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Dinners Without Borders

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By Mark Davis

Published Oct 1, 2010 11:00 AM


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Photo by Jason Dewey (Getty Images).

Imagine yourself headed to a UCLA event and getting stopped at the border and asked to explain why you don't know the person you're visiting. Rich Fromer M.B.A. '99 didn't have to imagine it — he lived it.

"He had a colorful border crossing," agrees Susie Sacks Dvoskin '69, who hosted a Dinner for 12 Strangers at her home in Ra'anana, Israel, last spring. Fromer traveled from neighboring Jordan to attend dinner and stay the night, due to crossing restrictions. "The guards were very suspicious of his story that he was coming to a UCLA dinner with people he didn't know, and staying overnight with someone he'd never met before. But he made it!"

Meanwhile, more than 4,000 miles away in China, UCLA alumni were discovering that borders aren't always barriers.

"Bruin Steve Connell is a slam poet and was in Beijing for a literary festival," says host Julie Chiu '94. "I was volunteering for the festival and just happened to be Steve's host."

He wasn't on the guest list, but Chiu invited him to come when she discovered the Bruin connection. Connell joked that even though he lives in L.A., he went to his first alumni event in China. There he met school librarian Rina Tamayo '84, M.L.S. '86, and discovered that he was scheduled to perform at her school two days later.

While new friendships prevailed in Ra'anana and Beijing, the 2010 Dinner for 12 Strangers story in London was about renewing old friendships. Graduated Alumni Scholar Molly Crockett '05, now working on her doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, bumped into Dan Groen '98, who had been her counselor at Bruin Woods.

These are just a few snapshots of how this uniquely Bruin event series has gone global. For more than 40 years, Dinners for 12 Strangers has been one of UCLA's best-loved traditions. But in 2010, the tradition expanded to a global audience. The call went out seeking alumni from across the country and around the world, and Bruins volunteered in record numbers. An astounding 3,000 Bruins took part in approximately 292 dinners in seven countries and cities in 31 states, including Atlanta; Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; Coral Gables, Fla.; Fresno, Calif.; and Houston.

" 'Dinners' is the perfect example of tapping into your network and using your UCLA advantage," says Angela Scales '03, associate director, student outreach and engagement, who coordinates the events. "You step outside your comfort zone and you have a new experience. Dinners give alumni a safe space to take those kinds of risks. That can lead to lots of exciting opportunities."

UCLA Alumni staff members help coordinate guest lists and give alumni the tools for staging successful dinners. The key to making Dinners for 12 Strangers an even bigger success in 2011 is expanding the number of alumni hosts and guests, Scales adds.

Next year's "Dinners" are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 26; Saturday, March 5; and Sunday, March 6. To volunteer to host a dinner in your area or to find a dinner near you, contact Scales at Dinners@UCLAlumni.net or (310) 206-2426. Visit Dinners for 12 Strangers online.

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