Kentucky Kitchen Table: Related, not Synonymous

By CarolineCaroline Camfield Kentucky Kitchen Table

San Diego, Switzerland, New Orleans, Charleston, Cincinnati, California, Louisville, Bowling Green: Out of everyone at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, at least two (if not three or four) had been to all of these places. Part of the reason, everyone (besides me that is) is at least related by marriage and can be tied into my jump rope coach, who hosted the dinner in her home; Julie, a 60-year-old mother of one, who after growing up in Louisville, KY and attending college at Western Kentucky University, spent several years travelling across the globe, utilizing her master’s degree in teaching to teach English as a Second Language in Europe. This is where her husband David is from (although they actually met at a hotel in California, and her sister Lynn was the one to meet him first.) David, a Swiss immigrant first came to the United States as an adult to travel and did not plan on actually moving here until he met Julie and they married. After Julie and he returned to her hometown of Louisville, David attended the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering and currently works as an engineer. Julie’s sister Lynn, who is 5 years older than her sister, also grew up in Louisville and attended Western Kentucky University. After college, however, she worked in the field of social work until Julie convinced her to join her in some of her travels (which because her and her husband Paul don’t have any children they still spend a large amount of time travelling.) Currently, Lynn lives in Northern Kentucky and just recently retired from being a preschool teacher at a school in one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods. Paul grew up in California with “libertarian parents” who’s views did not necessarily align with his own; he worked in New Orleans as a cab driver for several years (before he moved to Northern Kentucky) and currently works as a substitute math teacher.  Then finally, there is Julie’s daughter, Murray, a 20-year-old college student who followed in her Aunt and Mother’s footsteps and attended Western Kentucky University and is currently a math and English double-major.

The dietary constraints at the meal were almost as diverse as the places everyone had travelled; from vegan to paleo to vegetarian, almost everyone had their own unique considerations when it came to choosing what foods to bring. However, since the two people following the vegan and paleo diets are somewhat relaxed in maintaining these diets, especially when desserts are involved, they weren’t taken into account for a few of the food choices. To the meal, I provided the first and last courses (even though not everyone ate them in that order); I brought a salad consisting of assorted greens, fresh cut corn, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, and peppers, and individual bread pudding cups topped with bourbon sauce for dessert. For our main dish, Julie baked a layered spinach and tomato pasta dish she makes frequently enough for her daughter that I’ve had it a few times before when I was at their house. Lynn and Paul both contributed fresh fruit, cubed pineapple and chocolate-covered strawberries, respectively. David provided asiago and cinnamon crunch bagels from Panera (since he receives a free bagel everyday this month, which is quite fitting since the majority of us at the table partake in as many opportunities to receive and utilize free-food offers as we can.) And finally, Murray contributed milk to the table and while not everyone drank it, it did lead to her telling the story of how she convinced a few young jumpers from the jump rope team in Trinidad and Tobago that since she drank milk at meals other than breakfast, she calls herself a milk girl. And this was how the majority of the dinner went; sometimes ideas and beliefs were stated explicitly but mostly they were woven into the conversations through stories.

This idea became especially clear when I asked he table what their ideal community would be, because, for the most part, they answered with locations they’ve previously lived instead of descriptions of the qualities of a community like I expected. This highlights how everyone, except for Murray and me, is very well traveled and their travels have all impacted their lives in some way. Julie was first one to answer this question and declared she wanted to live in a beach community (and later changed it to an alternative beach community/co-op once hearing everyone else’s ideas.) This was another theme throughout the meal, everyone was fairly willing to change their ideas of what they wanted after someone else had an idea they liked better. This ties back into the concept of the Elephant and the Rider, discussed in the except we read in class from Haidt’s Righteous Mind, since while everyone’s elephant initially led them in one direction, the elephant was sometimes very easily swayed to another when it thought that that could be a better option (leaving the rider to adjust the justifications accordingly.) As for everyone else, Paul wanted to move back down to New Orleans because of the unique atmosphere there and the diverse group of people he encountered while working as a taxi-driver. When first asked the question, Lynn described how she’d live in a diverse community, like Paul, enjoying the variety of perspectives that subsequently arise out of diverse backgrounds (but then after hearing the rest of the table’s responses, she changed hers to a beach community, which depending on the exact location can prove to be a diverse mixture many different demographics.)

Since the overall dynamic at the table promoted the sharing of stories, which, as it oftentimes does, got off topic, preventing everyone from explicitly sharing their ideas of what they believe it means to be a citizen, the viewpoints that were shared surprisingly varied more than their answers to every other topic that was mentioned (although unsurprisingly their responses still fed off of one another quite a bit.) Lynn was the first to answer and described her belief that being a citizen gives you the right to peacefully protest, and thus influence how society is run. Paul almost directly opposed this by describing how he believed that while being a citizen gives you the ability to protest, he enjoys how you also have the ability and freedom to stay quiet if you are so inclined due to the freedom of speech. Furthermore, he emphasized how ideally, all freedoms would be granted and respected by society (which while it would eliminate the need for some protest it would depend on having an almost perfect society.) Murray then proceeded to explain that while she believes being a citizen does give you the ability to not voice your opinion if you don’t want to, she also believes speaking up for others with less privilege (and who aren’t able to do so) is an obligation. Her ideas fed off both her aunt and uncle’s, agreeing and disagreeing with ideas from both, which goes to show that while she grew up hearing their beliefs, she has still formed her own and not just conformed to the ones surrounding her. For the most part, everyone did have their own distinct beliefs concerning each topic we discussed, yet at times everyone was more than willing to adapt their ideas to someone else’s if a new idea was presented. This openness caught me by surprise a little since the dynamic in many families merely focuses on convincing others of your beliefs instead of actually listening to what everyone thought.

