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From China to Vietnam, with Love

Posted By IRC, Monday, February 10, 2020

I was fortunate enough to visit my girlfriend’s home country during the winter break. Vietnam is a beautiful country in Southeast Asia, just a five hour flight away from the city where I was born in Shanghai, China. This is a very large step in anyone's relationship, but especially in the Chinese and Vietnamese culture.  


Vietnam's culture and history are very diverse. On the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, you can see the results of the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures, and the buildings that were left over during the French colonial period in the city center. Vietnamese sandwiches are one of the local favorites for breakfast. It consists of a French baguette, Vietnamese-style grilled pork, local coriander, and pickled radish. This sandwich has a Western appearance and an Asian flavor. This combination made me unable to stop eating! The first thing to do after getting up every morning is to buy one on the street cart. In Vietnam, this situation went on every day for my six-day trip. 


Meeting Anna's parents was undoubtedly the thing that made me most nervous. Fortunately, Vietnam and China have similar cultures, especially young people who have Chinese parental respect for the older generation. Before I went to Vietnam, my father in China told me some tips when he met my grandparents from my mom‘s side, which worked well. When drinking green tea with her dad, I should always refill tea for him. The younger generation is to be quiet and listen when parents talk. These behaviors left a good impression on her parents. When I was leaving Vietnam, they repeatedly told me to come to Vietnam again when I have free time again. Even now, whenever I think of my trip to Vietnam, their enthusiasm touches me and makes me feel very grateful.


My time in Vietnam was the end of the year and very close to the lunar new year. Anna told me that every family in Vietnam will buy a very large watermelon to share with the whole family in the New Year. This seemed unacceptable to me. More than 20 years of life experience made me equate New Year and Winter, but watermelon is obviously the product of summer. It's like letting Chicagoans go to Australia in the southern hemisphere for Christmas and say "Merry Christmas" to each other while turning on the air conditioner and eating ice cream. However, the beauty of travel is that it will subvert your perception of the world and traditions and let people understand each other. From the northern hemisphere, I learned that in the consciousness of Australians and Vietnamese, New Year is equal to summer.


About the Author
Kevin Guo is the Events Intern at the International Relations Council. He is a junior at the University of Kansas, where he is pursuing a double major in Global and International Studies and Economics.

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New Americans Welcome Naturalization Ceremony

Posted By IRC, Monday, February 3, 2020
Updated: Sunday, February 2, 2020

The New American Welcome Center (NAWC) and the North Kansas City YMCA are so happy to say congratulations to 174 new American citizens from over 55 different countries. These students took the oath of allegiance at the North Kansas City YMCA on January 15, 2020, and successfully completed their journey to citizenship!

It was an honor to be a part of this amazing day. Two members of the North Kansas City YMCA were a part of this ceremony and received their citizenship in front of their friends and family. Our community is truly stronger and more vibrant for all of the incredible people from all over the world who choose this country, and our county, to call home.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lajuana Counts presided over the ceremony and delivered welcoming remarks. Chief Deputy of Administration Randall Henderson administered the Oath of Allegiance. Speakers included Tina Weaver, executive director of the North Kansas City YMCA, and April Osegueda, community outreach director who oversees the New American Welcome Center at the YMCA. Ondrea Lapadino, a North Kanas City YMCA Welcome Center associate, sang the Star Spangled Banner.

The candidates originate from 55 countries: Albania, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, Burundi, Canada, China, Congo (Kinshasa), Cuba, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jamaica, Jordon, Kenya, Laos, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Following the ceremony 80 of the new U.S. citizens registered to vote at a voter registration event at the YMCA.   

The NAWC is very grateful to the local businesses and mission board members who sponsored this event, including: Harrah’s, Synergy Services, and Main Event. 

About the Author
April Osegueda serves as Community Outreach Coordinator for the North Kansas City YMCA. The YMCA of Greater Kansas City has been an IRC organizational member since April 2018.

