Saturday, May 16, 2009

An Evening with College Students

Originally Posted in the Common Threads Blog,
Centre Daily Times, Sept 18, 2009

Yesterday, I attended the National Issues Forum on “The New Challenges of American Immigration: What Should We Do?” at Penn State.

I was curious about the ideas that would come up, and how the discussion amongst strangers would manifest.

I arrived at the room, saw a roomful of about fifty participants – all of them young college students.

And that almost made me leave…

No peers of my age group, no “town” represented in what I thought would be a “town and gown” meeting, and my immediate instinct was to leave.

But then I thought of my previous experiences of being a minority of some kind…
Of studying in a class with only two other female, and forty seven male students, as an undergraduate student in chemical engineering.

Of pursuing a graduate degree in chemical engineering, under fairly similar gender ratios, while also being a foreigner.

Of our family’s experience of being the only Asian Indian Americans in so many situations in State College – right now, my daughter is the only student of Asian Indian origin at her elementary school.

Of traveling in foreign countries, of being an American in India, and an Indian in America.

And I realized that these experiences had been mostly rewarding and joyful, especially as long as I considered the incidental differences, to be besides the point and irrelevant.

And so I decided to stay at the forum and enjoy the journey…and got rewarded..
…by getting to hear respectful comments voiced on legal and illegal immigration, the process and the people, the economy, and our policy options - by the young participants, the moderators and the organizer.

….by being able to voice my opinions and raise questions and contribute to the thought mix.

….by being part of the exercise of finding common ground and identifying tensions, and ideas for improving future forums.

Like students in generations before them, some of the students spoke with conviction and candor, some were willing to voice their opinions strongly, and some were more reticent, representing many shades of thought and belief systems.

As I left the forum, I realized that there is not much opportunity in modern life for a discussion across the generations – since each age group is busy with its own phase of life, and therefore mostly inhabiting different physical spaces.

But chances to interact do come up... like at the Forum - I got to be part of a younger universe; they expanded my horizons, and I hopefully expanded theirs.

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