The President of GlobalAustin, Steve Niemeyer, is an international citizen who has lived in Austin since attending the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT in 1990. He is a native Spanish speaker – born in Guatemala – and lived in more countries before turning 17 than most Americans will visit in their lifetime.
We asked him some questions to shed light on the international scene in Austin:
International Austin: What is it like to be international in Austin?
Steve Niemeyer: It’s the best! I speak fluent Spanish, so that helps. In fact, in my job as Border Affairs Manager at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, I have to speak Spanish. I also get to interact with groups from all over the world in my job, as I’ve been the agency liaison with people from Mexico, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Canada, and China … I’ve also briefed delegations from Argentina, and hosted visitors from Denmark and Chile for home hospitality dinners. We have the opportunity to meet folks from all over the world and from all walks of life.
IA: How hospitable do you think Austin is to international citizens, or people of other cultures?
SN: [Personally] I’ve taken visitors from Mexico out after a work meeting, and we’ve just sat around and had dinner and drinks—you socialize and get work done, too! It’s just a pleasant way to conduct business. Separately…I showed a group of visitors from Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, Japan, and Pakistan around town, showing them Whole Foods, Sixth Street, and finishing at a Mexican restaurant for dinner.
IA: Why are you concerned about internationalism in Austin?
SN: I got involved because I wanted to make a difference and also to show our international visitors that Americans care about people from around the world and that we’re not as people make us out to be sometimes. And that not all Texans are cowboys!
IA: What do you hope to accomplish through your international organization?
SN: To be a citizen diplomat, one handshake at a time, and to partner with other Austin organizations … to promote Austin to the world.
IA: What international events do you participate in?
SN: I go to international events of all kinds … I’ve been able to meet people from other nations that I never expected to know, and it has expanded my horizons and my knowledge … I attend meetings of Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos, although I told chapter president Eduardo Alexander I’m neither a Mexican nor an entrepreneur! I attend Giving City events, representing Global Austin, where I met, Shermakaye Bass, who works for Fara Foundation, which supplies Nicaraguan coffee—which it turned out they provided for the International Coffee mornings of GlobalAustin.