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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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International Metrics

Posted By IRC, Monday, April 2, 2018
Updated: Sunday, April 1, 2018

One of the primary challenges in understanding countries in relation to one another is the sheer diversity of the world. How do we compare the economies of very large countries to very small countries? Is there a way to talk about the comparative political stability of a country? How do we measure progress in attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals when a day in the life in one place can seem so far removed from that in another? Even an attempt to quantify aspects of a single country is difficult due to its internal heterogeneity.

While quantitative data can never fully encapsulate a country or its people, and there will always be some level of controversy and criticism around what data is included and how it is interpreted, composite statistics and comparative indices can be useful tools to provide context for the relationships between countries. Below is listing of some metrics and statistics that can be helpful in discussions of international relations.

1. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP)
While these two measures are related, they look at a country’s economic activities in slightly different ways. According to The Economist, GDP “is calculated by adding the total value of a country's annual output of goods and services.” A version of this number is often used when assessing the relative size of a national (or supranational, as with the European Union) economy. To calculate a country’s GNP, which can be viewed as a country’s gross national income, one
adds to the GDP the income a country’s residents have earned from investments in other countries and subtracts the income a country’s residents remit to other countries.

2. Human Development Index (HDI)
According to the United Nations Development Programme, the HDI “is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living. The HDI is the geometric mean of normalized indices for each of the three dimensions.” The HDI (and its newer cousin, the Inequality-Adjusted HDI) is an attempt to understand the development of a country through the lens of its people rather just looking at measures of economic output and growth.

3. Gender Development Index (GDI)
Related to the HDI above and also calculated by the United Nations Development Programme, the GDI “is a direct measure of gender gap showing the female HDI as a percentage of the male HDI.” The GDI provides an additional layer information regarding gender parity within a country relative to the rest of the world.

4. Gini Coefficient
According to the World Bank, the Gini coefficient of inequality “is the most commonly used measure of inequality.” Originally developed by its namesake Corrado Gini in 1912, the Gini coefficient can provide a shorthand way to understand economic inequality within a country; it ranges from 0 (complete equality) to 1 (complete inequality, where “one person has all the income or consumption, all others have none”).

5. Global Peace Index (GPI)
The GPI was developed in 2007 by the Institute of Economics and Peace. It is a “composite index of 23 indicators weighted and combined into one overall score.” Usefully, the GPI looks at both internal and external peace, giving a slight weight to internal peace. In this way, the GPI provides a metric to assess the level of peace (and the level of conflict) for a country as experienced by its residents.

 6. Global Open Data Index (GODI)
Developed by Open Knowledge International, the GODI asks a very specific question about a country’s national government: “How do governments around the world publish open data?” Rather than trying to be a broad assessment of a country’s status and development, the GODI seeks to measure how open governments are with their data. One of the underlying assumptions of the GODI is that “for the key data categories [surveyed], the government has a responsibility to ensure their publication.”

7. World Happiness Report
Based on data from the Gallup World Poll, the World Happiness Report is based on survey scores from nationally representative samples. Aspects of the happiness ranking include GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.

As you can see from this sampling of metrics, there are myriad ways to use data, statistics, and comparative analysis to provide context to the situations, progress, and well-being of the countries world. Data allows us to understand some of the differences and similarities between countries and how these countries and relationships change over time. Be sure to check out the Global Education Resources page on the International Relations Council’s website to learn more.

Kit Dawson is the Business Intelligence Strategist for the PKD Foundation. 

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Brazil in 2018: Event Recap

Posted By IRC, Monday, March 26, 2018

Last Wednesday evening, March 21, the IRC held an event on Brazil in 2018 from cultural, economic, and political perspectives. The event included four speakers: Drs. Chris Anderson and Luciano Tosta from the University of Kansas and Drs. Mona Lyne and Monica Mingucci from the University of Missouri–Kansas City. We started the night discussing the Brazil's current circumstances. It has the eighth largest GDP in the world but has been in an economic decline for the past eight years. Brazil’s trade is heavily reliant on its natural resources. There is such an abundance of natural resources that the country does not need to import any petroleum. Brazil is the third largest democracy in the world and has been since 1989, though the transition to democracy only began in 1985.

