbasi said.  

MkpoutoAbasi’s advice to anyone interested in hosting a dinner is just to do it! She cited the words of our Executive Director, Amy Alice Chastain, saying, “They are normal people. They also want to have conversations just like everyone else. They also want to eat food just like anyone else.” Most of the delegations’ time in the United States is formal, but these dinners are a time to be more relaxed. Dinner hosts can create environments for people to laugh and enjoy themselves.  

If MkpoutoAbasi’s story inspired you, we encourage you to consider hosting an Iowa Table dinner for a future delegation. Whether you live alone, have a family, or are a college student living in a dorm, the impact you can have on international guests is truly inspirational.  


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