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No Iranaphobia for me

Posted By IRC, Monday, January 27, 2020
Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2020
We tend to fear what we know little about, especially if we choose to have limited sources for gaining knowledge about the world. Recently, having returned from a two week trip to Iran sponsored by Global Exchange, I was delighted and privileged to learn more about this rich and ancient history and to witness first-hand the warmth and engagement of the people. Since having made the decision to go last February, I must say that I did have some trepidation as the verbal exchange between the U.S. and Iran seemed to be heating up in intensity over the summer months. Also, I have never traveled to a country that the U.S. State Dept. labeled as Level 4, with the warning, "Do not travel to Iran due to the risk of kidnappingarrest, detention of U.S. citizens."

There is no doubt that average Iranians are affected by the sanctions, especially the ability to get medications needed for serious medical issues. Iranians are resilient, though and go about their daily lives. Many of whom I spoke with are hoping for regime change. I was told by several sources that approximately 90 percent of Iranians want a new form of leadership. Much the same as many of us seek in the U.S. for our own government. 
Despite not speaking Farsi, I experienced a group of several women picnicking in Isfahan by a river bridge park and as I walked by and smiled and they smiled back, one of them gestured to me to join them and partake of their food. Never having received an invitation like that in a Kansas City park, I was pleasantly taken aback.  
Two experiences of oppression stayed with me, though. One was my sadness and frustration about the Islamic State's mandatory head coverings, at the risk of jail for all older girls and women. I also felt the palpable anxiety at the designated areas where the military were present and photos were not allowed, including outside the American Embassy and the notorious, Evin Prison. This is a foreboding sight for Iranians and foreigners alike. Since childhood, I have always been one to engage in minor juvenile delinquency, but I knew this was not the time or place for me to test the rules.  
There is one thing people will not do - they will not stop going about their daily lives and taking care of their families, all while hoping for improved conditions. They tell you with pride and sincerity that they have not attacked or invaded another country in over 200 years. We know many countries who cannot say that. The Iranian people have a pride in their country and resiliency about them that is to be admired. I witnessed this in other places where I have traveled – throughout the West Bank in Palestine and in the countrysides of El Salvador. If only governments were as earnest as the citizens they are supposed to be leading.  
About the Author

Kathleen Kennedy, a social worker, works with oppressed and indigent Kansas Citians.       

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A Kansas Citian’s Visit to Iran

Posted By IRC, Monday, January 20, 2020
Updated: Thursday, January 16, 2020

This blog was written in early October 2019, before the events of recent days.

“Where are you from?” This was the quizzical look on the Iranian people’s faces and what they really meant was, "if you are from the U.S., how did you get a visa to come to Iran?". We said yes, we are from the U.S. “We love Americans“ was the constant rejoiner. To that, we said, “We apologize for what our administration has done to your people.”

On September 26th, a group of four of our Global Exchange Tour arrived in Tehran for a 14-day tour of Iran traveling some 2,000 miles to Yazd, Shiraz, and Esfahan. We knew that Iran was the cradle of civilization but we did not realize that its roots go back as far as 10,000 years. In that time, Iran has survived 22 civilizations and six dynasties. 

Iran was not on my list of countries to visit, but when a good friend at the Mathematics and Computer Sciences Department at American University said she wanted to visit her Doctoral students, I jumped at the chance. The more I read, the more committed I was to going and found a tour with Global Exchange that had a trip in the works. In the meantime, I found a friend who really wanted to go to Iran and soon Kansas City social worker Kathleen Kennedy had signed on. That was in the spring of 2019.

As the international geopolitical game of chicken between the U.S. and Iran became part of our daily news frenzy, Kathleen and I lost hope that we would get visas and be able to go. Our guess is that because of our Global Exchange’s on-the-ground travel agent Passargad Tours has good working relations with Iranian government and our State Department, we were fortunate enough to be given visas. Iran could use more tourists and It would help counterbalance that our sanctions have done to their people. 

We heard from many sources that the sanctions have had a serious effect on their economy and the public’s ability to get necessary medications. U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iran and our US President’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement was continuing to have a devastating impact on the poor and the middle class. 

We also witnessed the challenges the people experienced everyday like traffic in Tehran. A city of over 8 million people and 10,000 motorbikes. These bikes often carried two or three people on them, often with no helmets. Watching the traffic was like viewing a social phenomenon – cars moving in a seemingly random, yet understood order. It is certainly worthy of a documentary.

In Yazd, we discovered how the ancient civilization figured out how to create water system that piped water from the mountains down to the city. The system, or “Qanat,” continues to provide water in this arid California-like climate. 

