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Ramadan 2018

Posted By IRC, Monday, June 11, 2018
Updated: Friday, June 8, 2018

Some of us may have noticed recently that our friend hasn’t come to class with his regular latte in the morning, or that one of our co-workers has started skipping lunch. This could be because they are celebrating Ramadan, a holiday currently being celebrated by Muslims all over the world. Although the history and practices of Ramadan are complex and diverse across cultures and countries, having a general understanding of this major holiday can only enhance our ability as Kansas Citians to engage with others as culturally and internationally aware citizens.


The month of Ramadan occurs at different times every year, as its beginning depends on the sighting of the crescent moon. This year, Ramadan lasts from Thursday, May 17, until Thursday, June 14. The holiday is meant to be a time to focus less on one’s physical condition and more on one’s spiritual condition, and its observance is one of the five main principles, or pillars, of Islam. In order to promote discipline and enhance one’s spiritual experience during Ramadan, adult Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset every day for a month, unless they are sick, pregnant, elderly, breastfeeding, menstruating, or traveling. Fasting in this context means abstaining from eating, drinking, taking drugs of any kind, engaging in sexual relations, cursing, and even lying. One question many Muslims often hear is, “So you can’t even drink water?” The answer is yes, Muslims who are fasting do not drink water from the end of Suhur, the last meal before the fast begins at dawn, until Iftar, the big meal breaking the fast at sunset. Although I am not Muslim, I have several Muslim friends, and I voluntarily joined them in fasting for a week this year as a challenge to myself and as a new cross-cultural experience. While taking part in Ramadan this year in Kansas City, we began fasting around 4:30 a.m. each day and broke our fast around 8:30 p.m., enduring one of the longest possible fasts Muslims can face due to the time of year.


Ramadan is a time of increased prayer and worship, of increased generosity and charity to the poor, of spiritual reflection, and of togetherness with friends and family. Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, and many Muslims attempt to read the entire thing within the month. Mosques also usually hold daily recitations of the Qur’an, called Taraweeh, that Muslims are encouraged to attend in order to foster a deeper devotion to Islam and connection with Allah (God). Muslims in Kansas City can attend Iftar meals, daily Taraweeh, and five daily prayers at several local mosques, including the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City Masjid, Masjid Al-Khair, and the Johnson County Islamic Center. Muslims end the month of fasting with a holiday called Eid-al-Fitr, where they often feast, visit family and friends, and engage in other celebrations according to the culture.


Although not every Kansas Citian may have had the chance to make Muslim acquaintances or friends, a large part of the Kansas City community identifies as Muslim. While life in Muslim-majority countries often slows down to accommodate altered eating schedules and religious observances of Ramadan, American Muslims, and Kansas City Muslims, bear the difficulties of Ramadan while having to continue to meet the expectations of daily American life.  Many teachers, business owners, government employees, students, mothers, fathers, and others who contribute to the success of Kansas City are a part of the local Muslim community. Therefore, by understanding the basic purpose and practices of Ramadan, we show that we value and promote inclusion, respect, and cross-cultural awareness in our diverse city.

 

About the Author
Lilah Wilder is the communications intern at the IRC. She is double majoring in Global & International Studies and French and double minoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic at the University of Kansas.


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Book Review: Is This The End of The Liberal International Order?

Posted By IRC, Monday, June 4, 2018
Updated: Friday, June 1, 2018

Moderated by Rudyard Griffiths, Is This The End of The Liberal International Order? is the published copy of the debate hosted by Munk Debates. The event brought together Niall Ferguson and Fareed Zakaria to discuss whether the liberal international order, who some argue has existed since the end of WWII, is over. Niall Ferguson, supporting the end of the liberal international order, is a British historian and political commentator, and currently serves as the Hoover Institution senior fellow and served for twelve years as Harvard’s Laurence Tisch Professor of History. An author of sixteen texts covering subjects such as international history, economic and financial history, and American and British imperialism. Ferguson is known for his provoking and oppositionist views.


