Katelynn Platt of Billings, John Godwin of Great Falls and Tristan Abbott of Sunnyside, Wash., are among 43 Montana college students and faculty who were selected to assist officials attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Trade Ministerial and Small and Medium Enterprise Meetings.
Approximately 90 trade ministers, senior trade officials, and Small and Medium Enterprise Ministers representing 21 economies will congregate in closed sessions to hammer out policies. Between May 6 and 23, the APEC meetings, brought to Montana by senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, will attract approximately 2,000 visitors to the state.
To make the delegates' lives easier, college students and other Montanans were chosen to become "liaison officers." Each matched with one delegate, Platt was assigned to Si-Hyung Lee from South Korea. Abbott will assist Paul Tighe from Australia. Godwin will assist Antonio V. Rodriguez of the Philippines. Lee, Tighe and Rodriguez are all senior trade officials.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Abbott said. "The next time it comes around, I'll be too old to be having this much fun."
The students will meet their delegates at the Gallatin Field Airport and accompany them to the Big Sky resort where they will help them in a variety of ways, the students said. They might guide the delegates to meeting rooms, for example, arrange transportation or run for coffee. They must not spout opinions or debate policies with their delegates.
"I'm so proud to be able to showcase all Montana has to offer on the global stage with APEC. And I'm particularly proud to be able to incorporate Montana students," Baucus said. "These students represent Montana's most importance resource: an educated workforce. They are true ambassadors of Montana, and I know they will make us all proud."
APEC meets four times a year, each year in a different country. It has been 18 years since APEC has met in the United States. This will be the first time that the APEC has met in Montana, according to staff members of Baucus, who encouraged the Trade Ministerial and Small and Medium Enterprise meetings to be held in Montana. Baucus is chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Finance, which has jurisdiction over U.S. trade issues. The other APEC meetings this year are in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Honolulu.
"The American West has always been a place of limitless possibility. Bringing the APEC Trade Ministers to Montana will broaden our horizons both literally and figuratively, giving our partners a fresh perspective on the diverse places from which America's entrepreneurs and exports can spring," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said when he announced that the 2011 APEC Trade Ministerial would be held in Montana.
"As we welcome our 20 APEC partners, USTR will seek to further the President's goal of supporting jobs through exports, while increasing cooperation and economic integration across the Asia-Pacific," Kirk said.
Platt said she is looking forward to being a liaison officer and learning more about APEC and the whole international economic community.
She originally majored in architecture, but her future took a dramatic turn after watching a YouTube video featuring pop music from South Korea, Platt said. The music was so addicting that she listened to other South Korean music and started studying the culture. That led to her switching her major to liberal studies, with a focus on global and multicultural studies. She became an exchange student, studying two semesters at Yonsei University in Seoul. She is considering attending graduate school in South Korea and teaching English in a South Korean grade school or middle school.
In the meantime, Peter Tillack, an assistant professor of Japanese studies, told his students this spring about the opportunity to become liaison officers. Platt applied and went through an on-campus interview. Platt said she didn't request a South Korean official, because she thought it might seem too forward. But she told the interviewer about her interest in South Korea, and it resulted in her being matched to a South Korean based in Seoul.
"It's so amazing and so close, I just had to do it," Platt said about the APEC meetings.
Abbott said the proximity of the conference, as well as the timing and opportunity to observe the international corporate world and see how major events are coordinated prompted him to sign up for the APEC experience. Abbott is an English major who specializes in contemporary English literature. He worked at Wal-Mart during the school year and guides rafting trips down the Yellowstone River during the summer. But he minors in international business and said one of his instructors, Virginia Bratton, assistant professor of management, told him that Baucus' office was looking for students to become liaison officers. After Abbott was selected, Bratton advised him to avoid a couple of slang phrases and behaviors that aren't embraced in Australia. Bratton taught three years in the Masters of Human Resource Management program at the University of Melbourne in Australia before returning to her native Montana.
Lessons in protocol were part of his formal training as a liaison officer, Abbott said. The liaison officers were told not to show the soles of their shoes to others, for example. It can happen inadvertently while crossing a leg, but it's an insult in many countries. Liaison officers were told, too, to avoid crossing their arms because it looks like they're closing themselves off to others.
Godwin, a non-traditional student who just finished his freshman year at MSU-Great Falls, said the liaison officers had their first training session - a state-wide video conference -- on March 31. They had another training session on May 13 at Big Sky. In addition to those, he is preparing by himself using an iPad application called "CIA - The World Factbook." It's an incredible resource that tells him everything he wants to know about the Philippines, he said. He is also consulting with the Philippine consulate in Washington, D.C. And although English is the official language of the meetings, a fellow tutor in the MSU-Great Falls Learning Center is teaching him a few words in the primary dialect of the Philippines. Godwin just hopes that saying "hello" in that dialect doesn't result in a response that leaves him lost.
Godwin, who is studying graphic design and Web design after closing his photography business of 25 years, said he wanted to become a liaison officer because he is Interested in observing APEC interactions. He also realized how close the meetings would be compared to other years. He has helped friends who have run for local office, but the APEC meetings are a "whole different scope from what I have seen," he said.
The liaison officers are unpaid volunteers, but their lodging, food, and BlackBerry communication devices are provided during the conference, the students said.
Baucus said he hopes the experience will be an invaluable part of the students' education.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org