The International Center welcomes visitors from all around the world to Indiana throughout the year, connecting them to resources and sharing knowledge and networks to make them feel at home in the Hoosier State. For example, The Center is the local administrator for the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program where in 2017 we hosted 115 visitors on professional exchange programs. In addition, our destination services department provided relocation services to 133 families expatriating to Indianapolis on corporate assignments. By far, however, the greatest number of visitors we receive are when the firefighters come to town.
From April 25 – 28, The International Center will welcome firefighters, chiefs, officers and instructors from more than 50 countries to the International Lounge at the FDIC International (Fire Department Instructors Conference). With over 30,000 attendees, FDIC International is one of the city’s largest conventions and has 1,000 plus international attendees from all corners of the globe.
The International Lounge serves as a “home away from home” for international delegates where they can relax with refreshments while they get caught up on emails using the lounge’s WiFi. International Center staff and volunteers provide visitors with an orientation to downtown Indianapolis and conference layout, as well as answering any questions that might come up.
At the peak of the conference, the International Lounge will be bustling with presenters coming in and out of the lounge between sessions, delegates meeting with vendors to negotiate purchase agreements, and the frequent visitor pondering what flavor coffee he or she is going to try this time. Regardless of how many times they visit or what they come for, each international delegate is welcomed in a room decked out with each of their country’s flag, a symbol of hospitality that is not lost on the delegates.
The International Center’s support of the PennWell Group, the FDIC conference’s organizer, is coordinated by The Center’s protocol officer, Peter Kirkwood. We sat down with Peter to get a feel for what working the International Lounge is like.
What kind of exchange takes place in the lounge?
Volunteers that work shifts in the lounge have the opportunity to share information about Indianapolis. They often get to learn more about the various countries and firefighting customs of the attendees as well.
What have you learned about firefighting customs?
I was surprised to learn that Santiago, Chile, a city with a population of over 7 million people, has an all-volunteer fire brigade. Also, the equipment varies greatly from the U.S. to other countries. One of the lounge sponsors, International Fire Buyer, has magazines distributed throughout the lounge. It’s neat to see all the different styles of firefighting gear. I look forward to seeing those guys from the U.K. again this year!
What is the most frequently asked question from international visitors to the lounge?
“What’s the WiFi password?” Seriously, many of the visitors to the lounge have been returning to FDIC International year after year. The lounge has become their home away from home. For folks that are new to the conference we might help them identify some specialty stores for emergency needs and recommend some sightseeing activities if they have a break in their schedule. Quite a few of the Canadian delegates travel with their families.
Are there opportunities for our readers to get involved?
Each year we have volunteer opportunities for International Center supporters to come and help in the lounge. We have a couple of slots open if anyone else wants to join us this year. Otherwise, we look forward to having them join us in 2019. Those interested in getting involved can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.