Major: Political Science
Hometown: Spring Hope, North Carolina
Study Abroad Program: UNC Summer in India
Over the summer, on the eve of my senior year of college I had the amazing opportunity, thanks to the Phillips Ambassadors program, to travel outside the United States for the first time. During the course of my six week adventure in India, I saw things which I could never before have imagined, saw relics of history which I still cannot comprehend, and met people who I will never forget. The single most important idea which I can take away from this experience is that however small the world may feel, decades of globalization have produced a remarkably interconnected world, there are differences among people which have and will continue to grow. My experience has taught me, though, that even two people who occupy entirely different worlds can find common ground on the things which matter most. If at once we recognize both the similarities of humanity and the inequities that exist in the world, we can pursue coordinated political action, and develop prosperous and just economic relationships.
Before my time in India, I had never before left the country. In fact, I had barely left the state. When I got on my computer and typed the address of a website I wanted to visit, I knew the “www.” stood for something, World Wide Web even, but I certainly did not understand what that meant. I could not possibly conceive that half-way around the world, in a “cyber café” in the neighborhood of Butla House, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, India; I would find out just how literal that phrase was. One my first day in Delhi, I wandered down a dirt path, over heaps of garbage, into an alleyway between two buildings which appeared to house hundreds of people. In this tight corridor, I dodged motorcycles, washwomen emptying buckets of water from above, children throwing rocks, and stubborn goats. I finally reached my destination, where I found an early 1990’s era IBM computer in a crowded closet, which I could access after waiting in line for about the equivalent of a quarter. Eventually I achieved my goal- an email home to my parents. I had proven that “the web” really was “worldwide.” It seemed apparent to me, however; that these two nodes on the web were different worlds entirely.
Many weeks later, after leaving Delhi and venturing through several Indian villages, our group entered the city of Muradabad. Staying in the mansion of a rich and powerful industrialist, I saw a side of India which few ever will. Many think of mother Teresa, reaching out to the starving masses of Calcutta, but here in Muradabad I experienced more luxury than most any America can afford. This brass monger had built a fortune by profitably exporting goods to large American retailers for very little, which he could produce for even less. He also represented the interests of other local exporters to the government in India and internationally. For this, he earned the opportunity to sit upon a golden thrown amid a sea of poverty.
I thought of my friends and family, purchasing home furnishings at Wall-Mart which could have been produced right there in Muradabad, weeks earlier. In the same way that there interconnectedness of the Worldwide Web was inexplicable to me; I can only imagine that a mundane trip to the local strip mall was far more complex than my friends and family realized. The inexpensive brassware in their homes was crafted by the hands of men, children even, who live a life of relative poverty. Alternatively, the precipitous increase in the standard of living for the villagers came about through business transactions with nameless and faceless foreigners who neither know nor care about the consequences of their actions. As the circle of economic interconnectivity comes to a close, the rich exporter uses his wealth to send both of his sons to prestigious universities in the United States where they will be taught about the merits of economic fundamentalism and neoliberal trade policy- reconfirming the validity of their wildly unequal society. This is a fact they willing eagerly internalize. It is true that in this case “a rising tide lifts all ships.” Everyone in this web benefits, but they do not benefit equally. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that such a cycle will not reproduce and intensify the inequality which already exists.
One of the most challenging portions of my trip occurred during a home stay in the village of Aligarh. My home stay family and I were very different in many ways. I spoke English and they spoke Hindi; they are Muslims, while I am Christian. The cultural norms and social imperatives which characterize life in India vary drastically from those in America. Some things, however; showed me have similar we could be. The gift my brother, Sumar, enjoyed the most was the Car and Driver magazines I received from my dad before I left. Fast, beautiful cars excite teenage boys everywhere. I always stayed up late into the night studying, while the rest of my family slept. On the last night, however; Sumar told me he could not sleep, and so we both started reading the magazines I gave him. Eventually he asked me about my family, particularly about my father. His dad had passed away less than a year earlier. He told me how much he loved and respected his father. I asked him where he thought people went after they died, and he told me that good people go to heaven. I couldn’t agree with him more.
It is easy to get caught up in the seemingly endless mechanisms which differentiate the people of the world, but in the end we are all just people. When I think of my Indian brother, I will always remember that despite all of the things which exist to separate humanity, we can find common ground. The world has much to gain from expanded interconnectivity- globalization should not be feared, but embraced. What we must understand is that to fully realize the promise of global integration we must look beyond our own end of the computer screen. We must think beyond our daily purchases at Wal-Mart. We must love beyond those who look, talk, think and pray like ourselves. The real promise of globalization is not a rising tide, but the rising sun which sheds light upon the unknown.