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Global outlook

ONU president and first lady experience India in global expansion effort.

Part of Ohio Northern University’s vision for its future is to branch out globally and introduce new parts of the world to opportunities at ONU. On the other side of the world, ONU has recently planted some seeds for the future in Varanasi, India.

In January, ONU President Dan DiBiasio and First Lady Chris Burns-DiBiasio accompanied David Berger, mayor of Lima, Ohio, on a trip to Varanasi, India, to begin cultivating a potential new sister-city relationship between Lima and Varanasi. Both the DiBiasios and James and Karen Harder, president and first lady of Bluffton University, took Berger up on an invitation to attend as educational counterparts for the Lima area.

The invitation came at an opportune time for the University, since exploring connections with India had already been on ONU’s radar.

India has always been a country that we’ve been interested in for a number of different reasons,” DiBiasio says. “One of the reasons that ONU was interested in this is we obviously are interested in expanding our increasing number of international students and creating new opportunities for educational exchanges.

During the trip, DiBiasio spoke with faculty from several Indian educational institutions, including Banaras Hindu University, one of the largest residential universities in Asia. DiBiasio also connected with the International Hindu School, a secondary school roughly equivalent to a K-12 school here in the United States.

“As educational representatives, our primary purpose was to interact with our counterparts in some of the universities that were there and then specifically with the International Hindu School to talk about bridges that we might build to provide some opportunities for Indian graduates of those schools to attend U.S. universities,” he says.

Second only to China, India sends more students to American universities than any other country in the world. India is also the world’s biggest democracy, with a population of 1.2 billion people.

While DiBiasio indicated that educational exchanges between ONU and Indian institutions is a potential hope for the future, the main purpose of this trip was to get acquainted with the country, the city of Varanasi and its people.

“This was really a trip to get acquainted and learn what the possibilities might be for a relationship, to introduce ourselves and talk about what might be, and hear their thoughts and what was on their minds,” DiBiasio says.

ONU’s first couple came away from the trip with a multitude of curiosities and intrigues to ponder. From Varanasi’s many ancient temples to its zesty cuisine, the trip made a definite impression on them both.

Particularly striking was Varanasi’s dense population. The DiBiasios’ traveling group was actually escorted everywhere by armed guards, not because of danger but rather to guide them through the hectic flow of traffic. Traffic resembled organized chaos, with hundreds of people, motorized and human-powered rickshaws, cars, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles — all thrown together on a street as wide as Ada’s quaint Main Street. Cows could also be seen lazing about in the middle of the road, unmoved because of their holy status within Hinduism, one of India’s major religions.

The DiBiasios certainly learned a thing or two about Indian social norms as well. “There was no such thing as personal space,” Burns-DiBiasio humorously says.

Ultimately, though, it was the city’s people that made the most lasting impression on the DiBiasios.

“I’ve never been in a place where there were that many people; just the number of people was amazing,” DiBiasio says. “And the people were very warm and friendly. Even though many of them had what we would consider very little, there was a sense of contentment.”

As far as the trip’s outcome for ONU, DiBiasio envisions some potential scholarship opportunities to help some Indian secondary-school graduates in becoming Polar Bears, perhaps sooner rather than later. In addition, he foresees a potential connection between ONU and India as something akin to ONU’s Northern Without Borders student organization, which connects students with short-term service opportunities abroad.

Ultimately, both of the DiBiasios came away with a renewed appreciation for Indian culture. The experience allowed them to grow and expand their view of this world we all share, challenging some of their preconceptions of India and enhancing ONU’s mission for global expansion.

“It was good in so many ways to be challenged,” Burns-DiBiasio says. “We didn’t know what to expect, never having been to that part of the world before, but I liked the opportunity to learn about a new culture.”

And who knows? Perhaps one day there will be some new Polar Bears hailing from the land of Gandhi, discovering firsthand what Ohio Northern is all about. After all, every tree begins as a seed.