At this table especially, everyone brought a set of their own fairly unique experiences, which in turn influenced their opinions. When discussing social issues that were closest to our heart, Lynn mentioned that she witnessed racism occur between people of both the same race and of different ones while teaching at her school, even though the population there consisted almost entirely of African Americans. Yet through talking with other teachers and students, she was able to adapt her perspectives to accommodate their experiences that she sympathized with, yet would never truly experience. Likewise, Paul felt that education was important to him, stemming from his current job, and David said that the decreasing middle class was an issue needing to be addressed since he is a part of that demographic. Murray followed this trend by saying, somewhat indecisively, that animal rights and sustainability were both issues she felt connected to (especially animal rights since, as she explained, it was only after learning that animals were treated so poorly before they were processed into food for consumption that she eliminated the already minimal amount of meat from her diet.) She then followed up with the statement that while these two issues matter to her, she realizes they aren’t the most pressing issues faced by society; in addition, she also believes that LGBTQ rights and feminine equality are important, even though she may not be able to influence the causes as directly as she can with the other two. Out of everyone’s responses, Murray was the only one who mentioned an example of actually making an effort to combat the social issue they felt closest to, and although this could be because some of the other issues are broader and could be more intimidating to tackle, it may also signify a generational change, or a combination of both if young adults today are standing up not for the broader issues, but for more specific ones, and by doing so they feel more able to make an impact and thus are attempting to do so.


Kentucky Kitchen Table: A Dinner with Diversity

IMG_2420By Emily

Coming from a small town, it can be hard to find diverse individuals. When I first looked over the Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I was absolutely clueless as to who I could invite. Yet, when I really started to look, I found a large amount of diversity in the least likely of places. The dinner was one in which gave me hope for the future of our country and of our world. Having the opportunity to discuss varying topics with many interesting and diverse individuals made me an aware and open-minded citizen, and I cannot wait to share just how much I learned!

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in my hometown: Marion, Kentucky. I decided to invite some family friends of ours who have deep Italian, Croatian, and Catholic backgrounds. Johnny and Tiffany are a young couple with two daughters that are the same age as my sister. Johnny’s parents came from Italy and raised his siblings in Chicago for most of their lives. They then moved to Marion where they had Johnny. Johnny’s wife Tiffany, an English teacher at the local middle school, was born in Marion but has experienced many interesting and large family gatherings full of Italian and Croatian culture. She is an only child, so Johnny’s Italian family was a bit overwhelming for her at first, and even still is today. Johnny and Tiffany brought alfredo, spaghetti, and lasagna to the dinner. I then decided to invite some friends of my mother’s, of whom I had never met before. Rudy and Arlena are an older couple who have traveled the world because of Rudy’s twenty-three and half years in the military. They have lived in Holland, Germany, and Korea. Arlena prepared a special dessert dish from Holland that is popular on New Year’s Day. It was called oilbollen, a sort of powdered Dutch donut. Lastly, my father decided to join our dinner and prepared a large salad for the meal.

Throughout the dinner, we discussed many pressing issues regarding democracy and citizenship. Rudy, Arlena, Tiffany, and Johnny were all extremely active in discussing each question I asked. I began by asking the required question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” They all responded similarly. Above all, they believed each American citizen should also have great respect. “We should all have respect for each other, respect for the flag, respect for those who have served, and respect for the elderly. This is an amazing country, and we’re very blessed to live here,” replied Rudy. Everyone agreed, especially Johnny. With family who immigrated to America, they often stressed how important it was to have respect for our country. Johnny’s grandfather took extremely huge pride in being an American citizen because of how hard he had to work to get here. Growing up, Johnny was accustomed to seeing both sides of being an American citizen. One from an immigrant’s point of view, and one from a natural born citizens’.

This led to the next question about the best things about our world today. They were all hesitant to answer at first, even mentioning that it was a difficult question. They loved the idea of the internet. Growing up, Arlena’s grandmother always used a special set of encyclopedias to research and discover new things. She would have loved how convenient and easy the internet makes our lives. “It has made the world a smaller place, one where it’s much easier to communicate,” said Arlena. With both children in the military, it was easy to communicate through Skype. However, above anything else, they believed the best thing about the way we live is our freedom of choice. From personal experience, they have seen the way other countries operate. They were grateful that they have the choice to do what they want when they want. They can choose to live where they want, to worship who they want, say what they feel, and wear what they want. That is why they believe more of us should have respect for our country. “Sometimes I think we forget how truly lucky we are. We like to focus on all the negative, when really we have great lives compared to many overseas,” replied Rudy. Everyone at the table agreed that they were very lucky to live the way they do with who they do.

