In our increasingly globalized world, it is easy for international relations to seem distant and impersonal, both intangible and ambiguous. On the contrary, however, international relations begin with just that: relations. At the International Relations Council, we hold that in order to be international, one must also be interpersonal.
In order to foster international relations, it is necessary to achieve a personal connection and an understanding of humanity. I found this to be particularly true in my recent study abroad experience. While studying in Angers, France, I learned a great deal about French culture. Furthermore, I discovered how the intricacies of the society in which I was living and its unique ideas and beliefs related to my life back home in the United States. However, it was more than my studies that provided me with a deeper understanding of a new culture and international relations. My international knowledge began with interpersonal relationships.
It was the dinners with my host family in which I was able to truly divulge personal ideas about French politics. Conversations held over plates of local cheeses taught me about the French educational system and the struggles their teachers faced. Discussions accompanied by French wines gave me a glimpse into the life of a French government employee.
Making apple juice with a group of locals taught me about the importance of agriculture in my region and provided me with a firsthand look into livelihoods that are central to the people in this region. Understanding how people live allows us to understand what is important to them and how they relate to others. Thus, this knowledge and these relationships foster an environment suited to international relations.
It was not simply in museums and history classes that I broadened my understanding of French heritage, but in a weekly folk-dance class where I was able to discover unique aspects of French culture and cultivate an appreciation for the history of the region in which I was living. Talking about elections occurring around the globe is far more engaging when you’re waltzing with a native than when you’re reading a newspaper by yourself.
The elderly woman at the laundromat taught me about the importance of communication as she shared her stories about international correspondences that she kept up for decades. The relationships she created with people from around the world were not only long lasting, but gave her the opportunity to gain new perspectives as well. A simple conversation with a stranger not only opened my eyes to the importance of personal communication across international boundaries but helped break down the boundaries between us.
This interpersonal concept applies to Kansas City as well. As we seek to foster an international culture in our community, we must begin with interpersonal relationships. Conversations and personal connections open our eyes to understand the world. From Kansas City to Angers, interpersonal relationships shape international relations.
Liz Orr is a senior at the University of Kansas, double-majoring in Global and International Studies and French with a minor in Economics.