Yazd was the city where we discovered the early beginning of the influence of Zoroastrianism. This ancient religion has a center of worship in the city, where we witnessed the Zoroastrian Fire Temple, where a fire that has been burning for the past 1,500 years. This was the religion of Cyrus the Great, whose burial grounds we visited. In a museum, we saw a large vase-like pot that had the first known inscriptions of a human rights creed. Zoroastrian ethic included a ban on slavery and the concept of ruling through love rather than fear. Zoroastrian beliefs have influenced Jewish and Christian faith traditions. 

As we visited the cities, we (Kathleen and I being social workers) kept asking where the poor people were. Why we did not see anyone at the street corners asking for money, or homeless people camped out under the bridges, or drunken people meandering down the side streets? The answers we received from our travel guide and other people we spoke with at various stops along the way was that the homeless population but they are commonly taken in by families or non-profit organizations, Much to our surprise, we learned that guns are not allowed in Iran, which also increased our feeling of safety.

Esfahan has boulevards as impressive as those in Paris. The engineers who laid out the city did a remarkable job of structuring sidewalks (works of design not slabs of cement) and lined them with sycamore trees whose branches provided a leafy umbrella cover for the streets. We walked these boulevards at night to go to the lovely parks where families and groups were eating and sharing time together. UNESCO had marked this grand square as a World Heritage Site.

Of course, the Iranian food was a cuisine in a class all of its own. Slow cooking, nutritious vegetables, and spices like saffron and cardamom make all the difference. Pistachios from Iran are the best, and the flat breads were like none I have had in the U.S.

We spent considerable time in Persian Carpet stores looking at works of art and labors of love. The number of knots, the origin of the dyes, and the source of silk and wool all determine the value of the carpet. We also visited numerous masques and museums, where we learned about the great poets and the rich culture. 

We learned that about 90 percent of Iranians practice Shi'ism, the official religion of Iran. At the mosque, we watched the men roll out the carpets for the men to worship on while the women were up in the parameters worshipping. We wore head coverings the whole time we were there, as was the law. At times there were scenes that reminded me of the 16th century in European towns where the fully covered religious women were walking down the streets. The only difference was that the women in chadors/hijab were listening on their cell phones and carrying stylish purses. What some women of each century have in common is that their outward dress reflects their relationship to God. 

All of this makes a case for tourism, or as I like to think of it as “soft citizen diplomacy.”

About the Author

Alice Kitchen is a Kansas City-based activist, perhaps most notably serving as the Co-Chair of the Women's Equality Coalition. 

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Many Mistakes Led to Tragedy in Syria

Posted By IRC, Monday, November 4, 2019
Updated: Monday, November 4, 2019

This article was originally published in the StarTribune on Wednesday, October 16 and can be found on their website

The tragedy unfolding in Syria has riveted American attention anew to the problems there — problems that reflect contradictions we have avoided, but must grapple with now.

One problem is that America’s single-minded focus on ISIS since 2014-15 has more or less willfully disregarded the longer-term. This no longer seems sustainable. The post-ISIS future of Syria is at stake as the Sunni Arab majority, Kurds, Alawites and Christians, as well as Turks, Russians and Iranians, are duking it out. We must decide whether, and how, to engage in that contest, irrespective of the ISIS campaign.

A second problem has to do with America’s reliance on Syrian Kurds and, specifically, our partnership in the anti-ISIS campaign with a Syrian Kurdish militia that is a subsidiary of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a vicious war against Turkey for the last 40-plus years. Turkey hated this partnership.

As a military tactic, U.S. policymakers understood this bargain had risks, but saw no other option — and this militia proved decisive in crushing the ISIS “caliphate,” saving tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of lives. But Kurds make up only 10% of Syria’s population, have long been estranged from its Sunni mainstream, and cannot deliver long-term peace and stability. On the contrary, their power grab in Syria’s ethnically diverse north is a source of instability.

As the endgame unfolds, the Kurdish piece of our Syria policy, such as it is, cannot continue as before.

A third problem is the matter of Turkey’s alliance with the United States and Europe juxtaposed against its defiance of its allies, its cozying relations with Russia, and its obvious turn away from democracy and the rule of law. Always a difficult ally, Turkey has become odious. Pending but unimplemented sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system reflect the Trump administration’s unwillingness to choose between competing images of Turkey.