Fareed Zakaria, arguing against the decline of the liberal international order, is an American journalist and author of best-selling books The Post-American World and The Future of Freedom. He currently hosts the weekly public affairs show, Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN International, and writes weekly columns for The Washington Post. He has published for Newsweek and edited for Newsweek International and Time. Zakaria self-identifies as a centrist, but has been described as a political liberal, a conservative, a moderate, and a radical centrist.  


Both contestants gave their opening and outlining remarks. Ferguson believed that although globalism has benefitted the top 1% of income earners who receive a third of the economic revenue created, it has hurt the majority living on the periphery. He also does not believe that the international order is liberal because of its main beneficiary, China: the one-party state run by the communist elite. He concludes his statement by arguing that the system has been anything but orderly. Challenging the era of the Pax Americana has been the rise of Islamic extremism, tens of millions of displaced individuals, and nuclear proliferation.


Fareed Zakaria believed that since the end of WWII there has been massive progress for mankind. More countries have joined to be part of a system that has taken more people out of poverty than ever and that thrives off of self-determination, freedom, and liberty with institutions such as the EU and GATT. Zakaria acknowledges that fast globalization has created a sense of cultural anxiety, but it is those same states that spearheaded the liberal international order. He ends his statement recognizing that the future lays in the hands of those who live in an diverse and cosmopolitan world.


Before the debate, the 3,000-member audience voted 34% in favor of the end of the order while 66% were against it. At the conclusion of the debate, 29% were in favor, and 69% were against the resolution.

 

 

About the Author
Isabela Piedrahita is a recent graduate of Barstow High School in Kansas City, MO, and has interests in International Relations and Diplomacy.

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The Day I Met El Chapo

Posted By IRC, Monday, May 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2018

I, like most millennials who refuse to have a standard cable contract, find myself diving head first into every Netflix series that catches my eye, binge watching every episode with a hunger for more entertainment. “The Day I Met El Chapo” was one that especially grabbed my attention. I found myself finishing the real life telenovela in a single afternoon of binging. It's a tale of how Kate Del Castillo, famed Mexican actress and Chicano household name, managed to meet El Chapo, who professed his fandom in a heartfelt letter and creepy legal aid visits. What I found most interesting, and which pertains to my interest in international relations, was the way in which the governments, both Mexican and US, portrayed the actress who—by all accounts in the series—was placed in an impossible position.

Kate met Sean Penn at a party and, by chance, confessed she had been in contact with El Chapo by way of his attorney. Like most Hollywood tales of drugs and rebellion, the pair set out to try to interview the legend to make a movie about his life. Ultimately, Kate was able to play an integral part in obtaining footage of El Chapo and getting Sean Penn to the hiding place of the world’s most wanted man. Unfortunately for the actress, Penn decided to leak the information to the press in an interview with Rolling Stone. For Kate, the world came crashing down almost immediately. As a result, she was subjected to (basically) seeking asylum in the US. She has not returned to Mexico since the incident.

In the end, I was enthralled by the show and believe it is a crucial insight into the Mexican government. It displays all the modern complexities in a way that is personal and intimate. So if you're looking to learn a little about international relations in an accessible way, pull the shades, pop the corn, and enjoy.

 

About the Author
Bryce Slaughter is a former global education intern at the IRC. He is currently a graduate student studying education at Avila University. 

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Book Review - The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa

Posted By IRC, Monday, May 21, 2018
Updated: Friday, May 18, 2018

Irene Yuan Sun’s The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa, explores the consequences of Chinese investors in African countries. Sun co-leads McKinsey & Company’s work on Chinese economic engagement in Africa and previously taught secondary school in Namibia. She graduated from Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard College. Because Sun is Chinese-American, she provides a familiar but unique voice on this recent phenomenon. Every chapter in the book opens with a short narrative recounting Sun’s time in Africa. She interviews Chinese and African factory owners, workers, and investors to provide many perspectives on investment in Nigeria, Kenya, and Lesotho.

