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Where is the Line For Voluntourism?

Posted By IRC, Monday, March 25, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Audrey Hepburn’s films and her remarkable work for UNICEF made her my number one idol throughout adolescence. As an avid lover of traveling and a natural born empath, my desire to visit foreign countries with an interest in aiding humanity came naturally. I grew up watching all the heartbreaking commercials with images of poverty and hunger- stricken children fighting for their lives, “but with a small donation, problems could be instantly resolved.” No one was safe from the guilt-inducing effects of these advertisements which claimed quick-fix solutions to "Third World" problems.

A similar concept was introduced to me during college, called voluntourism. Voluntourism is the act of volunteering while visiting a foreign country. The idea sprang about back in the 1970s with study abroad programs but was even more widely spread in the 1990s. The introduction came from two young recruiters in a massive lecture hall, who jumped on a table in front of nearly 500 students displaying their enthusiasm for the program. They touted, elephant rides, swimming with the dolphins, experiencing a world of new culture, and working closely with impoverished communities.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by the idea of traveling to a new place and doing good for others. After class, I picked up a flyer and was surprised to discover that in order to volunteer, you must pay a fee in addition to fronting the cost of a plane ticket. Unsure whether I could even afford to volunteer, I decided to study abroad instead.

Although it wasn’t the right timing then, I still have an interest in one day volunteering outside of the United States. When I took my first Introduction to Global and International Studies course I found out just how much controversy surrounds this topic. My professor discussed the potential harm caused by the voluntourism industry from which I gained a new perspective on the topic.

In some situations, volunteers are only visiting the country for a week at a time. The work that is required is sometimes manual labor, such as building houses, schools, etc: Projects and skills in which the volunteers have little to no previous training. Critics of voluntourism say that positions are often taken from the locals workers in order to support the wealthy westerners traveling to the country.

Sometimes, those who work with orphans end up doing more harm to children’s mental health by leaving them feeling abandoned as the short trip quickly comes to an end. There have also been reports that some of the orphanages people volunteer at are made up of children who are kidnapped from their parents in order to keep these facilities active for Western voluntourism.

People believe voluntourism can sometimes be surface level and doesn’t force volunteers to look at the bigger causes of crisis in communities. The voluntourism industry has been seen as contributing to the notion that continents like Africa need saving by Westerners.

Fortunately, not all are naysayers of voluntourism. These supporters note that there is a large portion of the population that have a genuine interest in helping others and to be able to travel in the process. Who can blame them? Immersing oneself into a completely new culture can be perspective changing and stimulating. Not to mention some of these voluntourism programs end up being a huge economic support for some of these communities.

It’s understandable that there are conflicting views on this topic. So where’s the line when it comes to assisting these struggling communities? I think it's wherever there are projects that are sustainable with lasting effects. Another question to ask is, how does this program’s impact outlast the invdividual trip?

Perhaps it’s as simple as taking a genuine interest in the country you’d like to help out. My own approach would be to thoroughly investigate some of the actual problems the communities are facing as well as background information on the voluntourism companies, then taking that information and deciding who will really be benefiting from your donation of time and money.


About the Author
Olivia Schmidt is a senior at the University of Kansas studying Journalism with a minor in Global and International Studies. She currently serves as the IRC's Audio & Video Production Intern. 

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Populism in Europe

Posted By IRC, Monday, March 18, 2019

The world is characterized by a deep political-economic crisis, and it seems endless. This crisis has compromised the social and civil development that was believed to be unstoppable. This event has involved the entire European continent, where it has registered a twist on voters preferences. In fact, voters are found to be more and more intolerant of politics and discouraged by the persistent downturn. New parties, defined as populist, are emerging and flourishing all over the European continent, and they are challenging the traditional political route and undermining the political stability within each state.

It is not an easy task to provide a precise definition of the term populism, and it is easy to get off track when it comes to studying three centuries of political literature. “Ideological attitude”, “political movement”, “form of political procedure” or again “socio-cultural movement” are some of the definitions used by linguistics to explain the etymology of the word populism. Although it is impossible to find a homogeneous and shared definition of the term populism, it is important to note a common aspect: people are the guardian of positive values. It is also well-known that these positive values, among which freedom, differ from the values of the elite, whose main goal is to win and maintain power, and thus limit freedom. Populism recalls a romantic idea of people, who decide to keep out those who are considered outsiders and may consider them as an enemy.

Populism draws a strong demarcation line, it builds a dividing wall within the society, and only those who are inside the line are protected because they are part of an indivisible whole, and they perceive themselves as the bearer of positive values. On the other hand, those who are left outside the demarcation line are considered as enemies or negative identities who undermine the basis of the community by representing different values and traditions.

