Communications professor start the New Year in India


While University of Nebraska at Omaha students were taking a break from school, recovering from finals and celebrating the holidays, six UNO College of Communications faculty members were getting ready for a two week trip to India. On Dec. 27, the team departed. The travelers included two members from UNO radio and television who also teach for UNO, a faculty member from the international studies office and three full-time staff members from the UNO School of Communication.
The group went as part of a continuing $1.2 million grant project that has allowed the UNO School of Communication to work with journalism staff from Kabul University in Afghanistan. Although the three-year grant was supposed to be finished in July 2013, the department received a one-year no-cost extension because they hadn’t spent all of the money. This extended grant, which paid for all trip expenses, provided the perfect opportunity to give the UNO faculty a chance to travel to India and to finally meet with the people they had been working with from across the world.
Christmas break served as the ideal time for the UNO professors to make the trip because both UNO and Kabul University were on break. Due to the war and instability in Afghanistan, the faculty had to find a neutral site on which to meet with their international colleagues. Although it was a 25-hour flight from Omaha to India, it is a fairly short flight from Afghanistan and allowed Kabul to send more faculty members. Therefore, it was chosen as the meeting site.
During their time in India, UNO members spent the majority of their time teaching and sharing information with the Kabul staff. UNO professors mentored Kabul faculty on a list of topics that Kabul had previously requested. Most of the topics had to do with teaching the Kabul professors how to improve their teaching methods by introducing them to new approaches.
“Some of their older faculty members have been teaching for a long time, but they’re sort of used to traditional lectures to large groups of classes,” said Sherri Wilson, a UNO communications professor who went on the trip.
“We also talked a little bit about teaching, advertising and public relations, which is kind of something they’re just getting into,” Wilson said. “They haven’t really dealt with teaching those kinds of things very much, so we talked a little bit about that as well.”
Although the UNO professors taught the Kabul faculty a lot, they also learned just as much from them.
“I learn so much every time I’m with them,” said Dr. Chris Allen, who has made three of his own trips to Afghanistan. “I learn more about conditions in Afghanistan that are not filtered by our media but are an honest assessment of what things are like in Afghanistan.”
The UNO professors also learned a lot from the Kabul staff’s diverse culture.
“Any time that you do a cultural exchange and better understand people of different religions, cultures, backgrounds, attitudes, and then you add in the experiences of dealing daily with bouts of terrorism in their own town, you gain a perspective ultimately on yourself,” Allen said. “You gain a perspective on their country, on our country and on global attitudes. And you just learn about your own prejudices, your own biases and your own ignorance.”
Although the staff accomplished a lot of work on the trip, the travel was not all work. The faculty stayed in Dehli, India during the trip and had a weekend to travel and sightsee. On Saturday, the staff spent some time exploring the city of Delhi. They also visited the site where Gandhi, who helped India gain independence from Britain, was cremated. The trip to Gandhi’s memorial was the most moving moment of the trip for Dr. Allen.
“There are very few people in the world who are of a kindred spirit that way. [Gandhi] made such a global change, like Nelson Mandela and like Martin Luther King Jr. did,” Allen said.
The staff members also got the chance to visit the Red Fort, a historical place that was built in the 1600s. On Sunday, they went to Agra, a city south of Delhi and the location of the Taj Mahal. The UNO professors and the Kabul faculty loaded up in two vans and drove through the foggy Sunday weather to see what is considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
In the evenings, they spent time visiting markets all over Delhi that had many diverse items to buy. Allen also got to spend time visiting an Indian hospital as a patient because ofn an illness. He quickly recovered and said he was grateful for the excellent care and hospital facility that India provided.
The trip had been in the makings since last fall. Last semester, faculty members met for a couple of months every Thursday morning to plan what they were going to do and teach. While three groups of Kabul staff members and the Kabul dean have visited UNO over the last three and a half years, it was an opportunity for UNO professors to meet many of their overseas colleagues for the first time.
“The opportunity to work with people more closely than you usually would, to accomplish something as a result of it and to get really good feedback from the people you work with was rewarding,” said Wilson. Her favorite part of the trip was working with her domestic and foreign colleagues.
The staff is already hoping to apply for a new grant after the current one ends in July. They are also hopeful that they will be given another chance in the future to take another trip, as Allen said.
“There’s so much more I want to learn from them.”