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.