ST. LOUIS -- In an opening plenary speech at the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference on Tuesday, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recalled his time as an international student at Minnesota’s Macalester College, saying that it taught him “lessons which have remained indispensable throughout my career. Not all these lessons were learned, I must admit, in the classroom."
“I remember when I got to Minnesota, my first winter ever, coming straight from Africa to Minnesota, I had to put on layers and layers of clothes to stay warm. And I thought that was reasonable enough.” There was, however, one common item of clothing he was determined he would never wear: “the earmuffs,” as he called them. He would wear no such things. “They were inelegant,” he told a laughing audience.
“Until one day when the temperature had hit -23 degrees, with a wind chill factor, I went to get something to eat and I thought my ears were going to fall off. The next day I can assure you I went and bought my earmuffs.”
“I learned a precious lesson – that you don’t walk into a situation, you don’t go into a country and pretend you know better than the locals, you know better than the natives. You better listen to them and look at what they do," Annan said.
More than 8,000 professionals in international education are attending the conference, which continues through Friday.