Why a China conference in Traverse City?

Half of my career, I lived and worked overseas, mostly in the Asia/Pacific region. Although I received loads of cultural training, my opinions of people from other countries changed most drastically when I was with them on a daily basis. How ignorant I was. Opening myself to new ways of doing things was a challenge, but understanding and embracing differences brought great rewards. There is always more to learn.

That’s why Northwestern Michigan College’s International Affairs Forum is such an asset to our community. For more than 20 years, IAF has invited top-notch global leaders to Milliken Auditorium on the third Thursday of the month. Why are we passionate about involving the community in global topics? The fact is we can think and act globally and still support local. The two can, do, and must co-exist.

No part of the world is more crucial to our future than China. That’s why IAF and other local partners and sponsors have organized the region’s first two-day conference on China, “China: Competitor or Partner?” set for June 5-6. One goal: to bring greater understanding of what is already going on in business, education and culture with China right here in Northern Michigan. Plans for student exchanges by Traverse City Area Public Schools are just one example.

We have discovered local companies exporting, partnering and manufacturing in China. There are even a few whose businesses were rescued by Chinese investors who came forward to keep the plants open and the communities afloat. These stories will be shared at the conference to help us discuss the impact, opportunities and demands that Chinese engagement brings.

Today, Michigan businesses are experiencing rapid growth in their trade with China. Last year, Michigan exported $3.2 billion worth of goods and services to China, just behind Canada and Mexico. Michigan is one of the top 10 states for direct investment from China with more than $917 million in capital from China in 2012.

Often I host international visitors in Traverse City … some Caucasian and many not. They feel a bit strange here as they walk downtown and see very little diversity. I have walked in their shoes, when I looked very different from the locals and had limited language skills. My guests ask why people stare at them or look at them strangely. I explain it may be from lack of exposure to people from overseas, and most likely it is just curiosity.

As Traverse City engages in business, educational and cultural initiatives globally, let’s hope that when international guests leave, they take positive memories of people who welcomed them and treated them with dignity and respect. Likewise, as we travel, that we leave an image of people open to listening, learning and sharing.

Please plan to join us for an immersion in Asian and Chinese topics with Chinese, American and global experts beginning in February. Participate in the IAF lectures, support this local conference and expand your global horizons.

(Originally posted at The Traverse City Record Eagle –