Collor de Melo was the first president of Brazil and his impeachment began only after one year of his first term. Before being impeached, Collor de Melo resigned, and his vice president took over. Under the presidency of Cardoso, Brazil saw reforms in the shape of a federal benefits system through debit cards. After Cardoso, the two major political parties emerged. From here, a multitude of scandals were uncovered including the Lava Jato scandal which tainted the Workers’ Party.

Dr. Lyne explained that the uncovering of scandals in Brazil should not be seen as bad, but as an active process of making the government better. She also said it would be unfair for people of older democracies to look at Brazil, a relatively new democracy, and hold it to the same standards as their own country. Currently, Brazil’s government is facing troubles of a slow justice system, lack of transparency, and a lack of social participation.

Dr. Anderson explained that Brazil has the potential to head in a very positive direction, if the right steps are taken. For example, if health care efficiency is increased, the life expectancy in Brazil could increase by nearly six years. The presenters on Wednesday night may have discussed different perspectives on Brazil, but all of them agreed Brazil is moving in a hopeful direction.

Ellis is a freshman at Metropolitan Community College.

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Bollywood Fusion Dance

Posted By IRC, Monday, March 19, 2018
Updated: Friday, March 9, 2018

My freshman year at the University of Kansas was when my eyes were opened to a completely different culture. As I was searching for organizations to become a part of on campus, I attended a Bollywood fusion dance workshop. After attending the workshop, I decided to try out and join the Bollywood fusion dance team on campus, KU Jeeva. The teams in the competitive dance circuit fused multiple dance styles, both “Western” dance and South Asian dance styles. I was exposed to many dance styles that I had never even heard of: bhangra, garba, raas, Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and others. Each dance has different origins and varies in intensity. I found that the dances really focused on expressions, especially the forms of classical dance, Bharatanatyam and Kathak.

KU Jeeva offered more than just a look into different forms of South Asian dance, and I built friendships which allowed for further exposure to South Asian culture. The first thing that I noticed about South Asian culture was the hospitality that was demonstrated by my friends and their families. Anytime I visited a friend’s home I immediately felt welcomed and as if I was an extension of the family. Something that was constantly offered to me was copious amounts of food and mango-flavored beverages. In addition to hospitality, South Asian families are extremely family-oriented, beyond just immediate family. Within the community there are very frequent dinner parties with all of the aunties, uncles, nieces, and nephews who come to share food, drinks, and conversation.

Lastly, I was able to learn a lot about the clothing and style in South Asian culture. There are many different outfits that people wear for different kinds of occasions. Formal wear would be a sari, ghagra, or legha choli. Informal clothing would be a salwar kameez, plain sari, or a kurta. Beyond clothing, mehndi or henna, is a form of body art that is used in South Asia. This is heavily used in Bollywood films, but is also used in some formal events and weddings.

I am extremely grateful for all of the experiences and friendships that I have built while competing nationwide and sharing my passion for dance. Beyond this I have enjoyed being a part of many families and celebrations such as Holi and Diwali. I hope to continue learning about South Asia and other cultures.

Shane Smith is a senior at the University of Kansas, majoring in Global and International Studies, with an emphasis in Latin American Studies.

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Runner's High

Posted By IRC, Monday, March 12, 2018
Updated: Friday, March 9, 2018

I wake up early in the morning before the sun has risen or the shops below open. I lace my shoes and leave the door of my apartment behind me, descending down the stairs and through the main entrance of my building. I turn up my street and make my way to the top of the hill. I find my breath with each step as I make my way onto the Plaza.

The crest of the hill as Wornall makes its way onto the designed shopping hub offers one of the best views in Kansas City. The miniature tower stands out below as the Spanish architecture stands alone in the Midwest. I look at the buildings that seem so out of place and reminisce on the years I lived abroad. The yellow walls, sun-drenched and decaying with time, make their way back into my mind as I trot along the streets for my morning run.

Looping around the curve, I hear the familiar sound of a guitar that takes me back to Seville, the sister city of Kansas City, the city which gifted the architects inspiration for the very neighborhood I find myself everyday. How I long for the life in those streets again. To see the guitarist whose daily habit led him to a curved alleyway with a perfectly placed nail and stool. To have that time back again is a gift every day as I run through the streets of Kansas City.

