Kansas City Congress shines spotlight on international activities of APWA

Jerry Fay
National Program Director for Public Works
Phoenix, Arizona
Chair, International Affairs Committee

Because of the outstanding efforts of the Kansas City Metro Chapter and the other Heart of America Host Chapters that assisted it, the Kansas City Congress was a thought-provoking event that hosted many exciting firsts, with highlights that included many firsts initiated by the International Affairs Committee.

The first International Guests Reception was held Monday night at the Philips Hotel and the room was jammed with APWA delegates and guests from around the globe. The international guests represented Australia, Mexico, Iceland, and Japan. Past President Richard Ridings and APWA Executive Director Peter King welcomed the guests and made remarks about our growing international activities. Because of the success of this reception we will be hosting our international guests again at the Congress in San Diego.

Our joint session with the Diversity Committee was also a first. The session titled "Exploring Cultural Taboos Around the Globe: The Do's and Don'ts of Building International Relationships" was attended by an enthusiastic audience inspired by Laraine Kaminsky and her spirited, interactive presentation. This session was so well received that the IAC along with the Diversity Committee will be looking into the possibility of developing a general session on cultural taboos for a future Congress. Regardless, the IAC and Diversity Committee will be developing another joint session for the San Diego Congress.

Another first was a session called "Challenges and Opportunities for Mexico and California Along the International Border," presented by Guadalupe Osuana Millan, former Mayor of Tijuana, and Zeferino Sanchez, former Public Works Director for Tijuana. For the past several years, federal, state and regional agencies on both sides of the border have cooperated in a variety of innovative projects. This session discussed some of these projects and described future opportunities for cooperation between the two countries. The Asociacion de Municipios de Mexico, A.C. (AMMAC), the sponsor of this session, also had a booth and provided information on their activities and their Congress next year in Tijuana.

Next year the IAC has planned an ambitious program of international activities. One of the most significant will be the utilization of simultaneous translation into Spanish of selected Congress sessions in San Diego. This also will be groundbreaking for the IAC and Congress. We are coordinating additional activities with our AMMAC partners. Because of the close proximity of the Congress to Mexico we are expecting a large group of guests from Mexico.

Along with the translations of Congress sessions, we will be looking at translations of the APWA Management Practices Manual into Spanish. The Management Practices Manual has been identified by AMMAC as an outstanding resource for organizing public works departments. We will also be contacting the Institute of Transportation Engineers, one of our partnering organizations, and requesting that their recent translation of the Fundamentals of Traffic Engineering into Spanish be made available through APWA to our AMMAC partners.

APWA visits to our partner countries have proved very helpful in increasing the exchange of ideas between our respective organizations, and all three of the Task Forces met in Kansas City and developed programs for the upcoming year. AMMAC will again be inviting APWA to attend their Congress in May 2003 in Tijuana. We will also be looking to send representatives to the Slovak Public Works Association (SPWA) in the spring of 2003 and representatives to the biennial Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA) Congress in Australia in the summer of 2003. Unfortunately, the IPWEA Congress is the same time as the 2003 APWA Congress.

Along with the program listed above, one of our key goals for next year will be the exploration of an international exchange program for APWA members similar to the IPWEA International Exchange Program. This program would provide funding for APWA members to attend conferences in our partnership countries. The program is intended to provide an opportunity for our members to broaden their knowledge and exchange experiences and information on trends and advances in public works engineering through regular contact with our international counterparts. Further, it will promote friendship and understanding among public works officers and administrators. The participants would also stay on for a period of up to two weeks to visit with governmental agencies. Having chosen a topic of study related to public works engineering, participants will be selected and will be required to prepare a report at the end of their trip.

The IAC will again be submitting articles and facts of international interest to the Reporter and developing sessions of international interest for the San Diego Congress. Besides the session on Cultural Taboos, we are also looking at sessions on the Mexico City airport, cross-cultural business protocol, Czech and Slovak flood solutions, and public works issues in Slovakia and Central-Eastern Europe.

In closing, the IAC would like to challenge the APWA membership to take an active interest in international affairs. If you read the newspaper, watch TV or listen to the radio, you're certain to be aware of how often international affairs dominate. It is essential that we are informed, so that we can better understand and work closely with our international partners.

To reach Jerry Fay, call 602-508-6623 or send e-mail to


Learning About Other Cultures
In the book Understanding Intercultural Communication, the authors offer six useful suggestions for learning about other cultures.

  1. Be wary of stereotypes. Do not assume a rare trait is a dominant trait in any culture.

  2. Avoid emphases on extremes. People all over the world share the same problems in life for which they develop different solutions.

  3. Recognize a different scale of values in non-Western cultures. In some cultures social stability may be most important, in others social change will be dominant.

  4. Educate yourself and develop an active concern for other people. Seeing human problems on a world scale helps us understand how other cultures have contributed to the sum of human civilization.

  5. Study the interrelationships between language and culture. For example, when we hear someone say "Pardon me" we normally respond with "Surely" or "Certainly." The Chinese may respond with "Not at all." Western cultures may recognize the thing for which pardon is being sought and therefore forgive it. The Chinese are more circuitous and wish to not even acknowledge the error. Both are culturally appropriate examples of being polite.

  6. Study non-Western cultures to see their richness of human thought and life.
Cultural Proverbs:

"Beware of a man of one book." — English Proverb

"A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood." — Chinese Proverb

"Don't speak unless you can improve on the silence." — Spanish Proverb

"Every peasant is proud of the pond in his village because from it he measures the sea." — Russian Proverb