Exchange Matters / June 14, 2015

Discovering Diplomacy in DC

Held in conjunction with Cultural Tourism DC’s Passport DC: Around the World Embassy Tour and Foreign Affairs Day, Discover Diplomacy Weekend offers participants a unique opportunity to explore the diplomatic world in our nation’s capital. Ron Lukenbill, a finalist for the Lorinne Emery Volunteer of the Year Award, gives us an inside look.

Global Ties U.S. recognized citizen diplomat volunteers from across the USA during an event in early May which I attended with my wife, Tatiana. WorldMontana, my community based member, had submitted my name for consideration of the Lorinne Emery Award for Volunteer Service, and I was selected as one of three who received honorable mention awards, while Herb Soltman, GlobalPittsburgh, received the national award for 2015. The awards reception and presentations were held in the main room of the International Student House which provides living space for 100 men and women who are in Washington, DC for short term or year long internships, college and university programs, or other placements.

The awards were the highlight of the weekend celebration but so many other events made this a very special occasion in my nearly 25 years of welcoming international visitors to Montana and the U.S. The opening luncheon featured volunteers dining with one another at small tables and enjoying the remarks of a panel of distinguished women. The panel discussed the important role women can and do play across the field of international diplomacy and international relations alongside their male counterparts. Personal stories by the panelists provided the substance and context of how and why this has often been a difficult road to travel by very talented and competent women.

The weekend provided an opportunity to meet with other volunteers and citizen diplomats to share stories of the many experiences we have had welcoming visitors into our homes and communities. The stories all had unique aspects but shared the common theme of how meeting with international visitors often results in very warm exchanges and long lasting friendships.

…you could feel the energy in rooms which are usually filled with activities of the officials

Discover Diplomacy Weekend also included a private tour of the House of Sweden, which houses the Swedish and Icelandic embassies, located on the bank of the Potomac River near Georgetown. The new House of Sweden is a stunning structure made with walls of glass and in addition to offices of the embassies, it includes offices of Ikea, Volvo and other Swedish businesses located in Washington, DC. The view from the rooftop of the building extends from the Kennedy Center for Performing Artsto the Francis Scott Key Bridge and beyond.

Another interesting experience was the personal tour of the facilities inside the Organization of American States (OAS) Main Building. Tatiana and I have passed by this building on our many previous visits to Washington, DC but had never before been inside. Our visit was scheduled when no meetings were in progress but you could feel the energy in rooms which are usually filled with activities of the officials and staff of OAS. Leadership positions are held on a rotating basis by the members and discussions are translated into Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese through headphones and a sophisticated sound and recording system. Both of our guides were exceptionally knowledgeable and friendly.

Our weekend featured the embassies of South America and Asia.

The month of May features a celebration, Passport DC, at many of the embassies that host an open house for the public to attend. Our weekend featured the embassies of South America and Asia. The usual flags flying in front of each embassy were joined by red, white and pink azaleas, dogwoods, rhododendrons and other flowers in full blossom growing in the yards. Crowds of people of all ages formed lines, some longer than others, to enter an embassy. We had a chance to speak with others in line and learned that this event is in its 11th year and has become very popular, with over 200,000 participants. Children were able to recite the many names and features of embassies they had visited over the years and were already looking forward to next year.

Our farewell lunch provided one more opportunity to share the weekend’s events with one another as we discussed embassies visited and upcoming visits by international visitors we plan to host later this year.

Like everyone I had the chance to meet during this year’s celebration, I too look forward to next year and new experiences as a member of WorldMontana and as a citizen diplomat.

By Ron Lukenbill, WorldMontana