Living in small town, it isn’t uncommon to build relationships with your neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances. Growing up in Marion, I remember many times in which our community would come together to help others and support those who were going through a tough time. Rudy regularly visits many elderly widows that live close by, often mowing their grass, bringing them dinner, and checking in on them. Recently, Tiffany started a Consignment Closet at the middle school to help children who cannot afford nice clothes and shoes. All items and clothing are free to students and they can take as much as they want or need. “When something bad happens, people of our town come together to support one another. If one of us hurts, we all hurt. People here stop and take time to get to know you. It’s a place where you feel safe.” As an educator, Tiffany believes her career relates a great deal to being a citizen. She takes part in raising the children of our community to be respectful and caring citizens. She was amazed by how much she influenced the lives of those children. She proceeded to tell a story regarding a young boy in which she had had in class. This child was always getting in trouble and always fighting with her. She punished him for misbehaving and worked endlessly with him to improve his grades. Close to six years later, after he had graduated high school and left for college, she received a call from the same young man. While he was on the phone he apologized for the way he had treated her, but he also wanted her help. He began to tell her that he’d worked hard in college and that he had found a girl whom he loved very much. Coming from a bad home life, he didn’t have a mother to ask for help in proposing to the woman he loved. He wanted Tiffany’s help in choosing the ring. All the fighting and stress that had come six years earlier, suddenly made Tiffany realize that she had done something right. The young man respected her for how hard she had worked for him. Much like Tiffany’s career, Rudy’s career in the military obviously played a great deal in his part as a citizen. He served twenty-three years in the military and eighteen years in the Department of Correction. His son served four years in the Air Force and his daughter served twelve years. Even his son-in-law has served in the military. Because of this, he is full of appreciation and respect for those who have fought.

I then proceeded to tell the group about the video we watched in class of the little girl in China who was ignored by others after being run over. They were all mortified. We discussed the question about whether or not they believed their religion had anything to do with helping others. To all of them, it wasn’t just religion that influenced them to help, but human nature. They all believed that they had a moral obligation to care and watch out for others. Arlena told us about the Bible study she leads at the correctional complex for women. She believes in making sure these women realize that they are still capable of doing good in our world. She was positive that even if she wasn’t religious she would still try to help these women and many others living in her country. My father finally jumped in, saying he couldn’t help but want to help others if they were in trouble or hurting. That was just the way he was taught growing up. However, it’s important to realize that in other cultures it may not be the same. We then moved to the next question: Did you have meals around the table growing up? Did you enjoy them? Johnny’s Italian family takes meals very seriously. Every Sunday they eat meals after church at his parent’s house where it isn’t uncommon to have nearly forty people in attendance. He loved growing up with such a large family and still loves it to this day. It is what truly molded him into who he is and how he teaches his own children. The dinner finally wrapped up a great deal later, after discussing many overseas adventures and childhood memories.

With the theme of respect in my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I think this relates a great deal to our class as a whole. In order to solve problems, live well together, and have more say over what our lives look like, we must have respect for others. We must have respect for their beliefs and their opinions. In Keith Melville’s “How We Talk Matters,” he explains, saying “Talk is the essential ingredient of politics. It not only shapes decisions, it shapes us — our thinking, and our understanding of ourselves and others, our way of dealing with conflict and differences.” Throughout the dinner, each individual talked in a way that respected the others’ beliefs and they whole heartedly agreed that it was essential in order for our country to move forward. It was an amazing experience to have the opportunity to see a group of diverse individuals come together and talk in way that represented the very core of our class. They all discussed each topic with respect for one another and their opinions, leading to a dinner that lasted well over two hours. I learned a great deal about what is was like to grow up in a time where they did not have the technological advances we do today, and also of other cultures around the world. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my Kentucky Kitchen Table. This was an incredible experience!

It’s All About Talking and Listening

By Caroline

When initially looking at the Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment, I knew that I would love to bring this fascinating project to my hometown because it would not only allow me to further my knowledge of this class but would expand my idea of people in my own community as well. With that being said, on fall break, Lebanon, KY was in for a delightful treat in my hometown household. Contemplating who I would invite, I wanted to bring a tasteful diversity to the table and immediately came up with a total of 5 people: my former AP Human Geography & Psychology teacher, Jamie, her husband, Chris, a woman in my community who is of Hispanic ethnicity, Kenya, and my mother and father, Jim and Sharon. To begin with, Jamie is someone I do know very well being that she is one of my past teachers, but she brings very diverse experiences to the group in the fact that she has traveled to many cultures around the world and has a large amount of knowledge regarding the potential topics for the kitchen table. Her husband, Chris, is someone I do not know very well, but I quickly realized that he has served in the army and brings a plethora of personal stories that added flavor to our discussions. I also invited Kenya who is a woman that lives in my community that I am not as familiar with, but she brought a very different perspective since she is of Hispanic ethnicity and has lived in both the United States and Mexico. Lastly, my mother and father attended and were both delighted to host this project in the welcoming hospitality of our home. My mother works in the emergency room in our local hospital, and my father is the loan officer and Vice President of a bank in my town. My mother, being the host, decided that she would make a meal which consisted of a scrumptious meat loaf, mashed potatoes, rolls, and green beans, but she said that if anyone wanted to bring a dish they could. Kenya made authentic Mexican chicken tacos with a side of guacamole, Jamie made a coconut bar dessert (which was a hit), and Chris made potato soup.  I quickly realized that it was very neat with the people that I invited because everyone who attended either didn’t know each other very well or were complete strangers, so it made the discussions that much more interesting.

