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Cruising to diplomacy

Last updated December 5, 2018

By Tina Underwood

Perhaps no other Pacific Rim country besides Papua New Guinea (PNG) is more emblematic of the need for an organization that aims to support sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the region. PNG, home to over eight million people, is largely undeveloped and is supported mostly by subsistence farming. Considered one of the last frontiers for trade and investment, the country neighboring Australia played host to APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which exists to leverage the growing interdependence of the forum’s 21 member countries.


APEC Voices of the Future delegates enjoy some downtime aboard the “Pacific Jewel.”

APEC, courtesy of a long-running relationship with the Riley Institute at Furman, also hosted a five-student, two-faculty member delegation for APEC Voices of the Future (VOF). Amid heads of state, prime ministers, CEOs and other high-ranking officials, the Furman cohort, including Politics and International Affairs Professor Cleve Fraser and Economics Professor Jessica Hennessey, got a front-row seat to the meeting, whose theme was “Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future.”

Among citizen diplomats from 20 other countries, the Furman crew discussed foreign policy, listened to speeches, and experienced new cultures at the International Convention Center and aboard cruise ships “Pacific Jewel” and “Pacific Explorer,” docked in PNG’s capital city Port Moresby. With a lack of hotel lodging in PNG, the representatives stayed in the floating hotels—not that there was a problem with the accommodations.


Ships like the “Pacific Jewel” and the “Pacific Explorer” served as APEC hotels and meeting venues.

Said Katherine West ‘19, “Traveling to APEC put everything in perspective…I loved taking a step back and learning how we can make all lives better across human-made borders. More than anything, APEC made it clear that the next generation’s leaders are already driven and passionate enough to change the world.”

“We were very fortunate to join the APEC delegates on board the “Pacific Explorer,” and hear remarks from leaders like Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Vice President Mike Pence,” said Jackson Robinson ’20. “It was fascinating to learn each country’s perspective on the current state of the region.”

In a twist of bad luck, Davis Cousar ’20 realized the importance of friendship in diplomacy through lost luggage.

“Fellow youth delegates from Australia, New Zealand, and Chinese Taipei lent us suits for the first day of the conference,” he said. “It was clear they truly cared and wanted to be friends.”  Cousar said that simple act of kindness set the tone for meetings and allowed everyone to work through differences on polices and issues—a lesson for those in global international relations.

On a personal level, Rob Cain ‘19 said the opportunity to learn from Asia-Pacific youth delegates gave him new insight into unfamiliar cultures, particularly the Papua New Guinean way of life. The same was true for Mary Bradley Pazdan ‘19 who said, “It was such an honor and a wonderful learning experience meeting students from across the world and addressing common issues shared in our countries.”

Robinson was also struck by the cultural diversity of the Pacific Rim, which was on full display as part of the VOF closing ceremonies aboard the “Pacific Jewel.”

“Delegates performed songs and dances, read poetry and expressed what their culture means to them,” he said. “It was beautiful to see each person’s passion for their own cultures and appreciation for cultures different from their own—it was a great way to conclude our trip. It was tough to say our goodbyes, but we did so knowing we’ve made many new friends across the region.”

For more information and student bios, visit the Riley Institute website. Or contact Cleve Fraser in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at 864-294-3185 and, and Jessica Hennessey, who served as moderator for the APEC Voices Youth Forum’s Economy Report. She can be reached in the Department of Economics at 864-294-3556 and

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