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Bemidji State hosts Student International Affairs Conference

A two-day conference at Bemidji State University is building students' awareness and knowledge of globalization.

The Student International Affairs Conference, which began Friday and continues today, is designed to encourage students in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to think about the opportunities and challenges created by an increasingly interdependent world.

BSU hosted a similar conference in 2005.

"This year, the topic is globalization," said BSU International Studies Director Robert Ley, one of the conference organizers. "And that seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it things."

He said the conference gives students the opportunity to develop a more thoughtful opinion on global issues and a respect for different opinions.

And while globalization is sometimes seen only as business issue, Ley said the conference focuses on both the business and cultural aspects of globalization.

Due to the snowy weather, students from across the state who planned to attend primarily did not make Friday's session. However, some groups might try to make the Saturday session, Ley said.

Featured speakers include a mix of higher education faculty from throughout Minnesota and around the world in a variety of disciplines.

Today's keynote speaker, Yalcin Karatepe, vice dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara University in Turkey, will address the topic of international finance.

Meanwhile, Friday's keynote speaker, Khong-Lim Chooi Peng, associate professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, spoke about intercultural communication and the globalization process.

"Diversity, often times, has been the source of misunderstanding," Khong-Lim said.

Those who interact with people from other cultures should not only seek linguistic fluency, but cultural fluency, she said.

"Mastering a language is one thing," Khong-Lim said. "And that's already difficult enough."

But, she said, communication is also vocal and non-verbal in ways such as tone of voice, emphasis, body language, eye contact and use of space and time.

Global immersion programs including BSU's Study Abroad programs, provide key opportunities to master cultural fluency, she said. "That is a very important beginning, but it's only just a beginning."

Through BSU, student Lindsay Papa has traveled to South Africa, Malaysia and Thailand. During a break, the BSU senior said she hopes to do more traveling to explore other cultures.

"I'm very much interested in just anything international," she said.

She signed up for the conference to learn from the international faculty how other countries deal with globalization.

"I'm such an advocate for international relations," said another student, BSU junior Andy Warfield, who grew up in Japan.

He said the biggest step people can take is to tear down the walls of closed mindedness.

"I think it's something that we should really be committed to because this world is actually becoming smaller," he said.