To begin the conversation, I explained to the group what the Kentucky Kitchen Table was and what all it encompasses. My father then said the grace, and we began eating and talking right away. I commenced the discussion by introducing the first question regarding what citizenship means to us, beyond simply voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Jamie jumped right to the question in saying that citizenship comes down to being loyal to one’s country and truly holding everything that your country values close to your heart. However, Kenya introduced the idea that she has witnessed citizenship from an outsider’s perspective and a US citizen’s point of view as well because in Mexico, unlike the United States, people do not “hang the flag in every corner you turn” and are less likely to praise and show citizenship to their country. She noticed that as Americans, we show citizenship much more outwardly than other places. However, my father mentioned that “giving back to our country and community” is a definite way to show citizenship whether that is simply serving your community or even country. With that said, we realized that Chris has served in the army, and he shared many of his stories of his time serving the United States. One being, he was in Germany when the Berlin Wall was being taken down which was a very eye-opening experience for him. Through his experience, citizenship to him means wholeheartedly serving his country. With Chris talking about his time fighting for our nation, it quickly led to a discussion about gun violence with the recent horrific mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas. Although we all tried to come up with solutions to this “wicked problem”, we each realized that there was no one solution. I explained to them that in class, we learned that there really is no solution to a wicked problem like mass shootings, only a better or worse, in that we can pull things from many different solutions to make things more suitable.

We also talked about our obligations to people in our community and people in other countries. The theme of this aspect of the discussion was along the lines of what we have said in class in the fact that we feel more obligated to those people in the closest proximity to us. However, Kenya explained from her perspective that we really do need to feel obligated to people of distant countries because she has witnessed the true condition that people in other countries are in and was once in similar conditions in Mexico. She explained that from truly living in those shoes, she sees that people coming to help other countries is something that is prayed for and the obligation should be there. She gave very vivid descriptions about the drug violence, the brokenness, and the poor conditions that overwhelmed her past country. This really opened my eyes because although in class we read the speech by Ivan Illich, “To Hell with Good Intentions” that ultimately explained that by entering another culture with the intent to do good, we are only doing more harm because we truly don’t understand the gravity of the situation. However, by hearing her personal, genuine story, I was able to see the opposing perspective realizing that maybe we do need to continue our “good intentions” in the pursuit to help others. My mother, with her huge heart, began to tear up after Kenya’s anecdote because she herself felt that as people we really do have an obligation to others but must understand to what extent we can truly help those around us. Jamie talked about her traveling experiences, mainly to China and how we simply don’t understand other countries until we step foot on their grounds. She explained that she honestly only knew about other places from what she had read from textbooks and heard by word of mouth, but quickly realized that by traveling to other cultures, she was able to understand the rest of the world better. I think that that really tied up our discussion because although we have so many wicked problems and are expected to show citizenship to our country, to truly be able to “live well or less badly together” we must understand the rest of the world around us which will overall add to our understanding of our obligations, our country, and even ourselves.

Overall, I really enjoyed this assignment more than I thought was possible. Coming home for fall break, this project added such a new, captivating experience to my time off, and the people who attended made the remark that they learned a lot and would love to do this more often. To sit down and have a real discussion with people was honestly remarkable because those types of things unfortunately don’t happen anymore because of the fast-paced world that we have become accustomed to. We were able to sit down free of technology and just speak honestly sharing our personal experiences and opinions with one another; it was beautiful. Through this assignment, I learned initially that if we would simply slow down each day and have patience to just talk about things, as discussed in the article, “The Power of Patience,” we could discover so much more and learn a vast amount of information about our world and those around us. By simply sitting around a table with somewhat strangers and those who I am closer to as well, I dug deeper into the world we live in and was able to deliberatively understand other people’s opinions and why they are who they are . I also learned that my perspective of the world around me isn’t all there is to be offered and that there is so much more to know than just what I have learned in the nineteen years I have been here. By having experience like Kenya in Mexico or like Chris in the military, we are able to understand even more about our world and through that, live a much more fulfilled life. I have learned through this project that one of the central ideas of our class “how do we live well or less badly together” is ultimately a mixture of many ideas. For instance, it takes understanding of many perspectives, actively speaking about issues, seeking a better understanding of the world around us, and simply being empathetic to listen to others’ opinions and experiences. We can’t simply go through the motions every day, we must do more and seek more out of our daily life and encounters, and through this assignment of casually talking around a kitchen table, I realized that time spent in conversation and listening to others is one of the most valuable aspects in our world today.FullSizeRender

Culture and Citizenship

By Andrew J.

This dinner took place in Bowling Green, Kentucky at my German Professors house. For dinner, Laura provided the schnitzel, salad and potatoes, but we had to cook them together in small groups. I did, however, bring chocolate as a gift to Laura for hosting this dinner, and Alex brought two pies as dessert. The dinner was attended by Laura, Heike, Julia, Alex, Ryan, Carlos, Maggie, Eric, Jack and I. Laura is my German professor and the department head of modern languages at Western Kentucky University. Heike is an English teacher from Germany who had come over with her students to Bowling Green for a few weeks. Julia is an instructor of Russian at Western Kentucky University. My classmates are of a diverse background as well. Carlos is a Mexican-American from Indiana who is studying mechanical engineering and German, and Maggie is a Chinese-American who is studying German and Chinese in order to be a translator after college. Ryan is studying German and Computer Science, and Alex is studying German and International Business. Erin is studying German and International Business, and Eric is studying Architecture and German. Jack is also studying German, and he recently came back from a semester in Germany. I myself am studying German and Geography. Since nearly everyone at the kitchen table had several years’ worth of experience with German, one of the topics that often came up in our dinner discussion was the difference between citizenship and politics in both the United States and Germany.

As we initially sat down for dinner, the table was relatively quiet. Eric was the first to bring up recent news to the dinner table, speaking about a recent political move made by President Trump to build the wall between the United States and Mexico. There was a shared sentiment of disapproval about Trump’s actions in the White House at the dinner table; however, Carlos, being Mexican-American, quickly called out the absurdity of the plan, noting that the proposal of building a wall between the United States and Mexico was not American. At this point, I thought it would be an appropriate time to ask everyone what it meant to be American. Everyone there had a different idea of citizenship, but there were recurring themes of opportunity and egalitarianism throughout each person’s opinion. Carlos held the belief that being a citizen entailed having the opportunity to speak and move freely and the right to pursue happiness by one’s own accord. He particularly emphasized examples in history of the importance of the right to pursue happiness, such as Mexicans immigrating to the United States to work so that they could better support their families. I supported this notion by stating that many of the anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States are based on scapegoating when in reality Latin American immigrants often work jobs that the typical person in the United States would refuse to. Ryan iterated that the United States was founded on the ideals of living one’s life the way they choose to, though he also added that the United States has an interesting quality regarding citizenship compared to the rest of the western world. It was his belief that the United States was the most individualistic western country, and that this affects how many citizens of the United States see themselves as Americans. Afterwards, Heike added to the topic, mentioning how a more collectivist attitude towards social issues exists in Germany and the rest of Western Europe. This means that while there are more government laws for assisting people, there is also more order and less free speech due to Germany’s troubled past.

The conversation shifted towards politics after talking about citizenship, as Jack recalled the current widespread malcontent with politicians currently. This brought the wide spectrum of political beliefs present in the United States to the dinner table. Virtually everyone at the table was disappointed with the current administration in a multitude of ways, which I didn’t find too surprising honestly. It did, however, become more interesting when Alex brought up the cause of the election’s results. He mentioned that the divide between rural and urban America has stratified our country, and that to move forwards the nation would have to first take an introspective look as to how we are all united as Americans, rather than divided. In agreement I replied that there appeared to be more challenging economic problems in areas like Appalachia and the Rust Belt, which a person living in an urban area would not understand. Jack noted that living in general has become more expensive, and that many well-paying jobs that once existed in rural areas are now gone. As we were all sitting at the table and pondering the situation, Ryan said that while the situation regarding work and economic prosperity looks somewhat grim at the moment, the same situation of a debilitated economy has happened several times before in the United States history, and that the tough conditions facing Americans today would, in some form or another, be overcome. The dinner was over shortly afterwards, though there were a few additional discussion topics that I felt taught me.

There were a few highlights from the night that I feel are worth mentioning in greater detail. My German professor, Laura, made an excellent point as to how the education system has evolved over the past fifty years. Where the University experience was once far more academic in nature, it has become more similar to a business model, since Universities now compete to get the best students by having the most amenities and accreditation. This, she noted, has heavily increased the cost of college, along with the increased need for a post-secondary education to obtain a fair-paying job. Many well-paying industrial jobs that one could obtain once they were finished with school are now gone, and the United States economy is increasingly based on service jobs, which are either minimum wage jobs or professional jobs. An important perspective on citizenship in different cultures came from Maggie, as she shared her opinion on the differences between Chinese and American culture. She remarked that there’s a higher sense of duty to one’s family in China than in the United States, and that this sense of duty will often manifest itself when decisions for the children are made. Parents are willing to sacrifice much of their own happiness for the sake of their child’s future. This resonated with me, as I had never heard a firsthand account of what life is like in China, where the cultural values are fairly different than in the United States. A final point that I found intriguing, though not in the main discussion around the dinner table, was a point brought up between Julia and Ryan, as they discussed learning Russian. Everyone at the table knew German to some degree, but Russian was familiar only to the two. It became very interesting as they talked about the varying contexts between Russian and German, agreeing that Russian is a higher-context language than German, which meant that the language is worded more implicitly. Although this small section of conversation wasn’t related to the rest of the discussion about citizenship and politics, I found it to be interesting on a more personal level, since I never really examined languages outside of my native English and German.

