Indian Professor's Journey From JNU To U.S. Education: Insights On Cultural Perspectives And Challenges

Indian Professor's Journey From JNU To U.S. Education: Insights On Cultural Perspectives And Challenges

Indian professor, Gaurav Pathania, shares his journey from JNU to U.S. education, highlighting cultural perspectives and challenges. Gain insights on the differences between education systems in the U.S. and India and the value of studying abroad.

Lavanya AhireUpdated: Sunday, January 21, 2024, 08:51 PM IST
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Prof. Gaurav Pathania |

While Indian students are making their presence felt throughout the world, they need to develop a comparative perspective to understand cultural nuances, this is what Gaurav Pathania, an assistant professor at Virginia’s Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) believes.

Speaking to The Free Press Journal (FPJ), Pathania shared his journey from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to EMU. He also shared valuable insights into educational perspectives abroad.

FPJ: How did your journey as a professor in the U.S. start?

Pathania: I hail from a small town in Haryana, I did my PhD in the Sociology of Education from JNU. After JNU, I came to the University of Massachusetts for a post-doctoral research project. I was also shortly attached to the University of Southern California, I had a mentor there who helped me. People have been kind and helped me get where I am. After this, I got to teach a course in social movements at Georgetown University.

They were looking for a scholar to teach the subjects and I had written a book on it. They didn't care about a PhD, an Indian PhD didn't hold a lot of value then, but the book I had written put me ahead of the competition. From there, I taught a lot of other courses at different universities and finally, I got a tenured position where I am right now, at Eastern Mennonite University. The last few years have been a struggle, you could say. 

FPJ: As a professor, how do you see the differences between the education system in the U.S. and India?

Pathania: The major difference is that the Indian education system is influenced by the British system of education, which is based on a lot of lecturing instead of interacting. In the U.S., you have to constantly engage students. It was a big challenge for me to adapt from a lecturing model to an interactive model.

The teaching in the U.S. is very student-oriented. It isn't teacher-centric, it's student-centric. In the U.S., we have more freedom to create our curriculum and to decide how we want to teach it. You can teach your curriculum however you want–you can take the students out to a movie. 

FPJ: Does education in the U.S. validate the cost that students have to bear to go and live there? 

Pathania: Higher education in the U.S. is very expensive. There is a job crisis because the demand is high and there's so much competition. Sometimes, even surviving in the U.S. is hard.

You need medical insurance – you end up paying a lot of money annually for it. When students have to decide, they need to keep the costs in mind. But if money isn't an issue, the U.S. has some of the best educational institutions in the world. 

FPJ: Why do you think students should study abroad?

Pathania: Data shows that the U.S. has more than a million international students, a majority of them Indian. India's middle class has started sending their children abroad for education.  Studying abroad, in my opinion, is a cultural experience that one should have. I tell my students here that they should also go live in other countries to have a varied cultural experience. Students need to develop a comparative perspective, how will they understand cultural nuance if they have no other culture to compare theirs to? I think exchange programmes between universities are important. Education is a globalised phenomenon.

If I was still sitting in my small town thinking that I'm the smartest person, I wouldn't have understood how much there is to learn. Students should have a chance to go abroad, and learn about new perspectives–it really changes you.

It changes your thought process, and your consciousness, and makes you understand how rich the world is culturally. At the same time, you understand your weaknesses and that's what makes us human. 

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