While the idea of Chinese investors moving into African countries sounds a bit like neo-colonialism, Sun argues both sides. The Chinese presence in Africa is a result of a natural chain reaction. She explains that, “Chinese entrepreneurs move because they grew up in factories whose bosses had moved to China, and those bosses in turn had grown up in factories with foreign bosses." A shrinking Chinese labor pool (due to the one child policy), rising energy costs, and increased competition have all contributed to the Chinese relocating to Africa. China only recently became a powerhouse for global manufacturing. Prior to the arrival of foreign investors, China was among the poorest countries in the world. Now, China hopes to make the same progress in African countries, believing that manufacturing is the key to development. Unlike previous Western ventures that attempted to impose their own business models in Africa, Chinese investors prefer to work with the system as it is.

Sun frequently undercuts the benefits of Chinese investment with possible concerns. For example, few of the factories in Africa are owned by locals, which is the ultimate goal, and there have been instances of unsafe or unjust factory conditions, fueled by racism. Sun makes a valiant effort to tell both sides of the story, but she tends to generalize Africa as a single entity, never really straying from the three countries mentioned above, Nigeria, Kenya, and Lesotho. However, Sun’s work should be praised for imagining a successful economic future for Africa, instead of taking the bleak “hopeless continent” route so many authors have before. 

 

About the Author
Danielle David is a senior at Barstow High School and will be attending Fordham University in the fall.


Want to learn more about Chinese investment? Join us for the forum on The Opportunities and Challenges of Chinese Investment in the U.S. on Thursday, May 24.

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100th Anniversary of the Pittsburgh Agreement

Posted By IRC, Monday, May 14, 2018
Updated: Friday, May 11, 2018

On May 16, 2018, the IRC, the Czech & Slovak Club, and the World Trade Center of Kansas City will sponsor a lunch program to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Agreement. Many of you may not realize that this agreement, which came to fruition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, led to the establishment of an independent Czechoslovak state (Czechoslovakia) after the First World War. I hope many people can attend the program. I think it will be attractive to people interested in doing business in central Europe, people interested in history (especially World War I), and people with links to the Czech and Slovak heritages.

This event has special meaning to me because of my maternal grandmother’s immigration story. She arrived in the U.S. before the start of World War I from the Moravian region of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was a teenager and came to this country to bring her young niece to America at the request of her aunt and uncle, who came to the U.S. not long before. They came to America for the opportunities here and probably to escape the oppression of the Austrian Habsburgs. Grandmother intended to return to her homeland, but before she could leave, World War I broke out and she was prohibited from returning during the war. She met her future (Czech) husband in Nebraska, and they married in 1919.

By that time, the homeland she knew was undergoing significant changes – World War I ended, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was collapsing, and the Pittsburgh Agreement was signed. Her Moravian home became part of the newly formed Czechoslovakia. She would surely have been proud to return to Czechoslovakia and reconnect with her family. It was not meant to be. My grandmother never returned. Her family in America and those she left behind in Moravia reunited when I made my first visit to Czechoslovakia in 1994 and met my family, my grandmother’s direct descendants. It was the start of one of the most meaningful experiences in my life and is the source of great pride and joy. I have many relatives in the Czech Republic, and I treasure those relationships.

I hope to see you at the lunch program or the business roundtable that follows.

 

About the Author
Sharon K. Valášek is the Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic in Kansas and Missouri.

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Kansas City Is as Global as We Make It

Posted By IRC, Monday, May 7, 2018

When I travel or receive guests, I’m always curious to hear their notions of Kansas City. “Dorothy,” the unfamiliar say, or maybe “tornados,” or “barbecue.” But, if you’ve been around Kansas City a little while, you’ll know how many first-time visitors leave pleasantly surprised. They start piecing together the stories of Harry Truman, Amelia Earhart, Charlie Parker, Walt Disney, Buck O’Neil, and even Ernest Hemingway. They find the architecture beautiful, the food delicious, and the people charming. They see the dynamic community that Kansas City boasts in 2018, and they can’t wait to come back – with good reason.

