TRAVERSE CITY — It’s a volatile world in which Traverse City International Affairs Forum launches its 28th season of seeding understanding of global issues.

This autumn’s events take on the complexity of international turmoil in new ways.

“We help our community to think critically about global issues,” said IAF interim director Jim Bensley. “We think people will continue to elevate their own discussions with friends and family.”

IAF embraces a flexible hybrid format this fall developed in response to pandemic circumstances. Audiences may join events at the Dennos Museum Center Milliken Auditorium or via a preferred device. Presentations will feature in-person or live remote speakers and offer livestream audience opportunities, thanks to technology.

“We began testing it in August and think we have it down,” Bensley said.

September programming focuses on the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Arwa Damon, a senior international correspondent based at CNN’s Istanbul bureau, started the series via a remote appearance on Sept. 16 with the topic, “War, Women and Struggle.”

IAF and the National Writers Series partner for the Sept. 23 presentation of the “Afghanistan Today International Panel,” featuring Doug Stanton, bestselling author and co-founder of National Writers Series; Rahela Hashim Sidiqi, founding director of Rahela Trust for Afghan Women’s Education; Jack Segal, former U.S. diplomat, National Security Council and NATO advisor; and Shannon Spann DeBruyn, lawyer and former intelligence officer and current vice president of Advance Resources and Consulting.

Join the cooperative event in person at the City Opera House or via livestream.

“We felt it was a perfect opportunity for collaboration,” said NWS executive director Jillian Manning. “IAF is well-known for bringing conversations to Traverse City.”

Manning noted that the organizations’ audiences are well-matched. “IAF and NWS are known for making the global local,” she said.

The presentation occurs as Afghanistan is shaken by uncertainty following America’s controversial withdrawal from the country.

“We hope people come away with a historical perspective on Afghanistan, context and connections,” Manning said.

On Oct. 21, IAF presents “Russia: Conflict, Cooperation, or Containment,” featuring Vanessa Acker, Head of Political Unit, Office of Russian Affairs/U.S. State Department.

A Nov. 16 event presents Anthony Wayne, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and Argentina and Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan. The topic is “Mexico: Migration, Trafficking, and Trade.”

IAF’s growing outreach includes free student programming aimed to equip young people to shape global solutions. In 2019, the organization introduced a Student Leadership Team for college students. Students meet IAF visiting speakers to learn about careers in international affairs and to discuss issues with the experts. Team members are eligible for credit toward Northwestern Michigan College’s Global Certificate.

Team member Alexandra Swainston credits the program for helping her determine her career path. Swainston graduated from NMC last May with a political science degree. She plans to attend the University of Michigan next semester to pursue a degree in International Relations and World Politics.

Swainston served as a linguist in the U.S. Air Force before earning her NMC degree. During her military stint she was introduced to different world cultures.

“I would like to continue, but I didn’t know how,” she said. “IAF helped me to pinpoint it to pursue my passion.”

Academic WorldQuest, IAF’s flagship student program, involves 100 high school students annually from Traverse City and surrounding school districts. WorldQuest’s Quiz Bowl-like competitions test players’ knowledge of current international politics, geography, global economics, history and world cultures.

Elk Rapids High School’s A+E=MC² team finished 13 out of 150 teams in the 2021 national competition.

“I have learned so much more about interactions between nations that I would never have been taught in school but are crucial to understanding such a complex global network of connections,” Elk Rapids team member Emma Macaluso told IAF.

IAF also provides financial support for NMC students studying abroad.

Visit for detailed program information and event tickets.

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