The Time of My Life

August 12, 2014

by: Vicki Van Der Hoek

At last count, through the Georgia Council for International Visitors (GCIV), I’ve hosted twenty-four times. That includes hosting/co-hosting twenty-two dinners for emerging world leaders and participating in two Open World programs with dignitaries staying in my home1985 colombia_finca. I’ve also participated in one official GCIV outbound cultural exchange to Cuba.

I grew up in Pico Rivera, a suburb of Los Angeles, in modest means and my family definitely didn’t know any world leaders. But my life was to change. . . In 1985 my former high school girlfriend, who had married into one of the wealthiest families in Colombia, asked me to come visit her. I thought this would be a girlfriend week but it turned out to be a turning point in my life with many life lessons.

It wasn’t her fancy apartment in downtown Bogota that surprised me, it was that she bought and wrapped a gift for me and put fresh flowers in my room. When we went to dinner at her in-laws was when I found out her father-in-law was the former Ambassador to the United States! Her husband took off of work for the entire week I was there and they personally showed me around most of the country pointing out the differences between the Colombian culture and mine. I had the time of my life and learned that THIS is how you host a guest in your home.

Cubano FriendNow we will fast forward to 2005, when I was introduced to GCIV. My boyfriend and GCIV member, Allen Freedman, and I went on GCIV’s humanitarian exchange to Cuba. I realized then and there that the experiences in life that are the most rewarding and meaningful are cultural, personal and emotional. I was hooked on GCIV!

My first time dinner hosting with GCIV was February 13, 2006. I remembered my wonderful experiences in Colombia and wanted to give this group of 3 Albanians the time of their life.

I bought and wrapped Atlanta souvenirs, put fresh flowers in my house, put the dinner on, and went to pick them up in my rented car as they couldn’t fit into my Ford Ranger. At the Regency Suites Hotel, they came down very late and really did not want to go with me because they wanted to shop.

When we finally got into the car, I turned on the windshield wipers instead of turning on the lights and they jumped out and said they didn’t want to go with someone who didn’t know how to drive!
After I explained I had to rent a car just so I could take them to my house for dinner their attitude totally changed. They could not believe that someone would do that for them. After dinner I took them to Walmart for 3+ hours of shopping. When I brought them back to their hotel at 1:30AM, they said they had each had the time of their life and said they didn’t know that Americans were so nice.

Little did they know, that I also had the time of my life along with a memory to cherish forever.

– Vicki

(Note: Including GCIV and other organizations, Vicki has hosted a total of 74 days with people from 61 countries and has been on eight outbound cultural exchanges.)

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Bem-vindo ao Atlanta

July 24, 2014

flagWe have two delegations from Mozambique visiting Atlanta over the next two weeks, so we’ve been busy doing homework, collecting facts and figures and putting them all together to get a picture of the place our visitors call home.

Here’s a sample of what we’ve found so far:

  • Mozambique is one of six African countries where Portuguese is the official language. The others are Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe.
  • The culture of Mozambique is a blend of its history of Bantu, Swahili, and Portuguese rule. danceMusic and the arts draw on all these influences and have seen a great expansion of expression and variety in recent years.
  • Mozambique is a young democracy, having held its first elections in 1994 shortly after the conclusion of a civil war which began in 1975.
  • Since the elections, Mozambique has seen stability and a resurgence of its economy.
  • While still a poor country recovering from a long civil war, Mozambique has a GDP which is growing by 7.5% annually, a stable economy, low inflation and economic indicators showing a country on the rebound.
  • Mozambique is also a beautiful country with a blossoming tourism industry.
  • Gorongosa National Park, which covers over 3,700 square miles, has undergone a 20 year wildlife restoration project. The park is one of the most ecologically diverse in Africa, home to rain forests, lakes and savanna, whose inhabitants include lions, hippos, crocs and elephants.
  • beachMozambique has 2,740 kilometers (1,700 miles) of coastline along the Indian Ocean, with beautiful white sand beaches and many new resorts.

With the arrival of our visitors from Mozambique, these facts and figures will suddenly come alive. We’ll hear stories, be corrected and find parallels with what they are seeing here in the Unites States. We’ll hear about their achievements and hopes for the future. The richness of citizen diplomacy will take over and we’ll be immersed in the lives of our guests.

Then we’ll become friends and start to understand one another, which, of course, is what GCIV is all about.

-Shell Stuart

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Researching GCIVists Iceland

July 9, 2014

In many ways, GCIVisits are the International Visitor Leadership Program in reverse. We go to a country where we are the guests. We are hosted by the U.S. Embassy, enjoy home hospitality, attend professional meetings and receptions, have unique culinary experiences and are presented with cultural opportunities. Exactly what we provide for visitors to Georgia.

And, much like we research what visitors should see and do in Georgia, we also do homework to maximize what our members and staff will experience on a GCIVisit.

