Come together

by Barnabas

On Saturday, April 9th, I went to have a dinner with my friend Dominic, who is in my Honor 251 class, and people that I have never talked to and met before. I was very nervous about having to eat with random people and being in an awkward atmosphere. I usually do not eat lunch and dinner with my friends, because it provides me extra time to do other urgent things that are in my priority list. I thought this assignment will turn out to be terrible and challenging, but my assumption was wrong.

There were total of 4 people in my Kentucky Kitchen Table (including my self), all of whom were college students. Jared and Emma hosted and invited Dominic and me to their apartment near WKU to serve a dinner. Jared, senior and major in English in WKU, was the main cook who provided us with the delicious chicken noodle soup. This was actually my first time eating true “American food” other than hamburgers and pizza, and it was very delicious that I had to eat more than twice.  And Emma was one of his roommates, currently planning to transfer to college in Oklahoma. She used to go to WKU, but once she decided to transfer to Oklahoma, she got out of WKU and started to work in a candle store.

Contrary to my prediction that it is going to be awkward, it was very exciting to talk and share my thoughts and ideas to Jared, Emma, and Dominic. I talked about how difficult it was for me to come and having a dinner with them, since English is not my first language. I shared the frustration of being left out in the American college community due to poor English speaking ability and cultural difference. We talked about how Asians  like to get along only with people with their own kind and I explained that, this was due to the culture difference. There are certain things that Asians could form a common ground and agree and understand, while Americans can not. For example, when my roommate and I went to Greenwood shopping mall, my roommate gave me a weird look as I was spending my time in Hollister, and with his weird look, he asked me ” Hey, man what are you doing here?” He could not understand the fact that I was trying to buy clothing in Hollister, and he told me that Hollister was for high schoolers. In Korea, Abercrombie and Hollister struck the clothing markets, and they have become more popular and famous than Polo and other famous brands that many college students prefer.  In Korea, people regards being respectful to the elder as one of the significant cultural value. Being insulted by 2 years younger roommate made me realize that it is very difficult to fit into American culture, which became a barrier to socialization with American students. The Asians’ tendency to get along with other Asians is because they feel comfortable and agree on things more easily than when they are with American students. The hidden difficulty in Asians’ college life relates to the topics mentioned in  the “Paying for the Party.” Colleges should not view international students as influx of money, but great assets to diversify the college culture. Many students come to college pursuing their own pathways, and colleges can facilitate this by actively engaging. For example, WKU has done a great job to enrich American college experience to international exchange students by assigning American students to exchange students.

There were many other topics that we talked about after dinner, such as wicked problems, religions, gay marriage, and which historic person you would like to have dinner with, etc. Among the many topics, we showed much passion especially in a topic relating to college tuition. We talked about how expensive college tuition is, and how the cost of college education prevents many smart students from pursuing their dreams. We came up with some suggestions and possible solutions to reduce the college tuition, such as diminishing the investment on college sports and  on building construction on campus, etc. I mentioned that there are many additional things that are expensive along with college education, such as textbooks. We also noted that everything that has to do with college education seemed to be expensive without great efficiency, and that acceptance rate is very high, but the efficiency of college education is relatively low. Sternberg, author “Giving Employers What They Don’t Really Want,” says that colleges do not always provide what the employers want, which are the critical thinking, practical problem solving skills, and communication skills etc. If we go to college and get nothing out of it, except for good GPA, colleges are doing nothing good for us, but good for themselves, especially when we are paying tons of money.

After this KKT assignment, I learned that when people come together, we can learn what problems exist in our community, in our nations, and in the world and come up with effective suggestions from different perspectives. By sharing thoughts and ideas, we could discover effective ways to approach these problems, and we could even find issues that we never thought as problematic. I certainly learned that democracy is about individuals’ effort to make the world to live together and to solve the problem. Even if the individuals’ efforts are negligible to bring an impact to the problems, these small steps that they are taking is as significant as taking big steps to take down the problems. And without the small steps, the problems will eventually remain as wicked problems.

