When this project was assigned, my immediate thought was that I would complete this assignment in my hometown because I would be more comfortable there. However, after some thought, I realized the potential this project had. Some of my fondest family memories are of all of the many times my big, loud, family has been talking, laughing, and, most importantly, eating around our kitchen table. Bowling Green is going to be my home away from home for the remainder of my college career so I thought getting together with people I know and people I do not it the best way to create lasting memories and meaningful relationships with the people I will be around for a few more years. I got together with my friend Katie and hosted a Kentucky Kitchen Table here in Bowling Green at the home of a couple from my church and invited other members we did not know well and some neighbors of the couple.
Dick and Cindy are an older couple- in their eighties- that attends the same church as Katie and I. Dick spent most of his life living as a missionary in Pakistan and Cindy was a missionary in various countries in Africa. The couple was brought together by their faith and they both see this as the most important thing about them. Now they spend their days getting to know the local international population in Bowling Green and guiding other couples that feel called to move overseas for mission work. After reading this about them, it may come as no surprise that for dinner we had an authentic Turkish meal prepared by Dick and Cindy. It is obvious that their past experiences still hold a major influence on their life and they love to share stories about their time overseas. In some of the pictures, you can see everyone cracking their boiled eggs in the traditional Turkish way.
Jessie, a neighbor of Dick and Cindy, also attended with her new baby Lucy Mae. Her and her husband Joel are a young couple that Dick and Cindy help mentor because they are preparing to move to overseas in the near future.
Douda is the son of refugee parents originally from Liberia that is a friend of Jessie and Joel. It was interesting to have his point- of- view in the conversation because he has had a very different cultural experience than most of the people at the dinner and he has also had a different experience with citizenship in general. He is a student at WKU.
Mary Lou is a faculty member at WKU that attended. She spends her days in the international enrollment office, helping international students on campus. She is originally from Columbia but has lived in America for most of her life. This, once again, offered an interesting point of view to the conversation as Mary Lou has experienced citizenship in two countries as well.
Mary Lou brought along one of her student workers, Macy. Macy is from Louisville and is about to graduate from WKU. She recently studied abroad in Spain and spent a summer in Greece volunteering at a refugee camp and plans to work with refugees in some way after graduation.
Lastly, Alex is a recent graduate of WKU engineering department that currently works for a concrete mixing company in Bowling Green. He comes from a small town outside of Lexington, KY and was homeschooled growing up so the move to Bowling Green was a big transition for him.
The many different backgrounds and stages in life represented around this one table led to some good conversation with different ways of thinking presented. We started the conversation by simply asking everyone what citizenship meant to them. To Douda, citizenship represented safety. When he was a child, the corrupt government in his home country oppressed his family and he said he never felt much like a citizen, but becoming an American citizen gave him the opportunity to feel like he was a part of something bigger. On the other hand, Cindy felt more like a true citizen while she was in Africa. She remembers the importance of community in the small tribal villages she lived in and how this contributed to everyone feeling like a citizen. Dick agreed that, these days, Americans place more emphasis on the duties of citizenship, such as voting, and forget that citizenship includes helping each other out and instilling a sense of community locally as well as on a bigger scale. This stood out to me because this is something that has been so important in this class all semester. In order to create this sense of community we must put into practice things that we have been discussing- empathy for example.
Macy remembers studying in Spain and feeling like an outsider and believes this is what led her to want to help refugees get accustomed to life in America without feeling alone. Her experiences have shown that most refugees that become citizens participate in things like voting and paying taxes but do not truly feel like an American citizen until they have been included by an American family and have American friends to “show them the ropes.” Douda and Mary Lou both agreed that the Americans who reached out to them are the people who impacted their transition to a new country the most.
This discussion and hearing the stories from the people around the table that were from a different country or had a lot of experience abroad really opened my eyes to ways that I could be a more productive citizen in the community of Bowling Green. I kept thinking of the empathy readings and it reminded me to not just feel sorry for new citizens but to welcome them into this new, scary place and help them understand what it means to be a citizen. At the same time, this can introduce a wicked problem because some families are helped in a way that causes them to not develop a sense of independence. All in all, this Kitchen Table was really eye-opening and I feel like after this project, I am more open to talking about topics that can be seen as difficult with others.