My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on March 15th, 2019 in Bowling Green. I am one of the founders of Beta Gamma Omega, the first international fraternity in the state of Kentucky. Therefore, I incorporated my KKT into one of our fraternity events designed to bond with each other. This was the perfect time to have the dinner, because many new members had recently joined the fraternity, so there was an equal mixture of guys that I knew very well and guys that I was yet to be well acquainted with. Furthermore, although we are all male students of roughly the same age, this was the best way to ensure having a diverse group of people, as we all come from different countries.
To provide a very brief description of the 18 guys there: Shawn is a film major from Kentucky, Lane is a Spanish and film major from Tennessee, Antonio is a Spanish and Sociology student originally from El Salvador, Bader is an international student from Kuwait, Serge is an exchange student from the Netherlands studying business, Humza is a business major from Pakistan, Roland is a finance student from Miami with Nicaraguan and British heritage, Jona is a veteran and is originally from Korea, Mason is from Kentucky, Hunter is a Political Science major from Kentucky, Pedram is an Iranian Chemistry major, Andrey is an international student from Russia, Eydel is a finance major who immigrated here from Cuba, Ash is a graduate student from India studying in finance, Reuben is an Architecture and Chinese student originally from New York, Deven is a Political Science and Japanese major from Kentucky, and Juan immigrated here from Mexico and is studying Mechanical Engineering.
After we all worked together to cook food, we began our conversation around the table as we were eating. The conversation started with me briefly describing the KKT project, and then asking the required question about citizenship. The answers to this question were actually quite similar. The general themes of what they said were along the lines of caring for those in your community, making sure everyone has their basic needs met, protecting and exorcising your rights, and taking care of the little thing in our community – such as recycling and fixing roads. This set a general trend where most people expressed similar values when the broader questions were asked or topics introduced. I was not the only person who noticed this, and later in the conversation, when I asked “Have you ever had a conversation with someone from a really different background than yourself?” from the handout packet, as well as their experiences meeting all these guys from around the world, I wrote down a response from Hunter that I thought was very well articulated. He roughly said, “It has shown me that people really are not all that different, regardless of where one comes from. Despite coming from different cultures, we all have the same values, wants, and needs.”
Throughout the KKT, several times a lot of the guys began debating about more specific political issues. These issues ranged from the Trump administration, how to tackle immigration, social welfare, universal healthcare, dispute with and between their own countries, and so on. This has become a staple of our friendships since this day, and we often talk about political issues. Fortunately, this has always been conducted in a very friendly manner. In seeing them debate these various issues, I can relate it back to “the elephant and the rider” that we studied earlier in the semester. Sometimes others would disagree with a statement someone else said, but after deliberation and some thought, usually found that they had more common ground than what divided them. Most of them also shared the same concerns and cared about similar social issues, such as corruption, world hunger, wealth distribution, recycling, and so on. Interestingly, a common theme for the answer to the question “What kind of person would you like to be?” was also that everyone wanted to be “relevant.” Basically many people said that they want to somehow leave a mark on society and the place that they live, a mark for the better.
Before having this KKT, I expected religion to be a huge issue and talking point. This is due to the fact that there were Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Agnostics, and Atheists all present. Surprisingly, this was not talked about much aside from when I asked the question “Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people?” All of the Christians and Muslims expressed that it does, but that people should do unto others as they would have others do unto them. Although they vary by scripture and teachings, it all comes back to what was stated earlier by Hunter, “we all have the same values, wants, and needs.”
Surprisingly, the most profound answers came from asking the conversation starters, as they were quite broad questions. At times, the discussion would devolve into debating politics or some other issue. In those cases, I would wait a couple minutes and then ask another conversation starter. Although many of the answers were similar, I do not believe this comes from any peer pressure of sorts, because as I have become more familiar with everyone I know that they will speak up if they disagree with something. This KKT has taught me that not only is it important to learn how to be a citizen in your own community, but it is also crucial to learn about the outside world and how to be a global citizen. If it is the role of a citizen to care for one’s own community, then it is the role of a global citizen to care for the entire world.
I am very pleased with the results of my KKT, and had a lot of fin conducting it. I was able to lead a thoughtful discussion with a very diverse group of people. However, if I were to change anything, it would be to include people of other ages and genders. If there were older people, then that would possibly show a difference in values. As a few of the guys brought up, there has been an increase in globalization, which means there is more exchange of different cultures, and more of an exchange of ideas. This instant communication with someone on the other side of the world fosters global citizenship. It would be interesting to hear the opinions of elder people from many different cultures. Furthermore, including women in our group would have brought another unique perspective on all of these issues, perhaps bringing up many points and thoughts that did not occur to us.