Do you enjoy exchanging recipes? What about book discussions? Does visiting cool places sound exciting?

If any of that sounds like fun, or if just the idea of meeting new people with similar interests is appealing, then the International Club of the YWCA Darien/Norwalk may be something to consider joining.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, this club is finding ways to thrive — and even grow.

The International Club is open to all YWCA Darien/Norwalk members who have international backgrounds or interests. While most members reside in Darien and Norwalk, membership is open those in any town or city. There is no additional charge to become a member.

The club is holding a welcome back coffee Sept. 11 where they’ll greet new members and welcome back existing ones. For details, visit the YWCA Darien/Norwalk website and click on Member Groups.

Members

The International Club offers the opportunity to meet people and socialize.

“The club is geared to those who are new to town,” said Darien resident Maria das Neves, who chairs the club with Anna Chekmareva, also of Darien.

Some members have joined the group when they were new to the United States. Members come from all over the world including Great Britain, Austria, Germany, Australia, China, Spain, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua, India, South Africa, Syria, and Palestine.

While there are 70 members in the club, there’s a core group of 25 to 30 who are very active in it, according to das Neves, who is originally from Portugal.

Chekmareva is from Russia and her husband is Italian. She said because of friends, she also has a strong connection with Holland.

“We do a lot of different activities that exposes us to different parts of the world through food or cultural events,” said Chekmareva, who is a former operation risk officer. das Neves is a former editor.

“It’s all informal,” Chekmareva said. “The key is to share experiences and friendships through activities,”

“It’s such a very inclusive group, you’re meeting interesting people from different parts of the world,” das Neves said.

About two-thirds of the activities take place during the day. However, there are holiday themed parties and other functions on weekends and evenings to accommodate the schedules of spouses and working families. There have been Halloween and Valentine’s Day parties and an end of year Spring Fling party.

Group meetings

The individual subgroups of the International Club hold regular meet-ups. They most recently had a year-end Zoom gathering at the end of May. Everyone on the call was invited to wear a hat or flower to make the gathering colorful.

The most popular groups to date have been the book and cooking groups, according to das Neves.

The cooking group meets every other month. Over the years, they have prepared Spanish, Greek, Chinese, and Moroccan dishes.

Individual group members select a month to host and then choose the cuisine. They choose a theme or dishes from a region of the world.

“There are no rules,” das Neves said. “Whoever is hosting that particular meal picks whatever they want.”

She hosted the last cooking group in January, where members had a Persian themed lunch.

“I love Persian cuisine,” she said. “My husband and I used to go out to eat Persian food a lot when we lived in Washington DC,” she said, adding she owns several Persian cookbooks.

For the group, she chose a menu that “exemplified the panoply of Persian cuisine,” she said.

On another occasion, when an Indian theme was selected, some group members performed Bollywood dancing.

The Excursions Group meets every other month. Trips have included the United Nations, several art museums such as the The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Botanical Garden.

The book group is held monthly and members get about three weeks to read the book. Whoever is hosting the meeting chooses the book to be discussed.

“We work with the librarians at the Darien Library,” Chekmareva said. “They have a book in a bag program where they will get copies of the same book at the same time.”

In the past, the subject or author of the book related to international topics or diversity issues. This has been evolving over time, though, and now members choose books they find interesting, according to Chekmareva.

The leader of the book group — Darien resident Tessa Wegert — is a published author.

Effects of pandemic

Prior to the pandemic, most gatherings were in members’ homes. However, virtual and outdoor activities are now in the works.

At recent book group meetings, members met on Zoom to discuss "Death in the Family," by Tessa Wegert; "We Hope for Better Things," by Erin Bartels; "The Alchemist," by Paulo Coelho; and "The Indigo Girl," by Natasha Boyd.

For the cooking group, the host can come up with a menu and send out the recipe virtually, and the group can eat together online.

Over the past few years, the club had formed a walking group, and recently, they created a running group. Those groups can continue unchanged throughout the pandemic.

There is also a beach group where members meet at Weed Beach, sit in a circle, bring food, and socialize.

Additionally, members are now considering a Zoom wine tasting event where a list of wines will be sent out and members can meet virtually to taste them at the same time, and then discuss them.

das Neves said this year, the club may get more members than ever before, since “the real estate market has been so active due to COVID.”

She added while the pandemic poses some challenges, there are a core group of several dozen members who, “no matter what, will continue to meet in some form or another.”

“We will do whatever it takes,” das Neves said.

sfox@darientimes.com