East Meets West creates opportunities for artistic collaboration, while focusing on diverse educational experiences around the world. While having a close-knit relationship with Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University (SSRU) in Thailand for five years, we wanted to focus this year’s hosting of SSRU on exploring how KSU and SSRU students perceive the influence that art and culture have on national identity. When we have travelled to Thailand during previous years, we were blessed to learn about their culture and physically visit sacred landmarks. We participated in being blessed by monks and joined along in classic Thai rituals. When the Thai students visited this past November, we felt that travelling to Washington, D.C. was a fitting way to explore our nation’s capital together. We were presented with specific ways that national identity in Thailand is linked to Thai history and culture. In visiting Washington, we wanted to ask ourselves and also our Thai guests to explore the contributions to African Americans and Native Americans on American identity and culture. Before we left for this trip, we conducted a survey that was to be filled out by each participant. The survey asked the students to describe the environment they grew up in and its diversity in terms of demographics (religious, racial, sexual organizations, socio-economic, etc.) and to give at least two examples of populations they perceived as being marginalized within the society they come from. Though Kent students had perceived Thailand to be a predominantly homogeneous country, what we learned about our guests from the survey and our visit to Washington completely shattered this illusion. As we continue our work toward making the world a better place by collaborations in the arts, we will take our new realizations of how national identity and culture, while imperfect and evolving, is a reflection of the struggles and contributions of all people.
Twenty students and faculty from Thailand and Kent State explored their perceptions of the contributions that marginalized populations make to national identity and culture regardless of their struggles within society. They shared their personal experiences by focusing on demographics (religious, racial, sexual organizations, socio-economic, etc.) allowing the students to see beyond preconceptions and realize that connections were individual, yet similar.