I have been blessed with the opportunity to conduct several international/multicultural research projects this past year with Texas A&M that have truly enriched my education in ways I could not have imagined at the start of my college career. As a liberal arts major coming to a well-known engineering school, I was a bit wary at first of my university of choice; however, as my freshman year has progressed and I have received opportunities such as the research involved in this Music in World Cultures course, I have come to see that I absolutely chose the right university for my education. My study of a Jewish worship service in particular has not only allowed me to learn the basics of ethical cultural research, but also given me a new perspective on the Jewish faith as well as my own.
Coming in to the course I was definitely wary of this big research project we were going to have to conduct; as they should, research projects generally take a large amount of time and effort that I, as an already swamped freshman, was not excited to expend. Even less exciting to me were all the seemingly tedious rules we had to follow in order to conduct ethical research on human beings and their cultures. I honestly rolled my eyes at first at some of the requirements we, as researchers, had to follow; however, the more I learned about research ethics the more I came to recognize the importance of learning and abiding by these rules. Not only did they preserve the wellbeing of the people involved, they also preserved the trust and cooperation of those people for further research of their culture in the future. The loss of trust, and therefore the loss of research opportunities, would mean no less than the loss of that culture to science; that would be a travesty to be avoided at all costs.
In addition to becoming familiar with ethical research guidelines, I also became more familiar with the faith that gave rise to my own. As a Christian studying Jewish worship I was already fairly familiar with several elements of their service: they sang scripture, such as the book of Psalms, which both faiths have in common, and they faced Jerusalem when they sang, which is a sacred site for both faiths. However, being from a culture that is predominantly Christian, it was tempting to understand Jewish beliefs and practices in my mind as purely historical artifacts; nothing could have been further from the truth. Many of the worshipers at the service I attended were students at A&M, people my age, and were kind and welcoming to my me and my group members; however, they also knew all of the ancient Hebrew prayers and songs and were obviously a part of the Jewish religious culture as well. It was a great eye-opener for me to realize that not only were the practices of Judaism still alive and well today, but that there was a young and vibrant Jewish community in my own town.
I have heard it said that the best sort of education teaches one simultaneously about others and oneself, and in the case of this course and similar research opportunities I would wholeheartedly agree. Being blessed to live in such a diverse world, I think it is imperative for any well-educated individual to engage with and study cultures other than their own; the cultures of neighbors and peers are, in my opinion, a fantastic place to begin.