From July 28 to August 10, I was in the United States of America – spent a week attending the Cornell International Summer Debate Camp and another in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During this trip, I reconnoitred three world-renowned universities (Cornell, MIT and Harvard), stayed in three American cities (Ithaca, Syracuse and Cambridge), and developed my argumentation, daily living and social skills. There were too many noteworthy experiences that I had in the USA to recount, but I hope to sketch some of them in subsequent blog posts if time and circumstance permit. Having said that, the biggest highlights of my travels were not so much the experiences but more so the diversity of people I met and the stimulating conversations I had with a number of them. These are the individuals whose stories fascinated me, intrigued me, inspired me. These are the folks whom I would like to (anonymously) introduce to you.
- A Haitian gentleman who perhaps did not speak the best English, but was spirited and helpful, survived a car accident during an earthquake in Haiti six years ago, and has been living in the United States since just a little over a year
- A young person of colour originally from Kenya and now studying in South Africa who shared with me the implicit racial discrimination that still exists in his country even among the black community itself, such as the prioritization of a white customer over a customer of colour even by a black person
- A rising senior in an American university who is the COO of the largest student-run non-profit organisation in the world, has changed majors numerous times and is now fixed on Healthcare Management and Policy (and has favourable views on Obamacare), who clarified to me that despite being a Los Angeles resident she has never come across a Hollywood celebrity, and is visiting India as a babysitter of two young girls
- A radio astronomer at Harvard who explained to me some of the mathematics behind music, plays the flute, sitar and guitar, cooks avidly, laughs heartily, and who truly exemplified his scientific temperament in his little acts of persistent and rational problem-solving
- A Physics PHD recipient who chose motherhood over science in her life and is now an impassioned social learner, educator and volunteer with an aim to make online education available to everyone and everywhere and reduce global inequality
- An enthusiastic but measured kid who had had OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), was lucky to have been diagnosed early and received the requisite medications and therapy to largely alleviate this disorder, and recently spoke with other OCD-affected children at an international convention in Washington
- A religious Christian majoring in Physics who educated me about the Pascal’s wager (which I have pondered over and formed an opinion on since then) and elucidated his religious views such that they never directly conflicted with science
- A rising Sophomore in the US who posed to and discussed with me some very thought-provoking and debatable legal and judicial questions, gave me valuable insights about the services of a US college’s health centre, shared his story of critically examined and then reconsidering his own Islamic beliefs in a year at university, and who hopes to run for office in the future
- An airport employee who had to had adjusted her sleep schedule to be able to work for about 7 or so hours in the morning everyday but didn’t particularly mind her job because it enabled her to meet interesting people the world over, such as a senior French couple who once showed her real and astounding photographs of the Eiffel Tower
- A patent attorney who had several energy generation related patents himself, who explained to me the process of filing for a patent, importance of language and diagrams in a patent application, recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court on the patenting of software, and with whom I analysed the costs of patent applications (attorney fees, patent application fees, time spent by an inventor in technicalities, etc.) VS the benefits of a granted patent (exclusive licencing of a technology, device or innovation)
- An Indian origin Texan who is a mission control agent at NASA, considers Space Force valuable only if it was regulatory and research-oriented in nature and not militaristic, and who identified as socially liberal and fiscally conservative
Among honourable mentions, I would include – one of my debating teammates who was into wrappers so much that he proposed that our cohort be named after Kanye West and actually used Travis Scott’s song lyrics in his speech to prove a point, an Indian origin Kuwaiti camper who was always bubbly and energetic and expressed his vivacity through his cohort’s cheer “I Love America!”, and lastly, a fellow debater whom I beat in a fun debate on the first day itself where I supported naming our cohort “Big Orange” and he argued for “LeBron James” but who defeated us in the Finals of the debate tournament where his team proposed and mine opposed making college education free for all.
All In All…
I met folks from the length and breadth of the United States, Kuwait, United Kingdom, Kenya, Canada and Bahrain, as well as Americans of Indian and Chinese descent. I met individuals who were confident that KSI would win, who were uncertain if Trump would complete his term, who had internship experiences in political campaigns, criminal investigation and police departments, who had debating experience spanning several decades, and the list just keeps going on. I met people from different geographies and socio-cultural backgrounds, with different political ideologies, different religious views, different perspective on the world. But, the one commonality across the board was that everyone was willing to share, engage and learn. My trip to the US was totally worthwhile.