As international businesses in the Upstate expand, so do the international communities they bring with them. But South Carolina’s culture can be difficult to navigate without support for new residents. Upstate International was started 24 years ago to address that need.
“Some of the community members here realized that people who were moving here as part of those international businesses … needed a way to connect and become a part of the community and really make the Upstate their home,” said Tracie Frese, the Executive Director of Upstate International.
UI exists as a resource for anyone in the Upstate looking to engage with a culture foreign to them. From English classes to Salsa dancing events, UI provides a way to find global experiences in Upstate South Carolina. A page on their website is dedicated to connections for those who have recently moved to the area from outside the U.S. But the organization has expanded beyond a list of available connections.
“It began really as a person-to-person support mechanism for those incoming international families,” Frese said. “Over the years the organization realized that all those cultures were bringing this beautiful diversity of traditions and ways of looking at life that they wanted to give our local residents.”
UI began branching out into offering cultural programs, teaching more languages and hosting activities for local communities to participate in. They adopted the motto “South Carolina, Including the World” as they worked to showcase the cultures that exist in the area and connect South Carolinians from all over the world.
As UI expanded, so did its connections. The non-profit has connections with international organizations such as the Japan-America Association of South Carolina, the Hispanic Alliance and the German-American Chamber of Commerce.
One of their most widely recognized events is the Upstate International Month, celebrated over the course of March.
“We raise awareness of all the opportunities people have to engage globally from here at home.” Frese works to connect with businesses or organizations that want to host cultural events, whether those events are internal for the organization or external for the community. Much of UI’s recognition comes by word of mouth as people attend events or use the organization’s resources.
What started to address the needs of the international business community expanded to include a campaign to show all Upstate residents that global engagement is beneficial to everyone on a personal and economic level. “Our economy is affected significantly, in every person’s everyday life, by international business,” Frese said.
But Frese said UI is far from forgetting its roots. “For us, it always comes back to the people. … It started with the people helping people from all different walks of life, … and at the end of the day, that’s what we need to focus on,” she said.
And in the end, the companies that stay in the Upstate are those whose leaders invest in the community from the top down, according to Frese, who has moved overseas for a company herself. “You have to have that way of helping people feel like they can not only make it through living somewhere, but that it is a good experience,” she said.
UI assists companies in providing that support, but Frese said many businesses have worked to understand the process and better meet the needs of their employees throughout an international move. Entrepreneurs in the Upstate have also worked to fill the need, providing an increasingly welcoming community for international business. “There’s a lot more available than when we started out,” Frese said. “The Upstate community has grown tremendously in its ability to engage with these other cultures.”
UI’s website provides connections to those resources offered locally in the Upstate for new and lifelong residents alike. For an introductory video to the Upstate International community, follow this link.