The existence of “political barriers or walls” are fundamental for the destiny of populism; in fact, when the demarcation line is weak, the idea of a cohesive group collapses. This historical period is characterized by a severe economic crisis, which has been deteriorating Europe for more than eight years. This has led to a corrosion of trust between citizens and political institutions, and that is when the populist movements emerge and blame the European institutions and the globalization. Within the European Union, the populist movements oppose the political establishment, which is accused of having betrayed the values of each single nation in the name of the “European dream” by corrupted bureaucrats and executives, who only care of multinational interests and banks.

During the crisis, the European organization has grown weak; the so-called “old Europe” was built on economic security and firm social status. Nowadays, these have been replaced by a “new Europe”, characterized by a social transformation that has left European citizens confused. This has generated a crisis of representation and, therefore, skepticism and mistrust toward institutions and politicians has grown. The great migratory flow from Africa and the Middle East to Europe has caused a dangerous attitude toward foreigners, seen as a threat to the national unity. Furthermore, the situation went from an initial “principle of exclusion” to an exasperated nationalism. The ongoing economic crisis in the Euro area and the increasing political division within the European Union, especially regarding the refugee crisis, has led to a period of great uncertainty and Euroscepticism. To deal with the growth of populist parties, the European institutions need to elaborate efficient solutions to restore a climate of trust and respect.


About the Author
Beatrice Guerra is a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying political science and currently serves as the IRC's events intern.

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Member Spotlight: National Association of Asian American Professionals

Posted By IRC, Monday, March 11, 2019
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2019

The National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) began in 1982 in New York City out of a need for unity and a greater platform for Asian Americans, specifically fostered through professional development. The Kansas City chapter has been present in the community since 2010 and is currently under the leadership of President Junann Lopez. The goals of NAAAP are to cultivate and empower leaders, connect professionals in the community and encourage support of one another, engage in the Kansas City community, and to inspire leaders to make a meaningful difference. NAAAP is intentional about their members being lifelong learners and cultivating that spirit of curiosity, especially when it comes to learning about one’s own culture and heritage.

Another focus for the organization is in the area of diversity and inclusion. Within the past year, the board members of NAAAP Kansas City agreed to be the first-ever pilot chapter for NAAAP Pride. Junann Lopez and other leaders of the organization are excited about being a safe and welcoming place for members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially among those with an Asian heritage.

The organization has a chapter in China and they have recently reached out to other NAAAP chapters, including Kansas City’s, concerning their exchange students. The Kansas City chapter agreed to help any potential students coming from NAAAP chapter China to get them acclimated to the city and being overseas. This has not occurred yet, but NAAAP Kansas City is open to any opportunities that come their way in this area and looks forward to the doors that will be open for their chapter in the future.

One of the most anticipated accomplishments of NAAAP Kansas City will take place August 22-24, 2019 when the chapter hosts the National Leadership Convention right here in Kansas City. When discussing this event, Junann Lopez stated, “We’re focusing on the unconventional leader. We feel like not everyone is a CEO. We all have leadership roles; whether we’re aware of it or not, there’s someone watching what we’re doing. [You] can be a better leader in your circle of influence. That’s key to what we’re trying to accomplish with the convention: to inspire people to be that leader, to be the one that makes a difference…” This vision is not only true for the upcoming convention but also in regard to the mission and goals of the NAAAP Kansas City chapter as a whole.

NAAAP Kansas City is a completely inclusive organizations and welcomes and encourages diversity among its members, including all races, ethnicities, genders, and professional experiences. The organization has professional development opportunities throughout the year as well as social gatherings and community service events. They are thrilled to be hosting the National Leadership Convention and are still looking for willing volunteers for the event. We invite you to view NAAAP Kansas City’s website to learn more about upcoming events, contact the organization, and learn more about the organization.



The IRC spotlights our members and their diverse work and interests in the international space. To learn more or to indicate interest in being spotlighted in an upcoming post, please visit:


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Nobel Prize Winner Says We Are Connected by ‘Web of Ideas’

Posted By IRC, Monday, March 4, 2019

Dr. George P. Smith understands that scientific discoveries don’t happen in isolation: Researchers build on each other’s ideas, no matter where in the world they study.


In October, Smith, a Curators Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, was among a trio of researchers from the United States and England that The Royal Swedish Academy of Science awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry.


Smith is the first MU professor to receive a Nobel Prize for his work conducted at MU. His achievement — dubbed “harnessing the power of evolution” by Nobel officials — also represents the first Nobel Prize awarded within the University of Missouri System. His research has led to the production of new antibodies used to cure metastatic cancer and counteract autoimmune diseases, among other things.


