Reaching out for fifteen years

By Lawrence Bailey

There was no cake and no candles, but a healthy number of guests fêted the University of Calgary International Centre in a healthy fashion last Thu., Oct. 18.

Over the past 15 years, the centre has quietly gained the respect of the world’s academic and global development communities, garnering praise and appreciation from many.

"One of the strengths of the centre is that all our development is done from the ground up," said International Centre Executive Director Duffy van Balkom. "We don’t just fly in and tell people what’s good for them, we ask people on the ground what they need to improve their lives. In terms of development we are known across Canada as doing excellent work."

Despite the global connotations of its name, the International Centre’s focus is local. Their primary objective is the internationalization of the university and the increased exposure of U of C students to the world beyond Western Canada.

"There is no better time than now to realize that to call ourselves a university, we need to prepare graduates for an increasingly interdependent world," explained van Balkom. "We need to make sure students are comfortable in the world, cross-culturally comfortable, regardless of their discipline. Simply preparing students to be accountants in Calgary is no longer an option."

Beyond its role at the university, the International Centre has forged academic partnerships of global significance.

"Most of our projects are partnerships and some have greater name recognition," said van Balkom, referring to the International Centre’s partnership with the Gorbachev Foundation. "That project in particular has the potential to have a major impact on the democratization of Russia."

In keeping with their tradition of bringing standing-room-only guest speakers to campus, the International Centre had Dr. Lewis Perinbam on hand for the anniversary celebration. A veteran of Canadian and international politics and an involved member of the private and non-governmental sectors, Perinbam spoke on the state and role of international aid.

"Industrialized countries did not discover underdeveloped ones, they helped create them," he said during his speech. "The Aid era has created a new colonialism. International development has become an industry."

Primarily discussing the need for increased trade with developing nations in a time when international aid is often seen as a solution to development problems, Perinbam’s message was clear.

"Aid is not the solution to the world’s problem," he stated. "Unless people become self-reliant, they will get nowhere."

However, Perinbam’s address was decidely optimistic.

"Don’t ever lose your idealism," he responded when asked what students could do to effect positive global change. "You’ll go crazy. We live in a beautiful world and there is a great deal we can do with it."

Other anniversary festivities included an open house for the unveiling of a commemorative booklet chronicling the Centre’s history and the presentation of the President’s Internationalization Acheivement Awards. Among the more established figures, a rising star also received well-deserved recognition. Student Award winner Amanda Affonso, a recent bachelor of arts graduate of the U of C, was instrumental in organizing many internationalization programs on campus, including the Book Drive established in 1996.

"Ultimately, we must never take our success for granted," concluded van Balkom. "If we just worry about our own backyard it has become very apparent we’ll be in trouble–serious trouble."

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