Juliet and Shane preparing meal in the kitchen
Photo/Amy Hofer Vetch

IVEPer Juliet Dias from Bangladesh (right) with her host Shane Vetch (left) together preparing a meal in the kitchen in their home in Freeman, S.D.

When I heard Freeman Academy was looking to have an IVEPer for a year, the information went in one ear and out the other. The staff had talked about this before but it did not pan out, so I did not give it another thought. When the subject came up again and it looked like things were falling into place, our administrator mentioned the IVEPer would need a place to call home as well. Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. My husband and I had agreed to host Juliet from Bangladesh, but her arrival was delayed several times, to the point we thought she just would not be able to come to the U.S.

It was suddenly early August. I was getting ready to start school. We received word she was coming at the end of August! What!? Now things started to move fast. We prepared her room, sent off our recommendations, filled out forms, sent emails, received pictures and tried to keep our extended family in the loop.

Shane and I are empty nesters. My stepdaughter and her husband live in Sioux Falls, S.D., just an hour away. Juliet is 24 and would now be living with 50-year-olds with no children or pets in the house. We discovered in the first week of her stay she had never had her own bedroom. Her city has a population of almost nine million people! We live in a state of 858,000 and a town of 1,200. The closest city is an hour away. It is quiet during the day and evening here. Very different! I worried she might be bored. What will she think of our small town?   

Juliet jumped right in to our home life. One of the first things she did was cook a meal for us. Shane and I enjoy trying new foods and I especially enjoy international foods. This has been one of the ways she is able to keep her home near. Juliet continued to join us in the kitchen and is quick to help out. We have really great conversations at the table about the different dishes she enjoys and would like to make for us. We watch YouTube videos together on how to prepare these dishes and she explains the ingredients if they are new to us. In the first week of Juliet’s arrival, we took her to an East Indian restaurant in Sioux Falls. She shared her knowledge of the different dishes and explained what dishes should go together. Since food in Bangladesh tends to be spicy, she was very concerned that we may not enjoy the heat and warns us each time.

Many of our conversations happen around the kitchen table where we discuss and compare the different customs of her community and country of Bangladesh and of our community and country. These differences are sometimes understandable and then other times very surprising. In her time here, we have attended a memorial service of a family friend, a wedding, an Alan Jackson concert and experienced harvesting and stomping grapes at a vineyard. These were great occasions to discover differences and similarities between our two countries.

We are fortunate to have friends in the community that lived in Bangladesh for many years serving with MCC. They were anxious to meet Juliet. They have invited her several places, purchased food and spices that Juliet would know and cook and have even lined up a meeting with a small community of people from Bangladesh living in another town. This relationship has been wonderful and also gives us an opportunity to know our friends in a new way.