A modest man by nature, Smith believes science is a web of ideas and that breakthroughs come as the result of many scientists’ work.


“I don’t know if I particularly want to say that I am proud personally of this award because as I think all Nobel laureates understand, they are in the middle of a huge web of science, of influence and ideas, of research and results that impinge on them and that emanate from them,” he said shortly after receiving the award.


MU Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright has said Smith’s work demonstrates how MU faculty members are shaping how research is conducted and how advancements are made in the world of research.


UM System President Mun Y. Choi has said Smith’s recognition is “a testament to how UM System faculty are tackling the grand challenges facing Missourians, the nation, and the world. The Nobel Prize represents Dr. Smith’s decades of hard work, innovation and leadership in biological sciences and the collaborations he continues to establish worldwide.”

Smith shares the prize with two other researchers — Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology, who was awarded half of the 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize, and Gregory Winter of the M.R.C. molecular biology lab in Cambridge, England, who splits the other half with Smith.


Smith, who was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1941, joined the faculty of the MU College of Arts and Science in the Division of Biological Sciencesin 1975. He was appointed a Curators Distinguished Professor in 2000 and became a professor emeritus in 2015. Smith has focused much of his research on the generation of genetic diversity. He has authored and coauthored more than 50 articles in top scientific journals, and he was selected by the American Society of Microbiology for its 2007 Promega Biotechnology Research Award. He retired in 2015.



About the Author
This post was written by and republished with the permission of the University of Missouri, an IRC member.

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The Macchu Musician from Missouri

Posted By IRC, Monday, February 25, 2019
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Something I have always understood is the power of making connections. Being a musician, community is everything. Connections are key to sustainability and the pursuit of happiness. I decided to take this approach in my study abroad program in Cusco, Peru, in the summer of 2018. I quickly realized within my first interactions that I needed to establish a boundary that allowed everyone to understand my language barrier. One of the phrases I said most often in Peru was "Lo siento, pero mi español es básico," meaning, "I'm sorry, but my Spanish is basic." After that was "Hermosa!" because I had seen the most beautiful land, and the most kind and generous people. I needed to show my willingness to engage people regardless of the level of my Spanish skills. Before stepping foot in South America, I already had the sense that I would struggle. A lot. But the one thing I wanted to know for myself is, "How do I work this?" How was I supposed to go to a country who over 90% of the population speak Spanish, and be successful? The best way for me was through music.

I had the great fortune of working two jobs in Cusco, one was assisting children with intellectual and physical disabilities, and second at a school teaching guitar, piano, and music theory lessons to all ages. For both situations, music helped me to communicate where words could not be expressed. My body language and my disposition were my tools to express everything I needed to say. In the end, I made great friendships, established deep connections with those I came into contact with abroad. There were frustrating, defeating days, but I would be able to remedy that by listening to music, and talking through it with my new friends and host family. Music helped me build the bridges to create profound, unexpected relationships with those who are supposed to be far different from myself.


About the Author
Austin Thorn is a junior in the music therapy program at UMKC and currently serves as the IRC's global education intern.

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Member Spotlight: Miller & Company

Posted By IRC, Monday, February 18, 2019

Miller & Company is a law firm serving a diverse global clientele in import, export, and foreign-trade zone law since 1980. At the time of their founding in 1980, Miller & Company became a member and financial supporter of the IRC and worked closely with IRC founder Elliot Berkley in many ways in the formative years of the IRC.


While headquartered in Kansas City, Miller & Company has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. The firm has extensive experience advising on import and export activities; governmental compliance and audits; and all aspects of the establishment, management, and reorganization of U.S. foreign-trade zones. Miller & Company has a broad client base in fifty states, Puerto Rico, and in major trading centers throughout the world. Clients range from large multinational enterprises, to corporations, partnerships, associations, governmental entities, and individuals. The firm has clients in almost every industry, from aerospace, to motor vehicles, information technology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, apparel, footwear, and shipyards. Miller & Company assists clients in developing strategies to maximize customs duty savings opportunities, advising on regulatory trade requirements including FDA, DEA, USDA, DOT, NHTSA, and EPA, and developing effective Customs compliance efforts.