Talking to random people and sharing my thoughts and ideas was one of the greatest experience I have had in America. The interaction I had in Kentucky Kitchen Table taught me that in spite of  my poor English speaking ability, I could still actively participate in community efforts. Thank you Dr. Gish, for providing priceless opportunity for me to learn great lessons.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Daniel

By concept, the Kentucky Kitchen Table project just seems like an awkward situation to me. I questioned whether or not I would enjoy this experience. Although hesitant, I tried to keep an open mind so I could get something out of the dinner. Little did I know, this experience would become one of my favorite memories from this class.

My group consisted of Luke (a Biology pre-vet major from Harrodsburg, KY), Alex (an Agriculture major from Gallatin, Tennessee), Ethan (a Broadcasting major from Nolensville, Tennessee), and our host, Emily (a grad student and former Honors College student). We all brought ingredients for chicken tacos, which Emily made. We started out with a little small talk while waiting on the food. Once the chicken tacos were done, we moved into the living room and started our discussion.

We jumped right into the conversation with the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Emily believed that citizenship means being a part of a community and really owning your identity within that community. The language we use to define citizenship and self is like a market; it’s a cost-benefit analysis. We ask “Is what I’m putting into this community the same as what I’m getting out of it?” This mindset leads to believing that if you didn’t get enough from your community yesterday, then you won’t be inclined to contribute to it today. We have to go all in and take the risk that we won’t receive as much back, but also staying wary about into which communities we’re giving our all.   We can’t put our all towards every group we come across, or else we’ll be spread too thin. At the same time, though, we can’t isolate ourselves.

A lot of our discussion had to do with our identity, or as Emily would call it, our story. We talked about how college challenges every part of our identity we though we knew. All of us are some denomination of Christianity. Luke is a Methodist. Ethan is a Baptist. Alex was raised Southern Baptist, but just identifies as Christian. Emily is Christian, as well. I am Catholic. We have all had our faith shaken and identity put into question while in college. We discovered that, even though Alex and Luke are seniors and Ethan and I are freshmen, we are in similar situations. Alex and Luke will soon graduate and go into the workforce where their identity from college will be tested. Meanwhile, Ethan and I are about to finish our freshman year, where we’ve had our high school identity challenged. We decided that no one comes out of college unscathed—meaning no one leaves college as the same person they were when they started. Even though we will be pushed to our limits in college, we will come out stronger. This will make us realize, as Emily puts it, which identities are stronger and which are weaker. She explained this by telling us a story from her junior year. During Emily’s junior year, she was a good girlfriend, good best friend, and good student. When she was hit by a car, however, she lost all of that. When she felt she lost all parts of her identity, she realized the parts of her that are meaningful—the stronger parts of her identity.

The takeaway from this is that we must defend our identity, our story. Citizenship is a story. How we act in our community and how we contribute to our society is a part of our story. Therefore, we need to become better storytellers. We need to find the best way that we can contribute to our community—whether that’s our family, our church, our city, or our country—and own it.  In doing so, we solidify our identity, become better storytellers, and fully participate as citizens. kkt

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By: Sam

My Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment was a great experience. Tom and Stephanie were gracious enough to not only invite us into their home, but also provide the meal. Tom and Stephanie recently returned to Bowling Green after spending time in Columbia, South Carolina. Both attended the University of South Carolina with Tom majoring in I believe engineering and Stephanie in English. Stephanie currently teaches an online English class for Columbia College. From class, Victoria also joined in our conversation. Victoria is a Nursing major from LaRue County.

 

Our conversation was fantastic. The first question we discussed was the required question. Stephanie had an interesting take on what citizenship. She said that today people are too worried about being consumers instead of being citizens. I completely agree with what she says. American’s have become so focused on each selves instead of focusing on how to get along as a whole. One of the more controversial topics we discussed was the question on whether we have an obligation to other people in our country or not. I specifically brought this question into our conversation, because of the discussion we had in class over it. Tom and Stephanie both answered the question by saying yes. Their reasoning was primarily based on religious beliefs. I personally disagreed. I feel that no one has an obligation to do anything. Is this because I do not have any religious interest/affiliation? I personally don’t believe so. I just think that people SHOULD help, but they have no real obligation to. One of the more interesting answers of the night was Stephanie’s answer to, “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” She said the Pope. Her reasoning was because of all he is doing to bring attention to the issue of poverty in the world. Her answer was one that I would have never considered, but when I thought about it I really liked the answer. Another topic that we discussed at length was the role of media in our life. Being a broadcasting major, I am always interested to hear opinions that others have on our role in society. The media’s role in society has been growing throughout the years. The reasoning behind this is growth of technology and how news can now be given immediately. We began to get into some talk in media ethics, but then I realized that that would be a conversation for another day. Everyone at the table grimaced when I mentioned that news stations thrive off of mayhem. I told them I did not like that it was how it is, but that is the truth. The media thrives off of mass killings and so on. This led us to discuss whether that was a correct representation of how citizenship should be and whether our country would be better without it.

