Ryan Chartrand

I am a 2002 Cal Poly alumna in international business and still log on to the Mustang Daily’s opinion section on occasion to see what is happening at my alma mater. This time I came across retorts to a previous day’s column, “America: The Superior Culture,” and was so intrigued I read the cited article.

At first I was astounded to read such a column coming from an international business senior, considering the major’s curriculum is intended to raise cultural issues and empathy, thereby allowing us to function productively, and I daresay peacefully, in foreign countries or at least with foreign partners and subsidiaries.

But then I thought back to 2002, when I was planning on finishing out my international business degree with an AIESEC internship in India. I did all my research and read up on Indian politics and the various social challenges facing the country.

I was, like Mr. Taylor, high and mighty in my conviction that there were many things “wrong” with aspects of India and that I would use my top-quality education and critical thinking skills to lend whatever insights I could during my four-month stay.

What I realized within a week of arrival in India is that what I knew of the country was what came across through the lens of foreigners (i.e. Americans) in evaluating a culture such as India’s.

See, here’s the thing – what gets written about are the highly salient features. They are salient because they are unusual (as in rare). The other 99 percent of cultural aspects, which are part of the everyday fabric of one billion people, get very little mention because from the outside, nobody wants to know that at lunchtime the entire office sits down with their meals, sets them out for everyone to partake, and enjoys a camaraderie that I never thought possible in the workplace.

Or that when a foreigner gets on a packed rush hour train, he or she will get at least three offers of assistance in navigating the appropriate stop. These beautiful aspects don’t reach the outside reader because they are so common that they cannot be debated or sensationalized.

It is five years later and I am writing this from India. I found the culture so beautiful and the people so often amazing, that I chose to live here rather than stay in America.

Yes, Mr. Taylor, Americans do emigrate out of the United States. And I have met several people from the “developed Western world” who have chosen to come here and live as long-term expatriates. I’m not saying that there aren’t several aspects of Indian culture that aren’t challenging at times; there are indeed many problems. But they are also well known and well publicized, and efforts are underway to effect change. In fact, it is the publicity these issues receive here that makes me respect the place even more – there is very little NIMBY-type (Not In My Back Yard) thinking.

The point is, I am not upset with how Mr. Taylor characterized India, his mention of suttee which, incidentally, does still happen on occasion and is violently opposed by the vast majority of Indians even in the absence of the British or what I would term as narrow-mindedness.

Mr. Taylor is not to blame for having these “insights” into the non-American world. I was a liberal, politically correct and politically active student and found I also had the same prejudices once I was in a position to truly face myself. What I am frustrated with is our inability to recognize that what we tend to form our opinions on is already biased.

In India, while I often commiserate with some criticisms of the U.S., I also have to defend her because what reaches these shores depicts a nation filled with rapists, school children as gun-toting marauders and women allowing themselves to be videotaped having promiscuous sex.

Is this truly representative of the U.S.? No, but it is what is salient to the outsider who does not hear about the commonplace block party BBQ, the forever-happening toys/clothes/food drives for the needy and the other things that do make America one of the exceptional places to live.

Valerie Tripp is a Cal Poly alumna in Mumbai, India and a Mustang Daily guest columnist.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *