Some say you can travel around the world in 80 days. In Oakland County, you can experience all the planet has to offer within its 910 square miles.
Whether you’re hungry for Polish food, want to try Irish dancing or need to find Asian spices and specialty items, Oakland County is a mix of international communities where the welcome mat is always out.
According to the U.S. Census, Oakland County has about 1.26 million residents, with about 25 percent coming from racially diverse backgrounds. About 12.4 percent of the county is foreign born as well, coming from countries around the globe for work, family and quality of life.
“There is an openness to Oakland County — a kind of hospitality that comes from having so many cultures within its borders,” says Marian Reich, executive director of the nonprofit Global Ties Detroit.
Global Ties hosts international exchange programs on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other governmental organizations, universities and think tanks that promote global exchange and citizen diplomacy.Many Oakland County residents and businesses serve as volunteers and host companies to people coming to metro Detroit to learn about each other, exchange business experiences and grow closer together as citizens of the world, Reich says.
To Reich, Oakland County has a wealth of knowledge in terms of its entrepreneurs, world-class educational facilities, diverse religious organizations and willingness to open its doors to people who are interested in learning about the American dream.
“There’s an inquisitiveness there,” Reich says. “People in Oakland County realize we have more in common than differences, and they want to learn from the people Global Ties brings to their companies, their activities and their homes.”
Oakland County’s economy has a global reach with almost 1,100 firms from 39 foreign countries, according to government officials. Two countries — Japan and Germany — own the largest number of Oakland County-based businesses, and the county’s International Parent Companies list includes 37 other nations.
Just driving around the county reveals an array of cultures and ethnicities. In Novi, One World Market describes itself as the biggest Japanese grocery store in Michigan. Carnival Market in Pontiac says it’s the largest Hispanic foods store in the county. 168 Asian Mart in Madison Heights stocks more than 30,000 specialty food items and has an in-house bakery, a butcher shop, a bubble tea bar and a huge selection of sake. India Grocers in Farmington Hills is among several retailers specializing in South Asian ingredients and prepared foods.
Another example of Oakland County’s supportive and inclusionary culture is the establishment and expansion of the International Academy. The program, founded in 1996 in Bloomfield Township, is the first all International Baccalaureate diploma program public high school in North America.
Over the past decade, the IA has added campuses in White Lake Township and Troy, driven by student and community need for these kinds of programs, explained IA Principal Lynne Gibson. Around 1,500 students from 10 Oakland County school districts attend the IA, a magnet school that ranks as one of the best in the nation.
“All three of our programs (primary years, middle years and diploma program) all have what is called the learner profile at its core. They want students to develop the skills of being balanced, of being a communicator, or being a risk-taker, of being caring,” Gibson says. “Because we are an International Baccalaureate high school, that is our focus every day. We help create opportunities within the curriculum for students to be contributing members of the world.”
This article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Oakland County Prosper magazine.