This, too, has become less realistic — on both sides.

U.S. policymakers have long known these conundrums could not last, but sought to manage them. They tried to negotiate security arrangements that would reassure Ankara, protect our Syrian Kurdish friends, and ensure ISIS stayed finished. Little of this had much U.S. public support. While not failures, few elements in this line of action achieved success either.

No wonder President Donald Trump got frustrated, just as many others have tired of “forever wars” that seem to slide from one objective to another with too little justification to the American people.

Now our abandonment of the Kurds and the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria have led to demands for sanctions to halt Ankara’s campaign. Congress may well legislate punishments. But they will do nothing to address threats to U.S. interests in Syria or in the region. “Sanctions” and “foreign policy” are not synonymous, any more than name-calling or impetuous decisions by presidents or other leaders of the United States or Turkey are the same thing as strategy.

We care about making sure that ISIS stays stamped out. We care about a reasonable level of peace and security in the Middle East, on which the world’s economy depends. We care about the immense suffering that has befallen Syria since 2012; we would like to see it end. We care about our NATO alliance. And all the while we see our ability to influence events in Syria shrinking.

Instead of cutting and running — or posturing and beating our breasts — our conversation about Syria, Kurds, Turkey, ISIS, and the way forward should focus on melding achievable goals with the means to achieve them. That means finding new ways to keep ISIS defeated, and using our leverage to get the Turks and the Syrian Kurds — who have no choice but to live together — into a better place.

It also means re-engaging with the non-Kurdish Syrians, including the Assad regime, distasteful though that will be, in an effort to get the country on a path toward more effective governance and social-economic order.








About the Author
Ross Wilson, of River Falls, Wisconsin, was U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 2005 to 2008. He now serves as board chair of Global Minnesota (the IRC's sister council in Minneapolis) and as a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was a past speaker at the IRC in 2017. 

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The Middle East Beyond the Headlines

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

The University of Central Missouri (UCM) offers a wide variety of study programs for students to take advantage of while in school. One of these programs is “The Middle East Beyond the Headlines” which is a three-week, faculty-led tour to Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank. I participated in this program in the summer of 2018 and could not have been happier with the knowledge and growth I took back with me.

The purpose of this specific program is to break the common stereotypes that people have regarding the Middle East. For example, when telling my family and friends that I was traveling to this area of the world, they expressed concern or even fear for me rather than sharing in my enthusiasm. They would say things such as, “Why would you want to go there?” or, “Don’t you know that they will not like you?” and other questions and comments. I responded to this by telling them that not only was I very excited for my first international experience, but I was also looking forward to everything I knew I would learn.

The study tour was phenomenal. It begins in Amman, Jordan, with excursions to Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash, and others. After Jordan, you go to Tel Aviv, Israel, and see a very different side of the Middle East, despite the two cities being only a short bus ride apart from each other. Jerusalem is the last stop on the tour, and my personal favorite. It is an historical and cultural melting pot, with friendly people and so much to soak in. The program provides a healthy balance of lectures and tours with free time for students to explore the cities or book their own excursions. This program does help to break the stereotypes students might hold going into it. You learn that the region is not just a desert, that people are actually quite hospitable and want to get to know you, and it is more than just the conflict that is always being portrayed in the media.

Participating in this program helped me to realize how much I love learning about the Middle East region. After studying abroad for a second time, I returned to school and knew I wanted to continue learning as much as I could about the culture, and I declared a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. Next summer, I will be returning on the same program to Jordan and Israel to conduct field research for a project. I am very excited to see where this takes me and how I will be able to develop a career for my future.

About the Author
Mikayla Elia is a junior at the University of Central Missouri studying Anthropology with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. She in interested in nonprofit work and was a part of Nonprofit Shadow Day at the IRC. 

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International Dining Experiences at KU

Posted By IRC, Monday, October 21, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2019

As someone that has never traveled outside of the United States and has lived in a small town for most of her life, my interactions on an international level have been limited. However, I have met a number of wonderful people that are international exchange students through my occupation as a Student Manager for the University of Kansas’ Ekdahl Dining Hall. The University of Kansas requires all international students to work a part time job while they are in the United States. Due to this rule, a lot of international students work at Ekdahl, and, every year, a majority of Ekdahl Dining Hall’s part-time staff is made up of international students.

