It is one thing to theorize about multiple voices or understand it intellectually… but it is quite another to be living with and listening to the real voices around us that come from so many different continents and cultures. Take for example the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… That’s a big one, isn’t it… And sensitive and controversial and complicated… But as you listen to the multiple voices, you realize – and not just intellectually – that each side has a story to tell and that each story can be opposing and yet equally valid. And once you strip away the layers of conditioning or go beyond the distraction of propaganda, you realize acutely that the Israeli and the Palestinian mothers have the same fears and the same dreams… Dreams and fears, that’s no different from mine in India or yours in Indiana, by the way.
And so as you listen closely to the multiple voices, you also realize the double edged sword that history can become… Yes the causes lie in history, but we also need to move beyond that, move forward into a shared “her-story,” where we can come together in a shared compassionate understanding…
And that’s where Fulbright comes in: there were 21 teachers from ten different countries who participated in this year’s Fulbright DAT program. For me, it thus became a metaphorical journey to multiple continents over the last few months! As I tasted the empanadas and was greeted with a warm Kia Ora I started questioning my own presuppositions, my quick assumptions about a person or a place that was a result of my conditioning and education – by that I mean my intellectual understanding. So what Fulbright did for me was twofold (actually manifold but how can I ever capture all of them in words?) – it provided me the opportunity to enhance my intellectual understanding as a teacher of mathematics as well as provided me the freedom to move beyond mere intellectual understanding as a person and to even question those understandings.
As many differences that I can find between myself and the other Fulbright scholars, I find so many more commonalities… Try to list the differences – they are rather obvious and quite superficial, aren’t they? But once you look at what is not visible, then you see the same love for our sons, the same pain and joy of having to raise them as a single parent. You laugh on knowing there’s another clumsy cook out there who needs to know exactly how much salt to put into the pot and can’t estimate, just like me! You share a common love for word games with someone who lives in that part of the world where you wonder how they don’t fall off the Earth! And as they show you a map of the upside down world, you wonder if that is really what the world looks like?
What the world looks like depends on where we are looking from. In other words, on our perspective. Perspective seems to be an underlying theme in many of my reflections. And my peers in the Fulbright cohort provided me a wealth of perspectives: on teaching, learning, loving, sharing, politics, education – in short, on life itself.
Now I am back in Bangalore. CIEDR, IIE, IU, USIEF… so many people and organizations to thank for these magical months. Months where we got to listen to one another, person to person… Sarah from New Zealand concluded her presentation with a Maori proverb: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. (What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people). Thanks to the Fulbright commission, most of all, for making this people to people connection possible. And thanks also to all the American Fulbright teachers, who made this journey all the more special, even extraordinary.
Now this incredible journey of four months has come to an end, but the learnings will stay with me…