Miller & Company is solely focused on international trade law, and all of the firm’s clients are involved in the international movement of goods and services. With this focus and clientele, Miller & Company has unparalleled experience in all aspects of the U.S. Foreign-Trade Zone Program, which involves over 10% of U.S. imports. Its principal was a founder and has served as general counsel to the National Association of Foreign-Trade Zones since its inception in 1972. The firm has represented and/or helped structure more than 800 general-purpose foreign-trade zones and special-purpose manufacturing sub-zones projects for the motor vehicle, oil refining, shipbuilding, pharmaceutical, and information technology industries, among others. The firm has been actively engaged in the updating, re-writing, and finalization of the Foreign-Trade Zones Board and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Foreign-Trade Zone Regulations.


The firm continues to grow and expand its global trade expertise and is recognized for its capacity to deliver practical, effective, and quality legal services. Currently, it appears the Trump Administration’s trade policies will continue to drive new and more complex activity in both importing and exporting.  Whether the U.S. and China reach agreement on their trade issues by March 2 will determine if the current Section 301 additional duties are eliminated or expanded. Similar U.S. actions involving trade with the EU and Japan will be next. The passage of USMCA (NAFTA 2.0), Section 232 steel/aluminum tariffs and quotas, Section 201 duties, and export trade sanctions continue to impact clients. Finally, a major effort to increase Customs duties on imported vehicles and vehicle parts is possible.

Please visit Miller & Company’s website for more detailed information about the firm, its partners and employees, its accomplishments, and its major clients. The firm currently has open positions for people with detailed knowledge of import/export legal requirements and strong writing and presentation skills.

The IRC spotlights our members and their diverse work and interests in the international space. To learn more or to indicate interest in being spotlighted in an upcoming post, please visit:

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Learning Through Borders

Posted By IRC, Monday, February 11, 2019
Updated: Friday, February 8, 2019

The words of a student and peer of ours, spoken three years ago, still ring in our ears today: “Books are great, but we have nobody to teach them.” In Khorog, Tajikistan, students desire much more from the books they receive from charities. They want to engage them.


Disparities in access to “quality” education have brought the global community into a learning crisis. Access to education does not simply mean the availability of tangible resources, especially when the infrastructure to make use of those resources does not exist. In Khorog, many families cannot afford to send their children to private school, the only means through which students are prepared for institutions of higher education. They must resort to schools much too far away, or schools whose locations shift due to infrastructural issues. These institutions have dwindling resources: they suffer, primarily, from the lack of qualified or credentialed teachers. And learning English is rarely an option afforded past primary school.


We became aware of these conditions in Tajikistan during our first year of high school, when we had the opportunity to speak with students in Khorog, who complained about wasted resources. They felt as if they were being denied the capacity to learn in the same ways as others more privileged than themselves—as if they did not possess the same faculties for learning. In collaboration, we discovered that having access to regular English language classes would provide them with a valuable skill set with which to engage the larger world. English is a lingua franca, and it has become a prerequisite for entrance into universities worldwide—even in Tajikistan—and for careers across the board. We have worked for the last three years to create a non-profit organization, Learning Through Borders, in which English language classes are taught to Tajik students via a virtual medium.


Working with administrators at the University of Central Asia and Johnson County Community College, we devised an English language curriculum that would best prepare high school students for studies at the university level. Representatives of the Tajik government helped us gather a group of more than one hundred students to attend these classes,  supplementary to their normal schooling, that are held every weekend. We coordinated a multinational team of credentialed teachers from the United States, Indonesia, France, and Tajikistan, who devoted their weekends to the program. We taught critical thinking classes every Saturday night—from midnight to four—relaying portable skills that we acquired from teachers and peers.


Learning Through Borders, we believe, is a small, scalable step in the right direction. Innovative solutions can be brought about in leveraging technologies and social networks. However, it is critical to remember that the medium itself is not the message. Computers and books are easily accessible around the world. Yet they remain scantily used; one must be taught to communicate through these tools, to learn with them, to use them to connect with others who possess a variety of talents, perspectives, and skills.


Growth is contingent on a much simpler relationship: that relationship created in the space and act of learning. We believe that we will emerge out of the learning crisis only when we are able to answer this question: how can we best foster learning for everyone?

The program is looking for college interns and local partnerships to help expand the organization into bridging the gap between students and higher education institutions across America. Participants/teachers can get involved by grading papers, commenting on interviews, making videos, joining live calls, etc. We are always looking for help throughout our program.


We encourage everyone to spread Learning Through Borders across their communities to help alleviate the global learning crisis and combat educational disparities in Khorog Tajikistan. To learn more about Learning Through Borders or how you can get involved, please email co-founder Ariza Nanji or Alihasan Lakhani at or call 913-850-3299.

About the Authors
High school seniors Ariza Nanji and Alihasan Lakhani are the co-founders of the nonprofit Learning Through Borders. 