Walking through the streets of Seville is walking through time itself. It's a city that survived hundreds of years, changing hands of governments and cultures. The city seems to wind itself down in the meandering fashion of all great things that have no need to hurry. This city, too, could stand through time. One day, perhaps, tourists will come and wonder at the age of the buildings and the concrete of the streets. Perhaps, but not today.

Bryce Slaughter is Master's student at Avila University studying Education.

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Global Experience in Review

Posted By IRC, Monday, March 5, 2018
Updated: Thursday, March 1, 2018

On Monday, February 26, the International Relations Council hosted its second Global Experience discussion event. A group of community members gathered at Port Fonda restaurant in Westport to discuss the international implications of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Discussion questions included: Do the Olympics have any beneficial impact on world peace? Should performance enhancing drugs be permitted in the Olympics? Should the Olympics focus more on individual athletes and deemphasize national teams? Should there be an artistic competition along with sporting competition? Should both the summer and winter Olympics continue to be held in a different city every four years? Should we discontinue the Olympics?

The discussion was stimulating and timely, as the 2018 Olympics had ended the night before. The two discussion groups touched on the beneficial impact of learning about other countries and cultures through the games, and how this can increase a country’s pride and self-esteem and can contribute to a sense of global community. A prime example is the Olympic athlete from Tonga who made headlines in the Rio Summer Olympics of 2016. His reappearance as a winter athlete reminded attendees that without his shirtless escapade during the opening ceremony, perhaps fewer people would take the time to learn about Tonga and its people. Furthermore, discussions of doping as well as locations for the Olympics centered on the possible exploitation and disenfranchisement of less-developed countries. Should doping be allowed, poorer countries would have a difficult time matching the state-sponsored doping programs of wealthy nations, such as in Russia. Furthermore, privileging a few cities with the right to hold the Olympics to reduce waste would prevent the ability of the global audience to learn about new places and cultures. The merits of an international Olympic fund to aid less-developed nations in sponsoring the Olympic Games were also debated.

This event helped attendees to consider how their lives, the Kansas City community, and the nation are affected by these games. If they are to continue, it is worth establishing a dialogue to ensure they fulfill their stated goal: "… to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." This dialogue was a meaningful step toward fulfilling this goal, as discussion must always be at the center of progress and development at the global level.

Maya Van Nuys is a junior at the University of Kansas with majors in Global and International Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies and minors in French and Economics.

Interested in joining us in future Global Experience discussions and gatherings? Click here to sign up for the IRC newsletter and stay up to date with the latest happenings: http://bit.ly/2ozp5Vs

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It's a Small World After All...

Posted By IRC, Monday, February 26, 2018
Updated: Thursday, February 22, 2018

For six weeks over the summer of 2017 I was given the opportunity to study the French language at the École l'Étoile in Paris, France. The first two weeks were spent on a tour of Northern France, from Strasbourg to Étretat, and through the chateaus of the Loire Valley before landing in Paris for the last four weeks. The tour featured some of the highlights of French tourism, including memorials and battle sites from World War I and II, as well as medieval relics like Mont Saint Michel.

Our time in Paris also provided many opportunities for sight-seeing. Though the hot and crowded day I spent at Versailles was not my favorite part of the trip, I was surprised at how touched I was by the Eiffel Tower; or, as I prefer, La Dame de Fer: the Iron Lady. Most often, those edifices which loom large in our mind fall flat in person; however, what I thought would be another tourist trap turned into one of my favorite spots on earth. There is a reason why so many pieces of poetry, literature, and music are dedicated to La Dame de Fer: she is striking.

To stand under her gave one the impression of all the history of that ancient city, yet it also brings to mind the relentless machine of progress. This was especially true with the twinkling lights that comeon at night. I sat and gazed at her in awe of my ability to be in another part of the world, yet feel completely at home.

