Editor's note: This is the fifth of six weekly installments of "Dispatches from India" about Southern Oregon University Honors College students' trip to India this month to learn more about democracy in action.
The mission statement at Southern Oregon University asserts a dedication to “student success, intellectual growth, and responsible global citizenship.” All three of these values combine in no better way than through education that extends outside the classroom. Global learning experiences like SOU’s Democracy Project provide students the opportunity to explore cultures and worldviews different than their own, and gain insight to difficult issues such racial and gender inequalities. A trip to Washington, D.C., last spring, this summer’s trip to India, and future travel to Germany and Switzerland, will ultimately culminate in an all-day symposium titled “Crisis in Kashmir” that will bring this global experience to local high school students.
The symposium will be organized and hosted by Honors College students on the campus of Southern Oregon University, and will focus on a hypothetical conflict between India and Pakistan regarding the state of Kashmir, in a style similar to model United Nations. The goal will be to lead high school students in coming to a democratic solution to this problem. This one-day symposium for high school students will build on our new understanding of Indian culture and how their democracy operates differently than that in the United States.
Through approximately two dozen meetings with various politicians, civil servants, professors, and journalists, those of us who traveled to India learned about how democracy in India functions, and heard political opinions from our speakers. Textbooks and journals usually provide a one-sided and unengaging view using facts and figures, but our meetings provided us with many different perspectives, as well as knowledge as to how an “average person” views government. In the end, we got the impression that most of the Indian people are excited by democracy and their ability to vote, which is not an attitude that is as prevalent in the U.S.
India’s different views about democracy was just one of many cultural differences that we discovered. As students and global learners an understanding of multiple cultures will be vital to success in careers as America’s population becomes more culturally diverse itself. As Americans who live in a more isolated part of the world, it is sometimes challenging to view ourselves as a part of a global community.
Compared to other countries our news media is heavily centered on U.S. issues, whereas news in India covered many world issues and well as American and European news topics. Seeing how broad their media coverage is made us realize how narrow ours tends to be. We will carry this and the many other lessons we learned forward in our continuing education and professional lives.