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Getting first-year Global Citizenship students up to speed

This Global Citizenship cohort visited India from Dec. 28, 2007 to Jan. 9, 2008.

For an American, India’s roads are one nasty, disorienting traffic jam. Mopeds with whole families on board jostle with bicyclists, tracker trailers and mules.

During their two-week intersession trip to India, Lehigh University’s first-year Global Citizenship (GC) students learned that in India a 150-mile trip takes five hours on a bus and that the only rule of the road was that there are no rules.

“Drivers need three things: good brakes, a good horn and good luck,” says Jim Maskulka, associate professor of marketing and one of the faculty who traveled with the students.

Yet, the American highways system can be just as alarming to a person accustomed to driving 5 mph in India, Neelam Deo, India’s Consul General in New York, told the GC students.

“Getting on the Beltway took me a long time, because I could not bring myself to get up to speed,” said Deo, who spoke at Lehigh University on Friday, Feb. 1.

Before her 4 p.m. lecture, Deo and nine GC students shared stories from India over clam chowder, salad and pasta from the Asa Packer dining room.

The GC students’ trip to Delhi and Hyderabad lasted from Dec. 28, 2007 to Jan. 9, 2008. The Global Citizenship Program requires all first-year GC students to attend an intersession trip, hoping to pique their interest in international affairs early in their college career. In years past, the GC program has gone to Chile, China, the Czech Republic and South Africa.

During the 13-day trip, students met with a human rights law network, visited three information technology (IT) centers, chatted with Indian university students and even participated in a yoga class taught by one of India’s head yoga gurus. The sights and activities forced the students to confront the world, says Magdalena Grudzinski-Hall, director of the Global Citizenship Program.

"As an observant and a participant in this program, it accomplished all its goals," says Grudzinski-Hall. "This was the quintessential Global Citizenship trip."

The students’ Indian adventure continues this semester. In class, they are reading the country’s literature and writing journal entrees.

“You must get beyond the first impression”

During lunch, Deo asked the students to recount some of their most vivid memories of India.

Paul Rossnagel ’12 recalled watching a handicapped person drag himself across four lanes of traffic.

A global studies and journalism major, Abigail Price ’12 said that she was haunted by the day she met with orphans living in an AIDS clinic.

“It was heart breaking,” Price told Deo. “Five or six of us started crying.” Even in her sorrow at their situation, Price noted that the orphanage appeared clean, and the children were treated with compassion and care.

During the trip, Maskulka was also struck by the opulence of India’s well-to-do compared with the destitution of its poorest citizens.

“We are listening to a senior executive present at a $3 billion company, and then hour later, the group is meeting and speaking to patients at a rehabilitation center for those unfortunate enough to be afflicted with leprosy,” Maskulka said after Deo’s 4 p.m. lecture.

Deo listened to the students' stories and agreed that problems of disease and poverty linger in India. Around 20 percent of its population still lives in extreme poverty, and around 60 percent of Indians can read.

“Handicapped people have only just begun to be addressed (by the government),” she said. But Deo hoped that the students would hold their judgment on India’s government until they consider that the government creates an economic climate that is beneficial to generic pharmaceutical companies.

“You must get beyond the first impression,” Deo said. “I’m not shifting responsibility, but the government of India is like any other government: It makes compromises. It also is a fact that an India pharmaceutical company produced the HIV cocktail that costs $100 rather than $6,000 (that it cost before).”

Recently, the India government has increased its education budget five-fold and has invested four times more in health care, but Deo admitted that “even they are inadequate.”

India plans to continue economic growth

The India economy sustained a nine percent growth rate for the past three years, making it the fastest growing economy in the world, Deo said during her lecture, titled “India and its Neighbors.”

Deo believes the Indian economy will continue to grow as the country trades more with its neighbors.

“The whole subcontinent was once a single economic unit,” Deo said. “We are trying to re-unite the economies of the countries.”

India’s goal will not be easy. South Asia is a rough neighborhood, and India shares borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma (or Myanmar), Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and China, among others. Most of these countries are undergoing political and economic shifts.

Currently, Pakistan is in a “state of turmoil,” Deo said. Rather than point to its neighbor for the conflict, Pakistan recognizes that its woes are internal. “One thing that everyone has notices is that no one is blaming India for the conflict,” Deo said.

Although Pakistan and India have fought three wars in the past six decades, Deo believes that “both countries have moved on.” She said, “India would like to see a strong and independent Pakistan.”

Besides fostering economic ties with its neighbors, India has also encouraged American and European companies to invest. Drawn to India’s cheaper labor and supplies, many Western companies have outsourced jobs to India.

Deo encouraged her audience to see that the term “outsourcing” could apply to any foreign exchange of services.

“If India should buy a Boeing airplane, then we have outsourced the job to America. The whole phenomenon of globalization and outsourcing needs to be seen on a much larger level,” Deo said. “It increases efficiency.”

Unlike China’s economy, which relies heavily on exporting goods to other countries, Deo said that India has developed a self-sustaining economy.

For example, the Indian car company, Tata, unveiled the $2,500 Nano in January. Deo saw the world’s cheapest car as a symbol of Indian ingenuity and prosperity. “It adds to our confidence as Indians. It’s not an imitation,” Deo said.

As more Indians purchase cars and buy goods, India’s carbon emissions have also increased.

However, Deo argued India’s energy efficiency could compete with China, one of the world’s most efficient countries. Only 12 out of every 1,000 Indians own a car. India also grows most of its own food, reducing the need to expend energy transporting produce. The Indian diet, which is mostly vegetarian, helps lower the country’s energy use, Deo said.

“An Indian consumes one-thirtieth of the energy an American consumes. We have a long way to go before we’re considered polluters,” Deo said.

Despite Deo’s assertions, Shara Dunham ’12 was still concerned about the Nano’s potential effects on the environment.

“As much as I think India’s middle class deserves the right to have their status symbol, anything that increases pollution is not a good thing,” said Dunham, a GC student who attended both the lunch and the lecture.

Deo’s visit was sponsored by the Global Union, India Club, World Affairs Club , Global Citizen Program and the Political Science Department co-sponsored the presentation.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Friday, February 08, 2008

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