Office Spotlight: Protocol

By Fiyinfolu Arotiba, Protocol Intern

Interaction among individuals, groups and countries are influenced or directed by certain norms and patterns. These norms tend to be different depending on the geographical location of those involved. My definition of protocol is simply the act of following the right procedures in interaction with each other. In the context of my position as the Protocol Intern at The International Center, protocol can be defined as “what to do in a certain situation” and etiquette is “how to do something gracefully and respectfully.” Both definitions obviously inform anyone about the Office of Protocol’s main activities; we educate and assist individuals, companies and governments in doing the right things in a graceful and respectful manner.
Now it is time to ask, what is right? How can things be done gracefully and respectfully? Why does the Office of Protocol have the authority to educate the rest of the Indiana population on what to do and what not to do in international events? These are the same questions I asked my always cheerful, optimistic and curious self, on the first day of my internship at The International Center. I will start by answering the last question which looks the most complex but is actually the easiest. The reason why the Office of Protocol has the authority to enlighten the rest of the population is because it has the most qualified Protocol Officer in Indiana; Peter Kirkwood, a guru of international protocol, flag etiquette, vastly experienced in interaction with foreigners and citizen diplomacy. You can bet how much I have learned in the not so few weeks I have worked with him.

Moving to the next question: how can things be done gracefully and respectfully? Not wanting to go into details of definitions, I have learned that what is graceful and respectful depends on the culture of the societies involved! For example, when a toast is made at a dining event in South Korea deference or respect is shown by lowering your glass if you are toasting with a superior officer or an elder. While in the United States showing respect is more of an individual decision, the individual may decide to make the toast to someone he/she respects or hug the person, anyway he/she deems fit. The point here is that being graceful and showing respect are culture specific, that is, they are relative to the society in which you are at the moment.

The same can be said about doing things rightly. Answering what is right is the trickiest question, simply because what is right in one country may be wrong in another country or even grey areas may exist between what is right or wrong! In fact we can go one step further to ask who determines what is right. In the USA the constitution and the judicial system mainly dictate what is right or wrong. In many other countries, the constitution and the courts are not the “only” institutions that determine that. Reading the constitution or studying the judicial system may just give you long days of headaches and unanswered questions. This is where you need the services of the Office of Protocol to direct and guide you into not making the so many stereotypical mistakes we all make when visiting or doing business in countries different from ours.

A good example is the controversies that may surround the map of China in regards to the inclusion of Taiwan. The right map in China will have the same color for China and Taiwan. While in Taiwan or other countries that do not agree with this, China may have a different color and Taiwan another. What do you do if you are giving someone a gift or presenting a monument that includes the map? The best advice is to consult with a Protocol Officer!

Fiyinfolu in the Protocol Office with Peter Kirkwood,
The International Center

Without writing so much that anyone reading this gets bored, in addition to the service of professional advice and consultancy, The Center has a 193 United Nations flag collection which I am responsible for. The Office of Protocol provides these flags to the Indiana community for free to promote international representation and beautification of events or festivals. During my internship a record has been set. Yes a record! Highest requests of flags ever in 12 weeks! Well, it meant more work for me but I was excited to contribute to the beauty of different events. Most importantly this is a pointer to the fact that Indiana is becoming increasingly global. It also aligns with the mission statement of The International Center, “A catalyst for global Indiana”. We are the vanguard of globalization in Indiana!

Few days ago, I was part of a briefing meeting for the Lt. Governor, Sue Ellspermann, and her team. This has been the highlight of the many fascinating times as a Protocol Intern. I have so far participated in designing seating arrangements for diplomatic events, inputting data and file rearrangement, a workshop on China, accompanied delegations, created briefing books and other little important things I cannot remember now. As a Nigerian in Indiana and also a candidate for a Masters degree in International Relations, the lessons learned on varying perspectives in international interaction and application of flexibility are invaluable. I wish to have many more exciting opportunities come my way in the short time left at The International Center.

Odabo! (“Bye” in Yoruba, one of the major Nigerian languages!)