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A Conversation with Leaders from Kyrgyzstan

April 4, 2013

A Conversation with Kyrgyzstan Leaders

s.t.a.r.t. leaders met on Thursday, April 4th with emerging leaders from Kyrgyzstan to discuss ways to reduce ethnic tensions in our countries. Our visitors had careers in sports, the media and international diplomacy. The meeting, held at the Lake Street Library in South Minneapolis, was organized by the Minnesota International Center and the State Department.

Students were very curious about Kyrgyzstan, a country located in Central Asia, bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and separated from Afghanistan only by Tajikistan to its south. Our guests have experienced many ethnic conflicts and came to the United States to explore ways to reduce such tensions. They became interested in s.t.a.r.t. after s.t.a.r.t. was in the news for its efforts to develop students as intercultural leaders.

We agreed that such meetings are very important to introduce students to struggles experienced by leaders in other countries and to validate the sensitivity and skills required in intercultural bridging.

Students spoke about how they have engaged the broader community in their efforts to close opportunity gaps created by cultural patterns that have favored certain ethnic groups over others. They have also held events, dinners and dialogues to create greater awareness of their peers’ cultural assets.

We talked together about the role of past events in conflict resolution.  Our visitors asked why we do not leave the 1862 Dakota War, which we have been studying, and the legacy of slavery of African Americans in the past.  This led to a poignant discussion of historical trauma and its impact on communities and cultures.  One of our guests said he believed that the struggle for resources is at the heart of violence.  We agreed that the past is an informant of present tensions and can teach us to re-create patterns that allow for a better distribution of resources.  We also talked about how it is important to honor our cultures, while also taking leadership to move beyond our comfort zones and to hear stories from people who are not like us.

In a light-hearted moment, one of our students asked a Kyrgyz guest who his favorite basketball player is.  “Michael Jordan,” our guest responded, a choice met with many smiles around the room.

At the end of our time together, the s.t.a.r.t. students presented our Kyrgyz guests with small jar candles as gifts to remind them that when we take time to understand one another, we are spreading light throughout the world.  “Light–and warmth,” added one of our guests.

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