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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 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 ».


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

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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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