The relationships and atmosphere at work is very interesting because of this group of students. During my time at KU, I have experienced Indian exchange students become very good friends with Pakistani exchange students despite the tension that those two countries experience. I have also worked with students to accommodate certain restrictions that they have because of their religion or culture, such as an employee who could not handle meat because of his religion. Some of these occurrences have been shocking. There have been more times than I can count where I had to train an employee how to use a broom to sweep the floor because they grew up in a household that employs dozens of maids. In other cases, some employees did not take my position as a student manager seriously because I am a woman and women do not normally operate in positions of power in the country that they are from. As an individual who had not been exposed to much diversity prior to attending the University of Kansas, some of these situations came as something of a shock to me; however, these circumstances helped deepen my understanding of different cultures.

Learning about different cultures and how to interact with those cultures has impacted my life greatly. I was inspired early on in my college career to pursue a degree in Political Science with a minor focus in Middle East Studies. If it were not for the friendships and experiences, I made with those international part times students, I would not be pursing this field of study. This job has helped me grow exponentially. Not just in terms as a worker, but also as a person.

About the Author 
Noelle is a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in Political Science. She was a visiting student at the IRC as part of Nonprofit Shadow Day, organized by Nonprofit Connect. Noelle will be interning through KU in Washington D.C. during the upcoming spring semester before graduating in May 2020.

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Kansas City Transplant

Posted By IRC, Monday, October 14, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 11, 2019

Being from Upstate New York, I have been lucky to move to Kansas City at a very exciting and dynamic time. Prior to my arrival here, I have lived in Galway, Ireland for about six months, and Athens, Greece for three months. These two experiences gave me the tools to make such a large jump in my geographic home. My greatest takeaway from living in these two locations was that to make it feel like home, I have to explore events in the city. Whether it be festivals, local sports, or concerts, I have not been bored for one second in this city. Moving away from family for a new opportunity is always a challenge but keeping active in the community has been the perfect way to settle in and experience the city the way I want to.

Since arriving from New York, I have been extremely fortunate to attend events across the city. From my experiences of living abroad, I knew getting active with events would lead to opportunities and a better appreciation for the city. My personal favorites so far have been the event the IRC recently held with Rajmohan Gandhi and a Chiefs-Ravens game (I am still a Bills fan though!), but these events are just the start of my experience here. Getting out into the community, I have already attended many internationally focused events and have made many friends, including my furry new roommate, six-month-old Australian Shepherd, Ellie!

As the new membership assistant at the IRC, I truly appreciate the warm welcome I have received from IRC members and Kansas Citians! I am extremely excited for this new role and I hope I get to continue to meet more members in the future.

About the Author
Jonathan Hartnett is from Upstate New York and a recent graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations and History. He has an interest in foreign policy and security and is the membership assistant at the IRC.

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Commentary: Debunked! Most Americans Do Support the U.S. Engaging in World Affairs, Not Retreating

Posted By IRC, Monday, October 7, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Op-Ed by Ivo Daalder, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Originally published in the Chicago Tribune. Also carried in the Charlotte Observer (Sept. 18) and nationally.

A powerful belief about American views of the world has taken hold among foreign policy experts — that Americans are exhausted from global overreach and want to shed the burdens of global leadership. Arguing that American voters’ “foreign policy views stink,” New York Times columnist David Brooks opined that, after “Iraq and other debacles, many Americans are exhausted by the global leadership role” and “actively hostile” to key elements of U.S. foreign policy from past decades.

Brooks is not alone in this view. It animates much of foreign policy thinking, among Democrats and Republicans.

There’s just one problem: This view is wrong.

The latest annual survey examining American attitudes on foreign policy conducted for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs by polling and market research firm Ipsos Public Affairs shows that, rather than supporting a retreat, large numbers of Americans favor active U.S. engagement in the world and support long-standing pillars of U.S. foreign policy — alliances, trade, democracy.

The survey, conducted June 7-20, found that American support for taking an active role in world affairs remains near record high, at 69%, compared to 30% of Americans who want to stay out of world affairs. While President Donald Trump has frequently railed against the costs to the United States of maintaining security alliances and trade agreements, a strong majority of Americans (61%) believe that the benefits of staying engaged outweigh the costs.

