Creating Connections in Minnesota

4 minutes read time
A view of Nicollet Mall street in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Nicollet Mall street in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Creating Connections in Minnesota

The United States is one of the three worldwide finalists bidding to host Expo 2023, and should the proposal to host the Expo in Minnesota win, it would be the first in the United States in almost 40 years. Renowned for having some of the friendliest people on earth and “Minnesota nice” hospitality, the state is an ideal place for international exchanges to occur.

We know because each year nearly 15,000 international higher education students study in Minnesota, and they have a lot to say about the state, including students like Shajive Jeganthan of Sri Lanka. In a recent interview with his host university, he said: “St. Cloud State University has a distinctive vibe to it where diversity is promoted a lot, and that’s something that I really liked about being a Husky here at St. Cloud State. You are empowered to be who you are and harness your potential.”

Minnesota saw a 60 percent increase in international students studying in the state from 2007 to 2016, and the testimonials tell the story behind the increase. Bangladeshi student Fahmida Zaman discovered the kindness found in Minnesota while she studied at St. Catherine University a few years ago and discovered Minnesota niceness for herself. “Most of the people here are really nice. They smile at you and are there to help you,” she said.  

Additionally, up to 6,000 international visitors spent part of their year in Minnesota on J-1 Exchange Visitor Programs like Summer Work Travel and au pair, as well as State Department-sponsored exchange programs from the International Visitor Leadership Program to Fulbright to high school exchanges. They work, study, and experience the state in ways that few others from their counties of origin ever will. Here’s what a sample of participants of State Department-sponsored exchange programs have to share about living in this Midwestern state.

(State Department photo)


Margarita Leal, from Uruguay, stayed in Minnesota as a part of the Youth Ambassadors program. Along with other participants in the Youth Ambassadors program, she felt that her “culture was being valued and respected at all times. Youth Ambassadors created strong bonds of affection with some of these families…that will surely endure the test of time.”

Other students have found connections with their adopted communities, like Zimbabwean lawyer Arnold Tsunga, who felt that, “in Minnesota [he] was able to go through the process of sharing experiences, and making academic associations and professional mentorships.” And Philippine Congresswoman Kaka Bag-ao and Armenian Parliamentarian Edmon Marukyan, participants of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program in 2014 (Humphrey was a Senator from Minnesota), who described their experiences at the University of Minnesota Law School, “as a turning point which inspired them to devote their careers to advancing human rights and helping their fellow citizens lead more productive and rewarding lives.”

These are just some of the people who show why Minnesota is an ideal place to host Expo 2023. Visitors can expect hospitality beyond compare, respect for diversity, and strong networks that they can leverage both personally and professionally.

About the Author: Gabriela Billini is an intern in the Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Office of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.