My entire experience in Paris, though a wonderful global experience, reminded me of how small the world is. I had waited so long to go abroad that France had adopted a mystical aura in my mind. Once I was there, I realized how many things were similar to those at home: I saw rolling hills of farms that brought to mind the medieval fiefdoms of France, but also the Midwestern landscape I see when traversing I-29 through Missouri on my way home to South Dakota. I left France understanding just how close all the peoples of the world truly are, and how little separates us. I also left knowing it would not be long before La Dame de Fer and I meet again.

Maya Van Nuys is a junior at the University of Kansas with majors in Global and International Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies and minors in French and Economics.

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The Reviled Refugees of Manus

Posted By IRC, Monday, February 19, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Last week, UN officials once again called upon the Australian government to address the situation regarding refugees on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and to "live up to its responsibilities." More than 700 refugees remain in offshore processing facilities where health, security, and human rights are frequently put in jeopardy. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments to take a humane solution.

According to the UNHCR, 3172 refugees have been transferred by Australia to facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru since 2013. The refugees hail from a range of regions from the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, most of them risking their lives in a dangerous sea crossing to the Australian coast. These were the refugees that were called into question by President Trump’s tweet in February 2017, calling an Obama-era agreement to bring 1250 refugees to the US with the Australian government a “dumb deal."

After the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court ruled the Australian facilities as unconstitutional, the camp was set for closure on October 31, 2017 – a move that the UN Human Rights Committee disparaged for not allowing "adequate arrangements for long-term viable relocation solutions for all refugees and asylum seekers." A representative for the UNHCR found the construction of the new sites unfinished, with "heavy machinery on the ground as well, fences still being constructed." They also found the new sites lacking in trauma-counseling and interpretation services.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were alarmed by the conditions on the island after police forcibly removed refugees to the new unfinished sites in late November. Multiple security incidents have been reported at the new facilities, where an ongoing dispute between local landowners and the government’s contractor – JDA Wokman – have interrupted services to the refugee holding facilities. Local residents have also approached the government detainment facilities, sometimes armed with machetes and batons, and threatened the asylum seekers inside. Since the initiation of the program, more than six refugees have died, including Faysal Ahmed, who was denied appropriate medical treatment 13 times.

Australia has refused to resettle any refugees on the mainland, insisting it would have to find third country resettlement options. The country also has repeatedly denied a New Zealand offer to take in a number of refugees, claiming that such a move would make Australia a backdoor for New Zealand and encourage more crossings.  One must hope that a viable and humane solution is quickly found.

 

References:

 

Official News Bulletin 

UNHCR Fact Sheet on the Situation on Manus Island

LA Times

NY Times 

 

Wenhan Sun is a high school student at The Barstow School. 

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Kashmir: A Land Divided and Torn

Posted By IRC, Monday, February 12, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Since its creation in 1947, Kashmir has been a land divided and torn. The mountainous region east of Pakistan and north of the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab is home to a diverse group of people. Kashmiris include Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, and the land is claimed by Pakistan, India, and China. Over the years, tens of thousands of lives have been lost in wars, skirmishes, and bloody protests.


The most recent quarrel occurred January 27, 2018, when Indian soldiers killed two Kashmiri separatists and injured nine others in the Indian occupied Srinagar, Kashmir. The military had prepared for protests that day, lining the streets with riot-geared soldiers and issuing a curfew. Protesters are said to have started throwing rocks at the soldiers and damaging vehicles prior, leading the military to open fire. The soldiers claim the act to be in self-defense, yet are still charged with attempt to murder and murder by state police.


The fight for Kashmir began just after the removal of British rule and the partition of India and Pakistan: India as a Hindu nation and Pakistan as a Muslim nation. Kashmir, under the rule of Hari Singh, was given the option to join either country or remain independent. Singh, a Hindu, initially chose an independent state, but was pressured into aligning with India. This ultimately lead to the first of three wars fought over Kashmir.


Today, Kashmir is a majority Muslim state, with nearly 60% of the population following the Islamic faith. Its future still is being fought over, with inhabitants pushing to join Pakistan or India or even become independent. As the two countries are split on land ownership as well as religion, it often becomes a religious battle.

 

Ellis Gilham is a freshman at Metropolitan Community College studying International Relations and Journalism.

 

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