Perhaps most striking for many visitors, and even lifelong KC residents, is just how internationally active Kansas City is. In business alone, Kansas City’s global credentials are impressive. Think of the international headquarters you know in the area and the continued growth of KC’s international supply chains through rail, air, and water. Exports of transportation equipment, agricultural products, machinery, and chemicals are strong in both Kansas and Missouri, as are export/import relationships with China, Canada, Mexico, and other countries. Organizations like the International Trade Council, the KC Area Development Council, the KC Economic Development Corporation, the U.S. Commercial Service, and the World Trade Center–Kansas City, among others, support businesses in their global connections, which offer local benefits.

It’s not just our businesses – our people are global, too. Seeing demand for European connections, Icelandair will begin offering Kansas City its first transatlantic flight later this month. The Kansas City, Missouri, School District instructs students with more than 50 different home languages, and area universities regularly receive students from and send students to all corners of the globe. The Kansas City Ethnic Enrichment Commission includes representatives from more than 60 different countries and cultures; hardly a weekend goes by without a festival or gathering highlighting one or more of the many cultures that call Kansas City home. Ten Thousand Villages showcases artisanal items from numerous countries. The City Market, Independence Avenue, KCK, and downtown Overland Park, are a feast for the senses with food and drink from around the world. Organizations like Folk Alliance International and KC Creates, along with world-class museums like the Nelson-Atkins and Kemper, open our eyes and ears to international artistic expression. And all that’s just for starters.

The more you get to know Kansas City, the more global you find it to be, even where you might not expect it. We’re fortunate in our community to have such a robust network of organizations and schools that help to facilitate global connection and understanding, open the world to Kansas City, and open Kansas City to the world. The decades-long work of so many of these organizations, including the IRC, is straightforward and shared: to raise a global perspective in Kansas City. We do this in so many different ways, and the spirit of cooperation among KC international organizations is inspiring. The collaborative efforts that have come out of years of work have laid the foundation for even more exciting opportunities in the years ahead.

At the IRC, we love seeing the international enthusiasm that is spreading across our community, and we want to contribute however we can. We encourage other organizations to share their internationally themed events in our Kansas City community calendar », and we value the chance to partner with others to put on meaningful community programs that encourage global awareness. We’ve also just launched a new Kansas City international directory » to help area organizations, universities, K-12 school programs, arts groups, ethnic/cultural groups, religious groups, libraries and museums, and government agencies with international connections or interests to share about their work. We invite you to take a look at these resources and be in touch with other ideas you might have; I can be reached at mhughes@irckc.org or 816-423-2632.

My favorite part of Kansas City is how things happen here because Kansas Citians make them happen. So much of Kansas City’s global reach and the way we celebrate our diverse community is a result of committed individuals and organizations who took the initiative to make more possible. Building on this legacy, there’s only more possibility in store for our community, and we look forward to continuing to work with you in this important effort. Kansas City, after all, is as global as we make it.

 

About the Author
Matthew Hughes is the executive director of the International Relations Council. His professional experience bridges the education and nonprofit sectors. A K-12 teacher for six years and fluent in Spanish, Hughes has worked with students ranging from age 4 through adult learners. Prior to the IRC, Hughes managed Global Education Programs for People to People International.

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Book Review: Asian Security and the Rise of China

Posted By IRC, Monday, April 30, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, April 17, 2018

David Martin Jones, Nicholas Khoo, and M.L.R. Smith wrote Asian Security and the Rise of China. David Martin Jones teaches in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia. Nicholas Kooh is a senior lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Lastly, M.L.R. Smith lectures at King’s College as a professor of Strategic Theory in the Department of War Studies.

Asian Security and the Rise of China analyzes the political and economic dynamics at the end of the Cold War and offers a realist perspective on the frictions and dynamics of Sino-US relations. The rise of China creates conflict with existing consensus-based agreements and has led to other Asian states’ increasing dependence on the US to mitigate Chinese hegemony, showing the existence of a complex and destabilizing security dilemma.