 

Overall, this experience was very beneficial. Tom and Stephanie were very pleasant and welcoming into their home. I tried my first ever true Vegan meal and I was pleasantly surprised. The meal allowed for us to feel at home and allowed for better conversation. I learned a lot about myself. The opinions put forth by Tom, Stephanie and Victoria allowed for me to think about my own opinion on what it truly means to be a citizen. All of us had a different opinion on what it means to be a good citizen. Personally, this experience allowed me to simplify my definition of what it does mean to be a good citizen. To me, it is simple, treat others how you want to be treated. It really is simple.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Ethan

Our Kentucky Kitchen Table went a lot different than what I had thought would happen. I thought that it would be more awkward than insightful, but I was proven wrong. Our conversation revolved around how what we perceive as our identity can greatly influence who we are and how  we become better citizens.

My group, which included myself, Alex, Luke, and Daniel, were graciously hosted by Emily, a grad student who majored in Religious Studies. After our dinner of chicken tacos. we dove straight in and discussed what citizenship means to us. Some of the answers included having an obligation and a pride to the country we live in. As the talk progressed, we began to talk about how experience and choices we make will mold the identity we have and we present ourselves. Emily talked about how an experience she had that really had a profound effect on her and her identity. Before, she had spent her college career with the same group of friends from high school that all went to Western together. After an auto accident she was in, however she explained how her friend group essentially fractured. This essentially led her to reevaluate her identity that had been stripped bare. She also talked about she is at a crossroads in her life, and why she decided to live in a commune after graduating from grad school. Her experiences and words of wisdom were very valuable to the rest of us.

The rest of our group also talked about how our majors really have shaped or have begun to shape the identity we are creating for ourselves. Luke and Alex, both seniors talked about how the activities and majors they chose really played out in their identities. Luke is a Biology major and involved in Sigma Chi fraternity. He chose his major because his dad is a vet and he was around animals a lot growing up. He also talked about how his fraternity helped him meet friends he otherwise wouldn’t have made. Alex is an Agriculture major and she talked about how she lived at the agriculture farm WKU has and enjoys the small group of them there, who including the professors, are like family to her. Daniel and I are both freshmen and both of us are still trying to understand what our identities are and how we are presenting ourselves. Daniel is a nursing major, but went through a few other majors before deciding on it. He talked about the differences between WKU and his high school in Louisville, Saint X, an all guys Catholic school. I myself am a Broadcasting major living down near Nashville. I talked about how I came here, despite all my friends going off to the University of Tennessee, where I could have easily gone myself. But I wanted to break the norm of my surroundings, where most people in my high school end up going to Tennessee. I also chose to attend Western because of the highly ranked School of Journalism and Broadcasting and what I wanted to do with that.

One major talking point about identity that came up for us was that of our respective faiths. All of us were Christian, although different denominations for the most part. Daniel, having gone to an all Catholic school was first surprised that not everyone down here is Catholic. Luke said that he was a Methodist although he also said he doesn’t really know what that means in terms of denomination. I am technically a Baptist, and I also didn’t really know what that meant. Alex is a Southern Baptist and grew up in the church, deciding to come to Western instead of a private Christian college. Emily herself is a Christian and when she is done with grad school said she is planning on living in a commune for a few months before going to theology schools in Boston, in order to get a better understanding of herself and how a community interacts and supports one another.

