– The (quiet) struggle of a Minnesotan abroad is being a citizen of a state that has so much to offer but often gets little recognition internationally. The joys of the coldest winters in the continental United States are highly subjective. The Mall of America is no longer even in the Top 10 largest malls globally. And, I confess, I never really listened to Prince growing up.

Having lived abroad a good chunk of my life, I had prepared my Minnesota script.

It was in walking by a local newsstand here in Germany the other day that something stood out: Minnesota was (quietly) on the cover of almost every newspaper and magazine. 3M medical masks covered faces in news photos accompanying stories about the coronavirus outbreak afflicting many the world over. While definitely not a context in which to find celebration, it did have me reflecting. Is this (quietly) Minnesota’s greatest strength?

The more I thought about it, the more it hit me: When I see Minnesota mentioned abroad, it’s almost always in relation to the medical field (and not just because of Cecil the lion, rest his soul). I can’t remember a time when I was in a hospital or doctor’s office and couldn’t find with ease a product or service that had a Minnesota connection. From the hospital at the University of Tokyo using University of Minnesota-developed cardiac technologies to small clinics in villages on the coast of Oaxaca being stocked with 3M medical equipment, Minnesota punches hugely above its weight in the medical field.

Despite fierce international growth and competition, most rankings still place Rochester-based Mayo Clinic as the world’s top-ranked nonprofit hospital; its global reputation is legendary. Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth remains the world’s largest health care company. And while the headquarters technically shifted across the pond, Medtronic remains the world’s largest medical device maker. And these are just some of the icons through which Minnesota remains hugely influential globally in the medical field.

On a per capita basis, I had a rough time finding any city or region anywhere with as much global medical influence as Minnesota. Perhaps Geneva, with the headquarters of the Red Cross and World Health Organization. That is about it.

So I admit: I love me some Winona Ryder and Lizzo. But when people abroad roll their eyes at me when I say I am from Minnesota, when they ask what’s there, I have begun to confidently say: It’s got a pretty amazing medical scene, and that’s something to be proud of.


Colin Kulstad, originally from Hopkins, is a student in Munich, Germany.