Of all the subjects we talked about in class, this dinner most reminded of the readings on global warming. Everyone at the table agreed that there were new political and social issues facing the world, but everyone seemed to have a different solution – or lack thereof – for the problem. The instructors, Laura, Julia, and Heike all seemed to agree that learning a second language is an important avenue towards higher intercultural sensitivity, which is important for citizenship in the 21st century. The other students and I had varying opinions on the meaning of citizenship in our modern world.  I, like Michael Pollan, admittedly had the bleakest outlook on the future. I feared that the world was going to be increasingly put under pressure by corrupt government and corporate rule which would limit our freedoms and force a more totalitarian system upon us. In short, I found that any good we could do as active citizens would be mitigated by forces on a larger scale. The other people attending the dinner, however, were not as cynical as I was. They came to a general consensus that through active citizenship and critical thinking, this generation would be able to overcome the pitfalls that impeded progress in the last two. One of the bigger ideas in class I feel this dinner alluded to was one of the three main questions: “How can we have more say over our own lives?” It seemed as though most of the conversation revolved around plans for the future and current global issues, with a heavy emphasis placed on what may happen to the world in the near future. While we couldn’t come to a conclusion as to what the future held, I think everyone at the table enjoyed the dinner and the conversation that came with it on this night.

The One With the Baked Spaghetti

By Elizabeth

unnamedMy Kentucky Kitchen Table was held at my house, and five other people joined me. Caroline goes to Murray State University full time and works two jobs to help her save for an upcoming trip to Spain (she is majoring in Spanish and can speak the language very well). She recently went on a trip to London. She is very open about her faith and religious beliefs and found a way to apply those beliefs to our conversations. Sarah, friends with Caroline, also goes to Murray State University. She is running for an office in her sorority and wants to be a teacher. David is a few years older than the rest of us and was born in Japan, but grew up in Alaska and moved to the continental U.S. in high school. He added a very interesting perspective to conversations we had about communities, citizenship, and social issues because of his diverse background. Kennedy just moved to the area from Illinois, and she was quite a bit older as well. She was the comic among the six of us and loved to delve into the minor differences between Kentuckians and Illinoisians that she has picked up once since her move. Hunter, my boyfriend, joined me as well. He is a sophomore at Western Kentucky University and hopes to be an anesthesiologist. He took a more straightforward approach to topics we discussed and easily tied our ideas together.

We began our dinner of homemade baked spaghetti by talking about what it meant to be a citizen or to have citizenship. David noted that what came to his mind was his dual citizenship in the U.S. and Japan. His citizenship gave him rights in his countries of citizenship, and he felt like he should take advantage of those rights in order to be an active citizen. Kennedy shared that she thought citizenship was also about the impact that you make personally in the lives of people in your community or nation. She is a social work major and said she hopes to make a difference and be a better citizen. This led us to talk about the obligations that we felt like we had in our country and if we thought our jobs served a greater purpose.

Kennedy currently does not work, but thinking of her future career as a social worker, she said it was really clear to her that her job served a greater purpose because she would be helping people who otherwise wouldn’t have been helped in that particular way. Hunter, also currently unemployed, mentioned that he felt obligated to help people and to become a doctor because that field of study is what he is good at. I asked him if he felt like other people are obligated to help others by doing what they are good at. He said he thought the world would be a better place if they were, but he felt obligated in that way because of his religious beliefs and understood that not everyone believed the same things that he did. Sarah is a tutor as MSU and helps a number of students with disabilities. She said she hopes she is making an impact on them and encouraging them to make impacts on others. Caroline said that working in a jewelry store allowed her to help people find pieces for very important moments in their lives. She shared a story of a woman coming in to find something for her adopted daughter because her biological father passed away. It was clearly a tricky situation, she said, but she found the perfect bracelet that came with a card explaining the bracelet’s meaning. A few days later, the woman came back in to thank Caroline and told her that her daughter teared up and promised to keep the sentimental piece forever.

Caroline’s anecdote challenged us to think about the little things, like a bracelet, and how we could replicate something that meaningful with our actions in order to solve problems. Hunter argued that small actions won’t fix big problems. He explained that our country needed to think big to solve problems, and that is why he supports our military so much. Kennedy expressed that small actions may not resolve war, but it can bring communities together. I supported her statement with a story of my own about a series of break-ins in my neighborhood. Several families came together to support the ones that had suffered damages or emotional distress. Several men volunteered to camp out to catch the individual, which resulted in the arrest of a man a few nights later.

Our discussion led us to share what were the social issues nearest to our hearts. Sarah shared that the education system has so many flaws and she wishes she could do something to change it because she will soon hate administering standardized tests when she becomes a teacher. She explained she believes standardized tests standardize students. David explained that veterans make up a significant portion of suicides and homeless people every year, which bothers him because his father is a veteran. Caroline told us about a project she did over homelessness that taught her that most homeless people aren’t homeless for any reason that they could have prevented. She went on further and eventually changed all of our perspectives on the issue of homelessness.

My Kentucky Kitchen Table experience reminded me of Paying for the Party because we all had different levels of wealth or different kinds of families, which led us to have different beliefs. We were in a way different from Paying for the Party: we did not let that get in our way of “deliberating” our ways of thinking. The Kentucky Kitchen Table project reminded me of the choreographer in the “Shipyard Project.” It was a medium to bring us together and share experiences, similar to the people sharing their past at the shipyard.