In the end, the idea of identity is important to the idea of citizenship, as our identity coincides with how we act as citizens of our towns, states, and country. My Kentucky Kitchen Table really opened my eyes up to this and is something I can use to evaluate the person I am right now, and the person I will be a few years down the road.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Abbas

On April 11, 2016, I,along with two other classmates from my Citizen and Self class, attended a dinner hosted by guests named Molly and David. My classmates names were Andrew and Stephanie. Molly and David both served as English professors at WKU. Molly is currently not teaching, while David is on sabbatical as he is currently writing a book. Andrew attended an academy in Louisville where he spent kindergarten through senior year of high school with the same general group of students. Stephanie is from Bowling Green and originally attended a small college in Florida first semester before returning to Bowling Green and attending WKU. All three of us are biology majors.

Molly and David were generous to provide the entire meal to us. It consisted of a salad, then a main entree of pasta with lentils, followed by dessert consisting of strawberries and brownies. Water and tea were served as well. Molly and David were extremely generous hosts, making sure we did not leave their house without a full stomach. After we arrived, we introduced ourselves and discussed the purpose of this project. Molly and David were fascinated by the concept of such a seemingly simple assignment of having dinner with strangers and then writing about it. However, as soon as we sat down for our meal, we began to discuss deeper topics and they began to understand the concept of the Kentucky Kitchen Table.

Our initial conversations were very relaxed as we talked about ourselves and compared the college experiences of our hosts with our own. Molly and David had very interesting stories about how much education has changed since the time they attended college. Following this, we discussed the idea of citizenship and what it meant to them. David said that citizenship means to be fully informed about issues in society and have an understanding about why they exist. Molly echoed such sentiment and added that if a citizen were to be active in the community and involved in large-scale decisions such as presidential elections, then being as educated as possible about heated topics in today’s society was necessary to truly make the best decision possible. Their answer was very similar to what we discussed in class about how it is our responsibility to be informed about issues in our communities in order to actively deal with them. They also agreed that citizenship encompasses not only rights and privileges we possess, but also responsibilities, such as being educated about issues within the community, that we cannot take for granted if we are to coexist successfully with others who have different opinions.

The more we conversed with Molly and David, the more I sensed the positivity of their personalities. For example, when they were asked about the best things about our world today, they  talked about the kindness of people and how it made them feel good witnessing even the smallest acts of kindness. Despite all of the negative things that are happening in society, they both felt that it was easy to take away positives from people’s kindness because it reflects the idea that the many good acts of individuals trump the mistakes of others that create problems in society. Another sense of positivity I noticed in them was when we asked them what they loved most about living in Bowling Green. Both Molly and David were originally from bigger cities and attended college at the University of Indiana in Bloomington where they met. However, they both loved Bowling Green because of its simplicity as a small rural city that still has everything they want. Molly talked about how she felt closer to people in Bowling Green than in larger cities because it was easier to connect with people here due to the small-city setting allowing more people to know one another and be more comfortable around each other as a result.

An interesting aspect of the conversation was when we discussed the issue of gun control. David discussed how he was opposed to owning firearms in house and was very scared when the previous owner of his house left one of her guns in his closet when she moved out. He explained how he was different than his surrounding neighbors in that respect as they were much older than he is and possess multiple firearms while he refuses to own one. We also discussed whether religious identity should affect treatment of others and how it affected citizenship. While they agreed that religious values can affect how you view certain social issues, they were very adamant about how they do not believe that religious affiliation should affect the way we treat others. Both Molly and David are in their mid-40s, putting them an entire generation ahead of us. Despite this, they still hold a mindset similar to many college students’ on a number of issues.

Overall, the experience of this project was something I enjoyed. At first, I thought that I would be awkward and hard to talk to among such a diverse group of people, but that proved to be false. While my classmates and I were science majors and our hosts were English professors, I found that we still connected on a lot of things and that our differences in career interests did not alter our ideas of citizenship. Based on David and Molly’s responses to our questions, they related most to Martha Nussbaum’s “Citizens of the World” reading. Nussbaum emphasized the importance of engaged education and global citizenship to coexist successfully. Our hosts agreed and believed that being informed about a topic was a key to living in a successful community, a central idea of this Citizen and Self course.

