Susan Hague: Delgado Fulbright Scholar reflects on teaching in India

Fulbright Scholar and Professor Susan Hague of Delgado Community College returned this fall from a year-long teaching appointment at the Goa Institute of Management (GIM), a private business school in Goa, India. Hague teaches speech and mass communication at Delgado and serves as faculty advisor for the College newspaper, The Dolphin. She is also the recipient of Delgado’s highest endowed honor, the Seymour Weiss Excellence in Teaching Award.

Promoting intercultural understanding is only one of the reasons Hague wanted to participate in the Fulbright Program.

“The value of personal connection is essential to increase our understanding of each other, and is at the heart of the Fulbright mission, as I understand it,” said Hague. “Our perception is our truth, but experiences can change our perceptions.”

The Fulbright program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the federal government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

Hague packed her bags with the intention to teach Interpersonal Communication, but when she arrived, the GIM students requested that she teach a course called Managing Change, instead. Managing Change looked at change from an individual’s perspective and what one could do to manage change and one’s response to it. In spite of the change, Hague taught the course parallel to Delgado’s semester, which gave students in the host country a chance to communicate with students enrolled in a similar course at Delgado, via video conference. On one occasion, 19 Delgado students exchanged questions and answers with about a dozen GIM students regarding their respective educational experiences. Hague plans to continue this linkage with GIM and Delgado. “It’ll be like travel without getting on the plane,” said Hague.

The GIM students in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, who were mostly between 20 to 30 years old, called Hague “professor” or “ma’am,” which made her feel respected. Before she left for India she said, “I am honored to share what I know with another part of the world, and I will probably learn more than I teach.” Upon her return she said, “Everything that I know how to do, India gave me a venue to do it in. I made strong connections with faculty there and I went to share what I knew with students and be useful. I went there to serve. And I was and I felt appreciated.”

Still in her first semester back home at Delgado, Hague has already facilitated a webinar with current students in her Introduction to Public Relations class with Professor Cedric Serpes, who teaches innovation and integrated marketing and communication courses at GIM. Hague chose India because she always wanted to visit the country and to reconnect with her colleague, friend, and Fulbright host coordinator. Hague met Serpes while attending graduate school at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette almost 23 years ago.

Travelling from New Orleans to India was an easy adjustment for Hague. She observed that the people of India prefer things to be colorful and that most events evolved around food just like New Orleans. “If New Orleans had a child it would be Goa,” said Hague. She also found that GIM was like Delgado, with an emphasis on workforce placement and practical skills and knowledge (“Education that works!”).

Hague believes in practical application of theory and knowledge. The experience of teaching students in another country provided Hague with first-hand examples and her students with first-hand experience in intercultural communication. The classes gave Indian students a chance to find out more about the United States and New Orleans, and it also gave American students a chance to find out more about India and Goa.

In Hague’s proposal for the Fulbright, she stated that the purpose of her project was to teach interpersonal communication to help students better understand themselves; the role of culture in communication; and the universality of the human need to be understood by and to understand family, friends, co-workers, managers, and professors. She thinks that this is often a missing piece in their education. That goal was accomplished for Hague and for all of the students that she linked together.

“When we have a friend in another part of the world, we care about that friend and that part of the world. It’s not an abstraction. For people, facts and reaction are not the same thing,” said Hague. “For example, the Tsunami is a fact. Katrina is a fact. Those are things that happened, but if you don’t know anyone that experienced that, you may just go on your merry way. We connect to things that are real to us. Our personal connections, our professional connections, and our friendships are how these things stitch the planet together.”