Distinctively Dubuque: Welcoming Newcomers to Iowa With Open Arms

I literally can’t say enough positive words about Distinctively Dubuque!  As a new expat in America, discovering this course couldn’t have come at a better time!  It is a completely FREE programme run by Greater Dubuque Development and the Northeast Iowa Community College and is aimed at people who have been living in the Dubuque district for 5 years or less.

The programme is by no means new.  It first started in 2010!  Attendees are expected to turn up every Wednesday evening for 5 weeks, for a session lasting for 3 hours.  There are 4 opportunities to sign up each year.  I chose the March – April ‘group’ because I was scared that January – February may have involved driving in snow!!

The theory behind the programme is that if newcomers feel welcomed to Dubuque and are made to feel part of the community, they are more likely to stay and make Dubuque their home long term.  (From my ‘expat observations’ so far, it seems that a lot of Americans will just up sticks and move to wherever jobs or schooling are.  Whereas in the UK people may just move an hour or so away, in America, people will often relocate thousands of miles away to states on the other side of the country if they have too!)

Each evening has a different theme, is in a different location (to get you familiar with the area) and serves up a meal from a different local caterer.  Every attendee gets given a table card, a name badge and a huge ring binder packed full of information and includes the contact details of every guest speaker, that we are encouraged to connect with if we need more help and information.

Here’s an look at what each week of my particular course included!

Session 1

Location: Northeast Iowa Community College @ the Town Clock Business Center

Meal Served: Chicken, rice, salad, veg & cookies

Topic: Past, Present and Future


  • A tour of Downtown Dubuque on an old fashioned trolley bus!
  • A Powerpoint presentation on the history of Dubuque.  I found this SO interesting and was really happy when we were sent a copy of the presentation after the session!
  • ‘Pictionary’ style getting to know each other in the group activity!  This was mine, can you tell what my ‘4 things about me’ are?

Distinctively Dubuque Between England & Iowa Pictionary

(*I met my husband in Jamaica and we have a pet hedgehog. *I love to travel.  *I have a travel blog…it helps having an easy to draw logo and of course that’s a picture of my Macbook.  *I love water sports…especially wake boarding)

I discovered that the majority of my group of 18 shared some of my passions too!  Lots love to travel and enjoy things like camping and being outdoors.  Despite me only living in Dubuque since August 2016 (7 months at the time of starting the course), I’d actually been in the area one of the longest!  Some had been there for only a few weeks!

Session 2

Location: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

Meal Served: Sliced roasted pork loin, wild rice, strawberry salad, glazed carrots and a variety of cheesecake

Topic: Relate, Recreate and Really Connect (Recreational Opportunities)


  • Being able to visit part of the River Museum again.  I love the giant salt water aquarium and since my last visit, there is now a sting ray touch tank!
  • Finding out about more recreational opportunities in the area.  This was mainly parks and nature based.  I knew of several and have already visited a few myself, but I found out even more!  It was from this evening that I had been convinced into going to the Pancake Breakfast at the Swiss Valley Nature Center!

National Mississippi River Museum

Session 3

Location: Stone Cliff Winery/Dubuque Star Brewery

Meal Served: Pizza (although I was provided with a grilled chicken salad as I don’t eat cheese!)

Topic: Economics & Non Profit Organisions


  • A driving scavenger hunt to different food locations around Downtown…my group were late back because we stopped for ice cream at Dairy Queen.  Group bonding and all that!
  • There are over 200 non profit organisations in Dubuque.  It shows how much the community help and support each other in times of need.

Dubuque Star Brewery Stone Cliff Winery

Session 4

Location: Dubuque Museum of Art (then onto 1st & Main restaurant)

Meal Served: Turkey & dressing sandwiches, BBQ pork sandwiches, salad and apple crisp

Topic: Arts, Culture & More


  • I’ll be honest, sometimes I find art a bit hit and miss, which is strange because I love art, I just don’t always ‘get’ some pictures.  However I LOVED the ‘Fire and Ice: Paintings of the Mississippi River exhibition by John Anderson-Bricker.  The paintings were so bright and colourful.  Upstairs was a Pop Art collection.  My favourite pieces were a couple of clay models that were made to look like a dog balloon animal!
  • The goodies!  As it was ‘Dubuque night’ we were given a little box of Betty Jane Candies, a free ticket to the Dubuque Film Festival and 2 free tickets to Shrek the Musical!
  • Playing the card game ‘Euchre’!  I’d watched my husband and his friends play it once and I just could not understand what was going on!  The people on my table were all familiar with the game and were very patient while spending a couple of rounds teaching me the rules.  They taught me so well, me and my Euchre partner ended up winning!

Dubuque Museum of Art

Session 5

Location: Gallery C, the Millwork District

Meal Served: Vegetable Lasagna (Chicken for me!), garlic bread, salad, cheesecake bites (lemon curd with mint and blueberries)

Topic: The Power of Collaboration


  • Learning about the summer Farmer’s Market! Breakfast sandwiches and cupcakes…SOLD!
  • Touring the Millwork District. We got to look around one of the converted warehouses and apartments to see how it has been redeveloped.  I love how they tried to stay true to the building as much as they could! The apartments are awesome!
  • Trolley ride around Hamm Island. Yes, Dubuque has its own island!  I love riding on the trolleys, they have little garden benches for seats!  I’ve been on Hamm Island a few times now but I saw parts that I hadn’t seen before!  There’s a really nice campground on it called Miller Riverview Park and Campground.

Millwork District Dubuque Iowa

Post Session Discussion

After session 5, several of the group stayed behind for a feedback group discussion with Greater Dubuque. As newcomers, they wanted our first impressions and things that we missed about our old communities, while our thoughts were fresh and before the area became too familiar to us. It was nice to be made to feel like our thoughts truly mattered and that the town really wants to develop in a way that makes the community happy and comfortable.

How Distinctively Dubuque has helped me as a newcomer to the area

  • It forced me to drive to new places by myself!  Dubuque’s one way system is terrifying for a newbie!
  • I’d spend 30 minutes or so before the session exploring the surrounding area and taking photos of places I hadn’t yet been.  Each session being in a different location really helped with this!
  • I met a whole bunch of new people.  Each week they ‘shook up’ the table plans so we’d be sitting with different people for the session.  This helped us get to know everyone in the group!
  • I learned about new places and services on offer in the area.
  • Silly things like being taught how to play a card game in a learning situation will help me in day to day social situations because now I’ll be able to join in rather than slow everyone down!
  • It inspired my blogging.  I’d suddenly been given a crash course on valuable information about the area and I just wanted to write and research more about everything we’d been told!  It also showed me how my perspectives as a newbie are hugely important.  I’m experiencing things with new eyes that locals will often overlook as they’ve become so used to their surroundings.  It’s my job to show everyone exactly how I’m seeing it!

A HUGE thank you to Krista and Jan for being so awesome and running such a great programme!  I honestly think every town should run something like this!

There are 2 more programmes in 2017, to find out more (or sign up yourself!), visit: Distinctively Dubuque Brochure (PDF)

Kylie Signature

Distinctively Dubuque Iowa

7 thoughts on “Distinctively Dubuque: Welcoming Newcomers to Iowa With Open Arms

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