The book tries its best to present diverse perspectives. For example, I learned about two different opinions regarding how much to fear the rise of China. Scholars like David Shambaugh and David Kang believed that Northeastern states viewed Chinese hegemony as stability (41) and would be more willing to accommodate China’s position because, “the critical development in post-Cold War era Asia has been convergence in national identities” (42). In contrast to fear deflation, realist scholar John Mearsheimer fears that the future of Northeast states would be bleak as China rises from the perspective of offensive realism in which states are competing power maximizers, at once fearful of each other and constantly looking for opportunities to gain power at the expense of others (43). Furthermore, the book includes poll results from northeast Asian states reflecting views of people from various social classes. The general result indicates an increase of fear for China’s rise as a threat to the stability of East Asian states and an inclination to the United States as the peace mediator.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand East Asian politics and how China’s growing power shapes America's role in national security. It also involves human rights, democracy, and other important aspects of politics. I truly enjoyed the philosophical insights, empirical data and useful theories.

 

About the Author
Tina Ye is a student at Barstow High School in Kansas City, MO.

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Member Spotlight: Howard Trilling

Posted By IRC, Monday, April 23, 2018
Updated: Friday, April 20, 2018

 

Mr. Howard Trilling is a graduate of Thunderbird School of International Management, and was formerly a vice president of global markets for Staples Promotional Products. With more than 40 years of experience in marketing, sales, and global development, Mr. Trilling has traveled for business to Brazil, China, London, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, and more. Mr. Trilling has also served as board member of the World Trade Center in Kansas City and is currently a member of the International Trade Council in Kansas City. As a part of the International Relations Council, Mr. Trilling enjoys participating in the Waldo Great Decisions Group » and is a member of the IRC Book Club ».


Mr. Trilling has always been an entrepreneur at heart, and after retirement in 2012, he started his own business, Arno Global Consulting. Arno Global Consulting specializes in the promotional products industry and assists young startup companies with evaluating the potential of their products in the international market and with product development. The latest assignment for Arno Global Consulting was working with a private equity group in the United Kingdom that sought to make an investment in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mr. Trilling led the assessment of the factory’s value and the value of the promotional products they wished to market and distribute to ensure the project would be a success. Mr. Trilling is currently consulting to develop a collapsible cup in China. Mr. Trilling will aid this small company with their marketing and to connect them with markets in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

In the future, Mr. Trilling hopes to partner with a colleague who specializes in the logistics of imports and exports to combine their expertise with marketing, sales, and development, and to provide a jumpstart program for smaller companies. To find out more information about Arno Global Consulting, please visit www.arnoglobal.com ».

 

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:  http://www.irckc.org/page/MemberSpotlight ».

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Midwestern Mzungu

Posted By IRC, Monday, April 16, 2018
Updated: Friday, April 13, 2018
Many people acknowledge and understand the utility of learning international languages as vehicles for deeper engagement with the world. That is, by speaking another language, you can connect more thoroughly and authentically with your international neighbors, at home and abroad.

Despite this acknowledgment, relatively few have considered how language acquisition can shape one's understanding of the world on a theoretical level. Being able to speak with a wider variety of people certainly has its perks, but there are benefits to learning a new language beyond simply communicating.

As a Hispanic woman living in Kansas City, the instances in which my five years studying Swahili become necessary are few and far between. Sure, I occasionally get the chance to surprise others - whose conversations I have shamelessly eavesdropped on - that a Midwestern "mzungu" (white person) speaks their primary language, but my day-to-day life does not necessitate the use of Swahili for communication.

Yet, despite the significant amount of time and resources that went into learning a new language, I will never regret learning Swahili. Regardless of how often it is used, when one learns a new language, their very understanding of the world and how they process information about it is shaped.

When I first began learning Swahili, I couldn't wrap my head around the lack of distinction between male and female pronouns. Everyone was just "yeye," and generally speaking there was no need to point out one's sex. Every time someone would speak to me in Swahili about the ambiguous "yeye," I felt a palpable anxiety about not knowing if it was a she or a he.

