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Dinner dialogues promote international discussion

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By Christine Barkley

World Issues Dialogues, a 30-year-old dinner tradition at St. Olaf, has begun weekly Thursday meetings for the 2015-16 school year.

Almost 70% of students in the 2015 graduating class studied abroad during their four years at St. Olaf, and there are 200 international students within the current student body. This, along with St. Olaf ’s emphasis on a global perspective, provides the perfect environment for dinner dia- logues that work through international and intercultural experiences and issues.

The dialogues begin at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday and last for 60 to 90 minutes. Katya Wendt ’16, the student organizer for the events, encourages students to come for all or part of the event.

“We try to encourage people to attend even if they can’t stay the whole time or if they don’t get there at 5:30. Come late and leave early, just come,” Wendt said.

The topic of the kick-off dinner on Sept. 24 was South African Apartheid – Past and Present.

“The dialogue leaders first gave a short summary of South African history, then presented on South African apartheid, before finally moving to talking about how modern day South Africa is still dealing with the effects

of racial segregation that was enacted during apartheid,” Wendt said. “It was very interesting and a well-done presentation and the attendees had a lot of good questions for the presenters.”

Past dissucssion topics have included Women and Veiling in the Muslim World, Bartering and Haggling around the World as an American, Lutefisk and Lefse: Fact or Fiction and The History and Pouring of Guinness.

“You don’t need any sort of experience, you can come and be quiet if you want,” Wendt said. “It is really about gaining a new understanding.”

Coordinator of Program Advising and Student Activities

Helene MacCallum has been a part of World Issues Dialogues since it was created. “The International and Off-Campus Studies [office] felt that there needed to be a place to talk about international and domestic issues, a place where students could share perspectives from being abroad,” MacCallum said.

Personal experiences clashing with culture can be a sen- sitive interaction, something of which the organizers of World Issues Dialogue are acutely aware.

“They set up a system where students can submit ques- tions through text anonymously and they will display the questions and answer them. It’s a great way for students to ask questions they have always wanted to ask but have never felt comfortable with asking,” Wendt said.

World Issues Dialogue draws from a diverse pool of attendees. Last week, in addition to St. Olaf community members, the discussion attracted a Carleton student and a member of the Northfield community.

The dialogue meets at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday evening in Buntrock Commons, Trollhaugen Room (210). All stu- dents, faculty and members of the wider community are encouraged to attend as they are able.

barkle1@stolaf.edu