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Member Spotlight: Curtis Cook

Posted By IRC, Monday, January 28, 2019
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2019

Curtis Cook has been a devoted educator in the Lee’s Summit school district for the past 20 years, being a social studies teacher for most of that time. A little over 12 years ago, Curtis designed what he described as “a new approach for international studies," and, with funding from the Kauffman Foundation, the Summit International Studies Academy (SISA) program began. SISA is a part of the Summit Technology Academy (STA), a national model for innovation that provides both classroom and hands-on learning experience to prepare students for the professional workforce. Hands-on experience includes a variety of on-site, internship-like, work with local businesses, hospitals, city offices, engineering firms, data centers, and biomedical labs. STA provides students with projects aimed to give students enhanced workplace training.

More recently, a program called Global Prep Squad was implemented. Global Prep Squad is a student-run cultural consultation firm, designed to “[achieve] our educational objections through providing professionally implemented cultural tools.” The idea is to work with business clients to make classes run more like a business than a traditional classroom. This approach, Curtis says, is “completely different from any other approach to education; it is very much doing as opposed to just learning."

Cook, an IRC member, plays an important role at the International Relations Council. Since 2016, he has served on the education committee. SISA students continue to show ongoing support, involvement, and participation with the IRC. Recently, they have partnered with a school in Sweden to participate in Model UN held at Johnson County Community College. SISA also has an international internship in Madrid, Spain, where students teach English. SISA’s local partnership includes KC for Refugees. One project SISA has worked on was refurbishing old company computers, then donating to the organization so refugees can have access to computers. 

To learn more about the work of Summit Technology Academy, please visit their website at, Summit International Studies Academy and Summit Technology Academy is looking for new business partners and professionals that work internationally. To get involved email Curtis Cook at


The IRC spotlights our members and their diverse work and interests in the international space. To learn more or to indicate interest in being spotlighted in an upcoming post, please visit: ».

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National Security Challenges in the Next Decade

Posted By IRC, Monday, January 21, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Please join us for a luncheon and a fascinating 2019 Berkley Lecture on Monday, February 25, at the Grand Street Café on the Country Club Plaza. The topic  National Security Challenges in the Next Decade: Implications for the U.S.  is extremely timely. How many times each day are we hearing the phrase “national security” on TV/radio and seeing it in print? We’re all recognizing quickly that national security is much more than military defense – it is cyber, economic, alliance, climate, border, epidemic, and even election security.

Our speaker, Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, is currently at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Her career at the State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, the National Security Council, and the U.S. Information Agency has spanned four decades serving five administrations. Ambassador Dobriansky has also participated for the U.S. on several international delegations as an expert on national security matters, including as Deputy Head of the U.S. Delegation to the 1990 Copenhagen Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of Parties on climate change, and the 2007 Bali Conference of Parties in which delegates from 187 countries convened in Bali, Indonesia, to try to strike a new global climate treaty. Ambassador Dobriansky has received high-level recognitions and orders of merit from the governments of Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Ukraine and Romania, and is even the recipient of four honorary doctoral degrees.

To learn more about Ambassador Dobriansky and this event, please see the event page » on the IRC website. We hope to see you there.

About the Author
Holly Nielsen is the IRC's 2019 vice president and is chair of the Berkley Lecture Committee.

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Member Spotlight: RSM

Posted By IRC, Monday, January 14, 2019

RSM US LLP is an audit, tax, and consulting organization that focuses on work for middle-market companies. RSM US is the fifth largest accounting firm in the United States and is a member of the global accounting network RSM International. RSM achieves a global approach for their work by incorporating international services for their clients and also providing insights on global policy, foreign operations, and the world economy. One of RSM’s mottos is “local experience, global strength,” and they achieve this by providing country specialists who are familiar with different regulations and cultural nuances in specific countries across the globe.


RSM has had a recent focus on expanding its consulting work and provides an array of different services in the technology sphere including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) implementations, and managed IT services. A component of the consultation work RSM does is from the Global Compliance and Reporting Services (GCRS). The GCRS works with large international companies to ensure compliance for audit, tax, and accounting with 120 countries around the globe. Recently RSM has expanded by launching RSM Canada with offices in Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton.


RSM is excited to be a member of the International Relations Council and hopes that it can continue to build relationships in the Kansas City community. They enjoy connecting with and learning more about the community and hope to share the work they are doing as well. For more information, we invite you to explore their website at or find them via social media as RSM US LLP.


The IRC spotlights our members and their diverse work and interests in the international space. To learn more or to indicate interest in being spotlighted in an upcoming post, please visit: ».

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