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My KKT

20160411_202510By Madison

At my KKT I cooked dinner for my partner Allison, my boyfriend Luke, my friend Rachel, Rachel’s friend Emily, and both of my parents. I love to cook so I practically insisted. Allison is an Art History major at WKU who intends on going into art conservation after college from Northern Kentucky. Rachel is Allison’s roommate, she is an English major with a math minor who teaches Tae Kwon Do from Northern Kentucky. Emily, Rachel’s classmate, is an English Major with an International Studies minor from Eastern Kentucky. Luke is currently working for our home city as he prepares to go to the police academy, following in his father(our local sheriff), brother, and uncle’s footsteps. My mother, Kim, has been a stay at home mom since she left investment banking when I was in middle school and currently takes care of several elderly people as well as a neighbor of ours who has terminal cancer. My father is the manager of the Safety and Security departments at the top employer in the county and has begun to delegate the task as he is nearing retirement but he at one time consulted at facilities worldwide to help companies improve their safety measures.

The night had a rather lighthearted feel at the beginning as I got down to business (and admittedly interrogated everyone). We surprisingly didn’t have as much trouble as expected when we tried to find differences among us. Emily is a vegetarian (I made sure she had a veggie burger). Allison is a lesbian. Luke grew up in a police family and when he was 14 he assisted in an arrest by tackling a suspect while he was out for a run. My mother grew up in significant poverty, living in multiple homes where they only had an outhouse (she is only 47, most houses had toilets). My father has been blind in one eye since he was 8 due to a childhood accident. I have a trade certification in drafting and experience with electricity and lathe operation. Rachel is a Tae Kwon Do instructor. It was interesting to say the least to see what everyone focused on about themselves. Luke and Allison also bonded over the fact that both have had near death experiences, Allison when she was diagnosed with diabetes and Luke when he suffered from two heat strokes during a high school football game and was treated incorrectly on site. I’m fairly certain the others ignored Emily and I as we bonded over political science professors and courses.

Our responses to the required question of “other than voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” were interesting to say the least. My father (a strict conservative) thinks he is funny; he replied that you shouldn’t be so quick to assume he thinks voting, taxes, and laws are part of citizenship. My mother thought it meant helping others, going beyond just passively existing in society and not getting in others’ way. Luke honestly hadn’t thought about it before but in the end he agreed with me, that you have to be politically literate. By this I mean knowing what is going on, actively seeking ways to influence the change you want to see in your country in any lawful way available to you. Political Literacy is knowing what is going on in your country and outside of it.

It really was remarkable to see were we all stood politically, socially, even economically and discuss how it could have effected our opinions. Even knowing a second language had to be factored in, going to a different type of school like my dad had, growing up as a minority in his own school like Luke had. It was a great illustration of the diversity this class demands we factor in when we think about solutions to public problems.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Stephanie

For my KKT project, I was partnered with Abbas and Andrew, and we were assigned to two Bowling Green residents, Molly and David. We met on April 11th, in their home, and they were gracious enough to provide us with the entire meal.

Andrew, Abbas, and I were all a little hesitant going into the dinner, as we all thought it would end up being awkward sharing a meal with people we’d never met before. There was also a concern about how we would manage to ask them questions without it seeming strangely like an interview instead of a conversation. However, Molly and David were both very talkative and friendly, and that made it easier for me to engage them in conversation. All in all, the dinner was a positive experience.

Molly and David are both professional writers, and both have taught at WKU in the past (David is currently on sabbatical to finish a novel). I thought it was amazing that they had both managed to make a living doing what they love, and they both assured me that I would be able to do the same. I think that throughout the evening, we all discussed things that were not necessarily related to the project directly, as we certainly drifted away from the designated questions, but I think Molly and David answered them fully enough just by discussing their views and opinions with us.

