International Spouses Group at Wright-Patterson AFB helps foreigners feel welcome

Upcoming fair offers food and entertainment from around the world.



Aya Aoudi was excited and delighted when she learned that she and her husband would be spending a year in the United States.

“For us, coming to America was a dream,” said Aoudi, who is from Tunis, the capital and largest city in Tunisia. Her husband, a general in the Tunesian Air Force, had been asked to serve as a liaison officer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

“When we thought about the USA, we thought it was big and nice, a democracy where you could live in security,” she said, adding that she had always assumed it was a journey that only the rich could afford to take.

“When my husband told me we were going, I thanked God for this gift,” Aoudi said. “I am really happy to be here.”

The liaison officers assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton are military personnel who establish, maintain and coordinate logistic support required to operate and maintain their country’s aircraft by foreign military sales. Their offices are located throughout the base in areas A and B.



Being welcomed

The adjustment to life in a new country was made easier for Aoudi, thanks to the caring members of the Wright-Patterson International Spouses Group, known as ISG. Most of the members have been through the daunting experience of facing a new life in a new country and are ready and willing to help newcomers.

“When we arrived six months ago, they welcomed us, they helped us find housing, buy a car, get our ID cards and our driver’s licenses,” Aoudi said.

Though she had studied English in her native country — along with Arabic and French– she spoke very little when she first arrived. Thanks to the spouses club, Aoudi regularly attends conversational classes.

Everyone helps me not be ashamed,” she said. “If you make a mistake it’s not a problem. We practice with all of our friends.”

International Fair open to all

At the moment, Aoudi is busy deciding which Tunisian treats she’ll be serving when the group hosts its annual International Fair. She will cook couscous, Tunesian salad, baklava, and asseda, a dish made for Ramadan.

It’s big news that the Fair, which in recent years has been held on base and open only to those with base access, will take place this year at the Hope Hotel in Fairborn on May 2. It’s open to the public and is a wonderful opportunity to chat with families from around the globe. You’ll watch their dancing, examine the items they’ve brought from their native lands and nosh on the delicious cuisine.

Countries participating this year include Brazil, Bulgaria, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Spain, Thailand, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

You’ll dine on paella from Spain, sip caipirinha from Brazil and moose milk from Canada. There will be Flan (custard) from Cuba, koshari (a savory dish ) from Egypt, galaktompoureko from Greece. Jordan is serving galayet bandora, a tomato appetizer; Nigeria will offer coconut rice, spinach stew and chicken pepper soup.

The group’s history

The International Spouses Group got its start more than 50 years ago with a goal of helping foreign military spouses adjust to the area and to life in the United States. Today there are 53 active members from 31 countries.

ISG President Inma Kusnierek says coming here can be a real culture shock for those who’ve never left their country and don’t speak English. “For example, they go to the store and don’t know what a raincheck is,” she said.

Even those from other English-speaking countries can face challenges.

“We had one lady who went to the hospital and when she woke up from surgery she was covered in welts because she didn’t know how to tell them she was allergic to Band-Aids.”

Kusnierek, originally from Spain, was first introduced to the club when she and her husband came to Wright-Patt in 1990.

“It was wonderful to learn about different cultures and people and to practice my foreign languages,” she said. “I could take my children with me to the meetings and they could play with children from other countries. It was great for them and for me.”

The women meet year-round on the first Friday of the month and there’s always a special program. Often one of the members gives a presentation about her country. Sometimes there’s a theme — Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving or staying healthy. In April, the topic will be the solar eclipse.

Guest speakers and entertainers are frequently invited. The Wright Ringers, a handbell choir, entertained last year.

There are trips to grocery stores, to area parks, to popular Miami Valley attractions. Members learn about the history of the American flag, make craft projects, get travel tips for trips when they’re planning to visit other parts of this country.

“Always courteous, we have a good laugh, share food and a cup of tea or coffee,” said Kusnierk. “Despite any differences that our countries may have, here we are all friends and are unified. In our group there is no hate. If this group could rule the world it would be a better one.”

Many of the friendships are long-lasting. It’s not unusual for members to keep in touch after they’ve completed their Dayton assignment and to visit one another in their native countries.

“The Club was the best thing about being here,” said Claire Thorley, who is from the U.K. and first came to Dayton 15 years ago. She and her husband have since returned and she’s once again enjoying the organization which provides both friendship and community. Wearing an apron covered with English flags, she was kept busy at last year’s Fair serving a yummy lemon sponge cake to guests.

The upcoming event

The International Fair, which began in 1970, has blossomed through the years and now attracts between 400-500 people. Funds raised through ticket sales provide scholarships for international spouses and their children who do not qualify for regular U.S. academic scholarships.

Kusnierek credits many base commanders for supporting the spouses’ club and the International Fair. She said Lt. General Shawn Morris, who served for many years as commander at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, being especially helpful.

“He and his wife, Jean, participate and have always been there for the spouses,” she said.

Morris said the Fair has become an annual tradition and a very popular event that many at the base look forward to attending.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to engage with the foreign liaison families and enjoy their native foods,” he said. “They are here getting insight into our culture and this is an opportunity for us to reciprocate.. It’s awesome!”

Claire Thorley, who is from the U.K., first came to Dayton 15 years ago and has returned.

“The Club was the best thing about being here,” recalled Thorley, who was wearing an apron decorated with English flags at last year’s Fair and serving a yummy lemon sponge cake to guests.

Kusnierek, who has spearheaded many of the group’s programs over the years, said she loves to help and see how people thrive.

“They come scared and leave happy,” she said. “Many don’t want to leave at all. They say the club was the best thing about being here. Our goal is for them to feel welcome and to feel like we are family away from home.”

How to go

What: Wright Patterson International Fair sponsored by the Wright Patterson International Spouses Group

When: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. May 2

Where: Hope Hotel Conference Center, Building 823-Area A, outside Gate 12Am Wright Patterson Air Force Base. (Note: You do not need to enter the base to attend.)

Tickets: $15 includes entry fee and free tasting at all of the international booths. The ISG also sells a cookbook with recipes from around the world ($20)

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