I’ve been in the research mode for months in preparation for our October trip and thought I’d share some interesting facts I’ve found along the way:


Quality of Life:  According to the Nation Ranking 2011 Quality of Life Index, Iceland has the best quality of life in the world. (1) Iceland is also the 9th happiest place on earth according to the World Happiness Report. (2)

Food:  Icelandic cuisine features dishes such as súrsaðir hrútspungar (boiled and cured ram’s testicles), hákarl (putrescent shark meat), lundabaggi (sheep’s loins cured in lactic acid), and svið (singed sheep’s head). Icelandic people, however, do not like eating ugly animals, like cod. Lobsters were thrown back into the sea until the 1950’s. (3) (Happily, these days there are also plenty of vegetarian options. (4))

Creative Class:  Iceland is said to have more writers, musicians, authors and artists per capita than any other country on earth. Virtually everyone writes or creates art. (5)

Government:  Iceland boasts the world’s oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930. (6)

Nature:  Iceland is about the same size as Ohio and is literally crammed with natural wonders. Stunning waterfalls, blue thermal lagoons, volcanoes, black sand beaches, glaciers and national parks present an embarrassment of riches for this trip. We’re also hoping for an appearance by the Northern Lights. (7)

Peace:  Iceland ranks #1 on the Global Peace Index. (8)

Needless to say, GCIVisits Iceland will be a fascinating trip. We still have room for a few more GCIV members, so if you are interested, click here for more information.

-Shell Stuart

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-Georgia Gives Day!-

December 5, 2012


Think of GCIV during your end-of-the-year holiday giving and help us to continue to support Citizen Diplomacy in Georgia! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to GCIV, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and Georgia’s host to hundreds of emerging leaders from around the world!

Thank you for your support!

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-GCIV: 50 Years of Global Relationships-

December 3, 2012

The article below written by GCIV’s Board of Trustees Chair Lindsay Davidson was featured in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on November 30, 2012.

Fifty years ago, Atlanta’s population was just over a million people and the city was at the epicenter of a rising civil rights movement.

Intent on a better future, local leaders began fostering Atlanta’s reputation as a “city too busy to hate,” and turned their aspirations to creating something much bigger than a sleepy Southern town besieged by racial strife. So began their efforts to make Atlanta a true international city, by embracing transatlantic relationships and business long before many other cities had even considered the global arena.

At that same time, a new organization was formed in Atlanta called the Georgia Council for International Visitors (GCIV). Its mission of 50 years ago is the same today — to create valuable international experiences and opportunities for the people of Georgia and emerging leaders around the world.

Simply translated, that means building international connectivity through person-to-person relationships, one handshake at a time. As a nonprofit, GCIV strives to provide meaningful exchanges that open new dialogues, foster unique educational opportunities and create a network of emerging global leaders dedicated to effecting positive change in their home countries.

Through its programs, GCIV welcomes more than 500 emerging leaders from more than 100 countries each year. Over the course of six decades, more than 360 program participants have gone on to become presidents or prime ministers of their countries, including France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, India’s Manmohan Singh and Mexico’s Felipe Calderon.

GCIV plays an instrumental role in supporting U.S. foreign policy goals through its management of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) here in Georgia. The IVLP brings some 5,000 professionals from all over the world to America to meet with professional counterparts across a host of industries and sectors, from government and business, to education and the arts.
As a supporter of GCIV, Invesco has hosted economic experts from four Caribbean nations, as well as financial analysts from Italy. During these visits, we showcased best practices that matched the professional interests of our distinguished guests. We believe that the relationships started on these visits will result in opportunities that keep Atlanta at the forefront of global competition.

The experiences that GCIV offers to foreign visitors are truly unique and powerful, in part because they provide a way to learn firsthand how business and culture really operate in America. Through a network of “citizen diplomats,” GCIV organizes home visits and exchanges that bring visitors into typical American homes and foster lasting connections and friendships.

My own family has hosted visitors at our dinner table from the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Germany, Malaysia and Paraguay. Multiply those visits by the thousands facilitated annually by GCIV and you’ll begin to understand the integral role they play in supporting Atlanta’s international vision and also how much our city has grown in stature and importance on the global stage.

That Atlanta is poised to do well in a world where communications, business and opportunities are global in nature is in no small part due to the relationships started and nurtured by GCIV.

As GCIV celebrates its 50th anniversary, I urge you to learn more about the organization and how you can become a citizen diplomat, helping our city in its strategy and goal to remain a global leader. GCIV will celebrate its 2013 International Consular Ball on April 27 at the World of Coca-Cola. Each year this prestigious event honors our consular corps and the important role they play in our city. I am pleased to report that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has recently been named honorary chair of the event. Please join us!

Davidson is chair of the Georgia Council for International Visitors Board of Trustees and managing director, global equity, at Invesco Global Asset Management.

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