By the end of dinner, I learned that each and every person I was with wanted to move from one end of their own bridge to another. We all had different opinions on the best way to solve problems, and I wondered if our diverse problem-solving strategies were a good thing or not. Should we all work to make the world a better place however we see  fit, or should we discuss and be on the same page when tackling problems? My perspectives definitely changed on many topics, from whether or not a jewelry store is making a difference, or whether or not we should we blame homeless people for putting themselves in a homeless situation. My definition of citizenship did not change, but I was happy to hear other perspectives. Because we all shared our opinions  honestly and openly, we all agreed our perspectives changed even if our opinions did not.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Lily

When I moved to Bowling Green for school my old youth pastor texted me. He reminded me his ex-girlfriend Paige lives here if I ever need anything. She sent me a similar message. They dated when I was in eighth grade and she was a junior at WKU. When she was in town she worked with my youth group and stayed the night at my house in Lexington a few times. She was an amazing role model as she clearly loved the Lord with her whole heart and I was overjoyed to have the chance to reconnect with her. When the Kentucky Kitchen Table project was assigned I knew I did not want to go home nor do the project with my friend group and a class mate’s. So, I opted for the host home option but when I found out host homes were sparse I remembered Paige. Before Paige could confirm dinner plans two girls from the other class, Lexi and Merritt, were assigned to the kitchen table I was supposed to be providing. Paige explained that while it would be hard to set up a dinner she may be able to work something out with her friend Jessie. By the time we finally had a date set Lexi decided to do the project at home.
Merritt and I arrived in the neighborhood at about the same time. We met for the first time outside searching for Jessie’s house. Paige welcomed us in and explained the situation to Merritt; she, her son Bo, her husband Eric, Jessie, Jessie’s daughter Lucy, and Jessie’s husband Joel would all be moving to Turkey within the year so they were staying together while Eric and Joel were in Turkey at a training. Paige was simultaneously caring for her baby boy, Jessie’s baby girl, and cooking dinner. Jessie was out taking a meal to some international friends of hers. We offered and brought dessert and while she was very appreciative Paige explained that they have guests over so often they were drowning in food to offer us instead. She and Jessie suggested we take our dessert and share it with people on campus as an outreach to build community.

We sat down and began getting to know each other before we discussed anything related to the course. Paige is great with teenagers and people in general so although she is in a completely different stage of life than us our conversation was fluid. We took turns explaining different parts of our lives. Merritt talked about her upbringing with two brothers and two loving while protective parents. She went to an all-girls Catholic high school in Louisville. She is now participating in Greek life just like her mother and father were when they were in college. She also mentioned her family’s fondness of sports. Paige talked about her hometown only thirty minutes away from Bowling Green. She talked about how she met my old youth pastor and now her marriage to Eric. All the while being interrupted by babies, cooking and eventually Jessie returning home. Jessie talked about her job on campus at WKU where she and her husband are leaders at the Baptist Student Ministry. She related her work to Merritt’s sorority involvement and asked if Merritt had heard of a famous speaker. The woman used to find her identity in her sorority but once she graduated she did not know what to do. She ended up finding the Lord and speaking at sororities across the United states. Jessie talked about her impact on her after listening and her potential impact on so many more people.
When they were both home and sitting at the table they started explaining their impending move to Turkey. They will start working as missionaries for the International Mission Board with their families. They talked about short mission trips to Turkey they had each taken years prior. There was a specific unreached people group they wanted to reach-out to but they were going to have to enter the country and live in Istanbul for a while before they could. Their plan is to live in Istanbul learning Turkish for three years until it would make more sense to move to the part of Turkey they want to reach. At that point they would have to begin learning another new language, that of the Zazas. It was incredible to hear their long-term mind-set. The two had lived together before and were in it for the long-haul planning to live together again in Turkey. The two shared how they met at a church that outreaches to the housing projects in Bowling Green and had lived together before. God was working in their lives even then. Paige and her husband knew the neighborhood they wanted to live in and there was only one home available. When Jessie got married a few months later she and her husband wanted to live in the same neighborhood but no houses were available. The house was too big for the young couple but it worked out perfectly so Jessie and her husband could sublease with Paige and her husband.
Afterward, we began discussing what it means to be a citizen. Jessie talked about how she had never really considered it before. She said she did not value her citizenship as much as she should especially because in the United States we are awarded many more rights than other countries offer. Specifically as a woman she spoke of being very grateful for the society and country we live in. Paige agreed and they both talked about their citizenship in heaven. I was very interested in their perspective since they will soon be changing their citizenship. But they explained their earthly citizenship to no matter which country means little in comparison to their home in God’s house. They both are very thankful for their citizenship though. They feel a responsibility to support their governments and fellow citizens as Americans and as Christians. Merritt talked about how she had also never really considered her citizenship before this course. She explained that now that she can vote she is beginning to think about and learn more about government and how she can contribute to it. At dinner I was reminded of poverty and service, empathy, and learning from others weeks as a lot of our conversation was about how to live well with others.
When 7 o’clock rolled around so did the children’s bed time. We were welcomed back anytime and we all departed smiling and grateful.
I was very grateful to have learned from each of the beautiful people I had dinner with. I learned hospitality and outreach, a care for the people around me and a care for people around the world. I learned immediate love and long-term appreciation for people, respect for parents and affection for siblings and friends. I learned gentle peace and ambition, duty and perspective. I am very thankful for our dinner and our conversation. I am thankful for the chance to learn and connect with a peer I might never have met as well as citizens of Bowling Green in a different stage of life. I was really blessed by this experience and hope to continue my relationships with each of these ladies.


