Minn. Int’l Center hosts Norwegians

On Dec. 8, a 10-person delegation from Norway left Minneapolis after a week of events hosted by the Minnesota International Center.

Minnesota International Center President Carol Engebretson Byrne said Norway has experienced an increase in Somali immigration and the delegation wanted to come to Minnesota, with one of the highest Somali populations outside of Somalia.

The delegation, which was a part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, was studying Somali culture and life in Minneapolis, she said.

Sally Fishback, MIC’s international visitor leadership program manager, said the Norwegian delegation was the largest program MIC has hosted.

“It was so nice to go into the school and have them look at education,” she said.

MIC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to increase international relations and awareness in Minnesota, as well as in the national and international communities.

The International Visitor Leadership Program uses nonprofit organizations to connect global leaders with their professional counterparts across the country. Engebretson Byrne said MIC hosted 390 visitors from 120 countries and regions in 2006.

Fishback said it’s important for foreign leaders to see life in the United States outside of Washington D.C. and Hollywood.

“I think the biggest benefit of that is seeing real people,” she said.

The University’s neighbor

Located near the University’s Superblock, the Minnesota International Center was started in 1953 after the University experienced an increase in international students after World War II, Engebretson Byrne said.

The University didn’t have the resources to help the students, so a group of University administrators, including Dr. Forrest Moore and professor emeritus Josef Mestenhauser, started the organization, she said.

“Our mantra is, ‘A wise U.S. foreign policy is based on a well-informed and engaged public,’ ” Engebretson Byrne said.

The organization, which works closely with the University, also works with many Minnesota communities through their program, International Classroom Connection, she said. The program brings international speakers and students to individual primary and secondary school classrooms across the state.

In 2006, members made 600 presentations to more than 16,000 students.

Global studies senior and MIC intern Jake Walls said the program is important because many children aren’t exposed to diversity at a young age.

“This gives them the opportunity to see other cultures,” he said. “When a speaker comes in, it’s like a sounding board for them.”

George Jerzy Hornik, the MIC program manager for K-12 education, said the organization also plans World Culture Day events through the International Classroom Connection program.

The events, which are presentations that incorporate the entire school, feature around 25 speakers from as many as 18 world regions. The events usually host 700 students at each school, he said.

“The schools are really vying for it,” he said. “We are about increasing their attitude and openness and that doesn’t happen overnight.”

Jerzy Hornik said there is a waiting list for both the International Classroom Connection program and the World Cultures Day events.

On Jan. 24, the group will host a World Culture Day event at Excelsior Elementary School in Excelsior, Minn., where 92 percent of the student body is white, non-Hispanic, he said.

“It’s kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “Once you see something different, you are always curious.”

To help fund the International Classroom Connection, MIC hosts ‘World Quest,’ an annual international trivia contest held at McNamara Alumni Center. In teams of eight, groups answer questions from different areas, including “Faces and Places” and “Flags of the World,” Engebretson Byrne said.

This year’s event will be held on Feb. 29; students can register a team for $140. Prizes will be awarded to the top three teams, as well as door prizes for participants.

Focusing on education at all levels, Engebretson Byrne said MIC will continue to use its programs and its relationship with the international community to push the importance of education.

“We want to take our programs beyond the headlines,” she said. “We’re only scratching the surface.”

She said educating the global community is as important as educating the local community.

“If there were a lot more organizations like us around the world, I bet it would make it a more stable place,” she said.