In a first, the survey asked what people mean by taking an “active part” in world affairs. Large majorities of Americans (70% or more) believe that engaging in trade, providing humanitarian and economic aid, promoting democracy and human rights, defending allies and participating in international organizations form part of such active engagement. And 62% believed increasing spending on defense and diplomacy is part of an active U.S. role. A bare majority (51%) say it includes intervening in other countries, while a larger majority (62%) exclude selling arms abroad from an active role.

When asked what policies would make America safer, majorities cite alliances with other countries (74%), U.S. military superiority (69%), promoting democracy and human rights (56%) and participating in international organizations (54%) as most effective.

While President Trump has consistently suggested that U.S. alliances mostly benefit allies rather than the United States, the survey finds Americans reject that view. Sixty percent of Americans believe alliances in Asia are mutually beneficial or mostly benefit the U.S., and 64% believe this when it comes to alliances in Europe.

And Americans are willing to use force to back up these alliance commitments. Fifty-eight percent favor using U.S. troops to defend South Korea if North Korea invaded it, and 54% do so in case Russia invades a NATO ally such as Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia. They also believe we should increase or maintain U.S. troops in South Korea (69%) and Japan (59%). The largest majority yet (73%) believe NATO is essential for European security, and more Americans (78%) believe that we should maintain or increase our commitment to NATO than at any time since the question was first asked in 1974.

It isn’t just alliances that receive record levels of support. So does international trade. The survey showed 87% of Americans believe international trade is good for the U.S. economy (up from 59% just three years ago), and 83% think trade is good for American companies (up from 57% in 2016). What is significant about all of these findings is that despite the political turmoil and deep partisan divisions on many issues, when it comes to America’s role in the world there is a large degree of agreement and support among all Americans. Alliances, the bedrock of American military engagement abroad since World War II, enjoy strong and growing public support.What Americans reject is using force in other countries to try to resolve conflicts. The bitter experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have left Americans weary of interventionism.

But this concern is not the same as wanting to retreat from the world. Even after decades of war, a major financial crisis, and new challenges to U.S. powers, Americans strongly favor maintaining a leadership role in the world.

About the Author
Ivo Daalder is president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO.

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KC to Seville, Spain and Back Again

Posted By IRC, Monday, September 30, 2019
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2019

I have always been an introverted person with just enough self-awareness to know which baby steps to take in order to reach my goals that were outside of my comfort zone. I knew I wanted to travel the world. Creating new memories, meeting new people, and experiencing different cultures abroad was something that I always wanted to do. So, when I was in high school, I talked my mother into going on a faculty-led trip with me to Spain. She agreed. A few months later we landed in Madrid and made our way south to Malaga, stopping in Seville and Granada along the way. There is not much I remember about the trip as it was about 15 years ago, but I do remember falling in love with Spain, more specifically Seville, and promising myself I’d return.

I was able to fulfill a bucket list promise to myself in 2012 when I studied abroad in Seville during my time at Truman State University. This time was different than the first. I was going over alone, without my mom, and I was staying for four months instead of nine days. I cried walking onto the plane at MCI. I was second-guessing every decision that led to that moment and I was completely in over my head but it was the best decision I ever made.

While living abroad I was able to grow as an individual, as an American, and as a human being. I learned life skills such as money management, budgeting, conversational skills, how to live on my own, and how to say “no” when a situation didn’t feel right. I learned that young people in other countries were more aware of what was going on in the U.S. than I was. In those four months, I learned just as much about America and Americans than I did when I was in school. However, the most important thing I learned was that we’re all just people wanting to live our lives without being treated poorly, judged, or hated. We are more alike than different, and that mentality has led me to where I am today.

Since then, I have been able to build on the skills and knowledge I gained abroad to launch myself into adulthood and begin my career in international relations. I am thankful for my time in Spain. It has changed my life forever, and it will always have a special place in my heart.


Plaza de Espana

About the Author
Rachel White is the new Program Coordinator at the IRC. She received her BA from Truman State University and was able to study abroad in Seville, Spain, and Angers, France. Her favorite hobby is making travel plans because she always needs something to look forward to. 

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