Similarly, I was distressed by the many fewer words that Swahili contained compared to English, and the implications that would have for how one needed to embrace ambiguity on a sometimes sentence-to-sentence basis. How could "kucheza" really mean both "to dance" and "to play"? What if someone was playing but not through dance? And how could "kusoma" mean "to read" and "to study," when not all studying involves reading?

For someone who has a not-quite-healthy obsession with clarity and feeling in control of situations, learning Swahili was downright therapeutic. Over time, I learned to reshape my expectations of the way language "should be" to a more open acceptance of the way things were. Now when I hear Swahili spoken, I rarely stop to wonder which English word relates most directly to the intended meaning of a sentence. I just listen and understand, while maintaining an openness to whatever comes my way.

Anyone who knows me knows that my thirst for precision and my discomfort with ambiguity still exist in my life in general, but I have come a long way in broadening my understanding of the world, and my therapy bills have only decreased over time. Whenever I feel anxiety now, I have to stop and wonder, maybe it's time to learn a new language?

April Diaz is the program coordinator at the International Relations Council.

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To Be at Home in All Lands

Posted By IRC, Monday, April 9, 2018
Updated: Sunday, April 8, 2018

I had lunch the other day with a young man who had just returned from an academic semester in Europe. Making conversation, I asked, “did you learn anything?” I wasn’t at all surprised when he compared his first extended international experience to being on a par with taking a drink from a fire hose. Sensory overload.

And his comments weren’t just confined to "book larnin’." Certainly the course work was useful and necessary, but much of the learning, maybe most of it, took place outside of the classroom.

There were, of course, the usual visits to archaeological sites and museums, plus the mandatory late nights at bistros savoring the local scene. And, then, there was the joy of learning another language. It’s one thing to memorize how to say, “I love you” or “two beers, please” in a foreign language, but it’s a major leap to realize that people are actually communicating when they spew out a series of what used to be incomprehensible sounds. What delight my young friend took in joining conversations that quite fluidly slipped back and forth between English and Spanish.

Is it too much to say that the major takeaway from a chance to live in another part of the world is an enhanced self-awareness – a greater understanding of the world and one’s place in it? I don’t think so. I’ve been told by many people that such an experience changed their lives. This change may be hard to quantify, however, and can vary from person to person and situation to situation. It might mean a completely new career path or a new political outlook or a recommitment to long-held personal beliefs. The only constant is change, it would seem, and, if my lunch companion is any judge, such change is to be treasured.

Not all of us are fortunate enough to have the time, resources, or jobs to permit us the opportunity to spend longer than a vacation outside our own country. So, how do we get some of the benefits of a prolonged stay overseas without leaving home? Cue the large number of international nonprofits in Kansas City –  organizations like the International Relations Council », the United Nations Association », GlobalTies KC »Sister Cities of Kansas City », the Ethnic Enrichment Commission », People to People (both the local chapter » and the world HQ »), and many others.

Each of these organization has a unique approach to the mission of promoting awareness and understanding of the greater world. Hosting a visiting delegation of labor leaders or librarians or entertaining an exchange student from Mongolia may not be your cup of tea. Perhaps having an in-depth discussion on foreign policy or meeting international politicians or business people might be more to your liking. How about watching dancers from Indonesia or enjoying the creative work of young artists from Taiwan and Botswana? Receiving international military officers in our homes or attending a discussion group may not be life-changing events for most of us, but, taken as a piece of the greater whole, such activities are important. By enhancing our knowledge and participating as “citizen diplomats,” we can get the satisfaction of being a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem of a national lack of awareness of our world.

An educator of a century ago wrote that one measure of a well-educated citizen was to be “at home in all lands…and to carry the keys to the world’s library in one’s pocket." There are diverse paths to becoming well-educated, and there is certainly no age requirement. So, even without a junior year abroad, isn’t it nice to have local opportunities to be a life-long learner constantly en route to feeling “at home in all lands”?

Mike Wood is a board member, volunteer, and long-time member of the IRC.

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