Where Love Resides

By Brent

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project provided me a way to feel more connected to Bowling Green and get closer to a few of my peers, as well as fellow citizens. For our project, Hillary, Rachel, and I went over to Jennifer’s house for dinner. I also brought a friend, named Tan, who is from Vietnam and is studying at WKU. Our conversation lasted for about three hours and felt unexpectedly natural. No conversation topic felt like it was off limits. 
My partners for this project were phenomenal. When you first meet Hillary, you know that above all, she cares. She cares about how you are and what you believe in. She is naturally inquisitive and passionate. Her love for art and beauty is apparent in the way she lives and it rubs off on the people that she meets. Rachel, an English literature major, has a way with words and her humor is not only witty, but it is insightful as well. She tells a story of love and she preaches equality by her actions. Jennifer is a compassionate soul who lives intentionally and spends her time doing what she loves, which is pouring into the lives of immigrants and Refugees in the greater Bowling Green area. She is a mother, a wife, and a devoted member of society. She asks deep questions and listens with intention. She loves others with few bounds and is an inspiration to many. Tan is an inquisitive and passionate man. His self-prescribed nickname, “Crazy,” fits him well only because he is willing to take big risks and is able to overcome his fears very quickly. Tan has enjoyed the United States very much and hopes to get a business degree in order to start his own business when he returns to Vietnam.  
Our conversation went down many different paths. We began by answering what we thought it meant to be a citizen. Generally, we all agreed that being a good citizen means being involved with as many different types of people and groups as possible. As citizens, it is our job not to run away when things get hard. We are supposed to join together and use our voice to support our beliefs and lift other people up. I really liked Jennifer’s perspective on her life as a citizen because she focused on ways that she sees herself training her two boys on how to be good people and citizens. She also mentioned that being around like-minded people can be a good place to brainstorm, but, in the end, it is better to put yourself out into the world in order to gain a bigger perspective on what it means to live well with others.  
We also talked about the role that loving people plays in being a bigger part of society. We mentioned many simple acts, like being kind to a cashier or being patient at the DMV that go a long way. We all tell a story with the way we live our lives and it is important that that story builds other people up and recognizes everyone’s humanity. We decided that it is important to be humble and recognize that we will never know anyone’s full story. For example, we don’t know what it is like to be born into a country that has been in civil war for over eighty years. We don’t understand the hate that many immigrants and refugees face. So, rather than letting those differences scare us, it is important to face them fiercely and fight for equity.  
I learned a lot from our conversation, but I would say that my biggest takeaway was that it is important for me to meet people who are starkly different from me and be in community with them. I have so much to learn from other people, and I will never be done learning. We talked a lot about how having a face to put to an issue can be powerful for a lot of people. For example, if you have a friend that is a refugee or immigrant, you will naturally want to support laws and legislation that will protect their rights. I also think that I have a responsibility to make sure that more people reach out into the community to make those sorts of personal connection with people who are different from them.  
I also learned from Tan as I watched him interact with the difficult and theoretical conversations we were having. While he didn’t understand all of what we were saying, or why we were saying it, he knew it meant a lot to us and he respected that very much. I was humbled by his willingness to want to learn about other cultures and hear about how people see things like the recent election or holidays. I learned from him that listening is a gift and taking a risk in order connect with people is always worth it, at least for the experience.  
I think that our dinner and this project relate to our class in a few ways. Primarily, I saw that most of our conversation had to do with the idea of a crossing a bridge. We talked about how things are and where we want them to be, but most importantly, ways we thought we could get there. For example, we talked about how communities often respond to tragedy by throwing money and resources at a given problem. This raises issues because it leaves people disconnected and removed from the deeper causes that might be contributing the problems. We decided we wanted communities to be more involved so that when something happens, people know the needs of the victims they are helping and have an idea what their life is like prior to whatever incident might take place. Additionally, we mentioned that people have to become more connected with others who are different from them, spend time in the community, and break down stereotypes. This seems like a lot to ask, but it has to happen for us to be able to move forward as a society. I think that another way our conversation connected to the course was that we talked about how the power of patience is necessary to solve all of the issues we wanted to tackle. It was evident that Jennifer is an extremely patient person and her loves shine through in that way. She will wait on the phone for translators and lawyers to make sure that her friends, many of whom are refugees, aren’t getting taken advantage of and are getting the care and support they deserve. Even during out meal, she was checking up on a friend who was in the hospital for having an appendix removed. I think that, through her, I see how being patient is an act of love, and love makes us the best citizens that we can be. Overall, the experience allowed me to understand the importance of talking about change with people in the community because it made me feel like I had more people on my team and are willing to fight alongside me for what we believe is right.