Molly and David had very similar viewpoints on what it means to be a citizen. David said that what he thought was a significant aspect of good citizenship was being informed. We all agreed that actively seeking out accurate information is so important before going out and making decisions, such as who to vote for. This is particularly necessary right now, in the midst of a heated presidential election. Molly said that she wouldn’t mind paying higher taxes (something any Bernie Sanders supporter could probably get behind), if it meant having better school systems, improved infrastructure, and universal healthcare. I think Molly’s statement is significant to the people who argue that “everything can’t be free,” as a way to oppose Sanders’ campaign. Of course everything can’t be free, but higher taxes on everyone would also benefit everyone by improving the society that we live in. Disclaimer: I don’t know their political stances, the presidential campaign is simply what came to my mind.

Molly and David both agreed that the world today is better than what it was when they were growing up. David mentioned being in college and knowing gay students that couldn’t come out because of social pressure. Now, as a professor, he sees students openly talk about being gay or LGBTQ in class or with their friends. In a span of twenty or so years, that’s a pretty impressive change. I brought up the point that, in my limited experience, some things are better and some things are worse. From a social standpoint, while we are definitely moving closer and closer to equality, because of technology and the added pressure we face to constantly be competitive, we are also drifting further from our communities and are less likely to be connected to the people around us than people from previous generations were.

When asked about living in Bowling Green, Molly gave a particularly interesting answer. She said that she felt she and David probably lived in a kind of bubble within the Bowling Green community, which is something I have also felt. There are two definite groups of people within Bowling Green: the educated, typically more liberal, populace in and around WKU, and the poorer, more “traditional” Southerner. I believe this dichotomy is characteristic of most college towns, but it also relates to what we have learned in this class. How can we go about bridging these gaps between people and build a better and more involved community?

When asked the question about their neighbors, Molly and David both chuckled and had some interesting stories to tell us about their experiences in their neighborhood. While they both agreed that the majority of their neighbors are elderly, and that the one family they had been the closest to had moved away, they didn’t fell they were as connected to their neighbors as they wanted to be. They had previously lived in a small town in North Carolina, and mentioned how in that town, people were very neighborly in the traditional sense, and everyone knew everyone else. They also mentioned how when comparing that town to Bowling Green, Bowling Green was far more racially divided. Being from Bowling Green, I feel that the demographics are something I always knew about but never consciously acknowledged.

When asked about whether they felt their jobs helped them serve a greater purpose, they both felt that it did, and that it contributed to them fulfilling their role as citizens. Being professors, they both discussed how they have the opportunity to connect with young people, offer guidance (something they did to me, Abbas, and Andrew, being college students ourselves), and prepare them for the world. One comment of Molly’s particularly resonated with me, when she said she felt she would be doing her students a disservice if she didn’t fail some of them. While it sounded harsh initially, I completely agree with her. Not everyone can pass, and students need to be willing to work hard in order to succeed. This also led to a divergent conversation about how too many young people today are herded toward the college path, when society desperately needs people that don’t attend college in order to function.

Molly and David had a lot of similarities, including their religious standing. Both were raised Catholic, both mentioned a liking for the current Pope Francis, and even though it wasn’t explicitly stated, I did get the feeling that neither were actively religious. Maybe spiritual? However, they were incredibly open and understanding of other people and their beliefs, and even offered to let Andrew lead a prayer before we ate which I thought was wonderful. We discussed how religious beliefs can affect the way people think and behave — whether positively or negatively — and we all agreed that being religious was not a prerequisite for being a good person. If being a good Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. offers you the motivation you need to be a good citizen, that’s admirable, but not necessary for everyone else.

We could also all agree on the fact that we do have an obligation to the people around us, because everyone needs help at some point throughout their lifetimes. Molly specifically mentioned the homeless population, and her disbelief when people were unwilling to help one another. I wholeheartedly agreed with her, as I too struggle to understand how people can not only refuse to help, but also completely discredit another person’s experiences, lack empathy, and make assumptions about their lives without knowing them. I think we can all agree that in order for the world to truly become a better place, we must all be a bit kinder with each other.

The only aspect of the dinner that I think we might have fallen short on was the diversity of the group present. While we did differ in age, backgrounds, and our religious beliefs, I think we were all in agreement on just about every issue we talked about. This might be because we are all from the first group of people in Bowling Green — the WKU group — and we were all at least somewhat liberal with regards to our social and political views. It would have been more interesting and more conducive to learning to discuss these topics with people that we might have some disagreements with.

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