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Madeleine Jaehne, director of the UI's Office of International Engagement and Protocol, says the mission of the office is to promote and support the university's international activities, coordinate events involving distinguished visitors on campus and advise international travelers.
Photo by Bill Wiegand
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Hosting events with dignitaries on campus or being a guest in a foreign country can be a little disconcerting for someone unfamiliar with the customs. However, event planners and international travelers can get a guiding hand from staff members in the Office of International Engagement and Protocol.
Director Madeleine Jaehne and Allison Walter, protocol assistant, have more than two decades’ experience in protocol and visitor and event management. Although the office was established about four years ago, the protocol dimension was added just last year.
The fundamental mission of the office is to promote and support the university’s international activities, coordinate events involving distinguished visitors on campus and advise international travelers on cultural customs in other countries.
During 2002, the protocol office coordinated events such as the visit by H.R.H. Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan.
When luminaries such as high-ranking government officials visit campus, the protocol office serves as a liaison with agencies such as the State Department that oversee security.
Jaehne and her staff also provide faculty and staff members with guidance on matters such as developing itineraries for distinguished visitors, planning dinners and selecting appropriate gifts or recognition items. The protocol office also has a growing repository of international flags for ceremonial display at events.
Attention to matters of precedence during international functions is critical to maintaining favorable diplomatic relations, Jaehne said. Therefore, it is important that planners understand the importance of details, such as seating people in accordance with established conventions at formal dinners and offering appropriately worded toasts.
Several times throughout history, diplomatic incidents, such as a near war between Spain and France in 1861, arose because of violations of protocols and precedence, Jaehne said.
"Here in the Midwest, we’re noted for our warmth, our friendliness and our informality," Jaehne said. "However, there are times that we can still be friendly and informal but we have to accord people the appropriate recognition, personal courtesy and consideration."
Comporting one’s self according to the customs of other cultures also is important to avoid offending people when traveling internationally.
At the protocol office’s first workshop, held Oct. 10 at the Illini Union, 16 event planners from around campus gathered to learn more about managing events involving VIPs. Participants applied principles they had learned in small-group exercises and organized events such as an award conferral by a foreign diplomat or a commencement address by an eminent speaker.
The protocol office is planning another workshop in March and is considering hosting regular gatherings so event planners can share best practices.
Another objective for the protocol office is heightening awareness of the university’s international programs and events. One mechanism for that is a monthly public television program, "The Ambassador Series From Sangamo Club," which the university took over this year. The program features foreign ambassadors as the principal guests discussing world affairs and Jaehne as the moderator.
The series affords foreign ambassadors opportunities to visit the state and the Urbana campus so they can meet with the governor and with university administrators, faculty members and students.
The series, which is produced at PBS affiliate WSEC-TV, Springfield, has occasionally been broadcast by CNN.
Another key public engagement initiative for the protocol office is the International High School Program, a statewide learning initiative administered by UI’s International Programs and Studies. Begun in November 2001, the program enhances the curricula of Illinois high schools with course content and extracurricular activities about other countries, cultures and global issues. The initiative aims to better prepare students for work in a culturally diverse environment and provide teachers with internationally focused professional development opportunities. Illinois Virtual Campus and Illinois Virtual High School enable smaller schools, which might lack foreign language or other international curricula, to access programs online.
The International High School Program is the first of its kind in the United States, and several other states and Australia have expressed interest in developing similar programs.
The 14 public and private high schools that are participating in the pilot program are convening in Chicago during November for their first annual conference.
Jaehne served as a member of Gov. George Ryan’s task force that developed the program, and the initiative is funded by a state appropriation to the Illinois State Board of Higher Education and the university.