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Dinner with Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations since January 2016, came to International House for dinner in the historic Davis Hall. Akbaruddin spoke about his life and work as a diplomat and took questions from I-House Residents. Kanishk Tharoor, a writer and broadcaster who has written for publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, and The Hindu, was the moderator. Akbaruddin began by speaking of his first posting overseas to Saudi Arabia where he came to be known as, “the man obsessed with death,” he joked, because of his fixation with ensuring smooth transport of Indians who died in Saudi Arabia back to their homes. He then laid out the journey of his career from helping individuals and small groups, to doing work that could affect whole areas of society, as well as his own country. He joked that when he was a young diplomat he envied the ambassadors, but “Now I envy the young diplomats.” Many of his discussion points focused upon the environment and the cross-nation collaborations happening currently around that issue. He spoke of how essential it was for all of young people to get involved. “I’m not the right representative. We need the young.” The Ambassador also shared his insights on the current state of international relations and spoke of the UN as a platform, as opposed to an implementer of change. “Naming and shaming is not the way to promote democracy,” he stated, which was met by applause by Residents. According to Akbaruddin, India’s priorities are extremely domestic and inwardly focused because until they address their own problems they can’t focus on the external. He also referred to China as India’s “frenemy.” He referred to the International House as “a mini UN,” advising Residents that the keys to success in a diplomatic position are humility, and respect.

So what did International House Residents think of the event…

Yogesh Garg, a Computer Scientist from Rohtak, India, has been living at I-House since August 2017 while studying at Columbia. He attended the event to “meet the ambassador of his country to the UN and to hear his views on issues related to international policy.” He said this event and events like it help increase his social awareness in a world of growing nationalism and understand what needs to be done to foster unity. Olivia Cadwell, from Seattle, Washington, has been at I-House since August and is studying toward her MA and PhD in Social Psychology at the New School.  Olivia’s I-House in Three Words: Ambition, Innovation, Communication. “I hoped to learn more about the global processes and politics at the UN,” she explained. “The moderator was an excellent conversationalist and I enjoyed the dialogue and questions asked by fellow Residents.” “I also learned that Pehlwani is a sport very unlike Cricket.” Rohail Khan is a two-year Resident in I-House and currently working as a Product Manager at IHS Markit. He is from Islamabad, Pakistan. Rohail’s I-House in Three Words: Feels like home. “I was looking to get some insight into some of the controversies that the sub-continent is embroiled in,” he admitted. “The ambassador, as is expected, was very diplomatic throughout.” He did, however, enjoy hearing about Indo-China relations and India’s focus on climate change. DeVante Allen has lived at I-House for three months and is from Northern California. He is currently a student at Teacher’s College’s Spirituality, Mind-Body Institute. “I came to the event because I was interested in how someone who is a part of a global organization advocates for their entire country and learn what they do to effectively enact change,” he explained. “I enjoyed listening to all of my I-House friends as they asked questions as representatives of where they come from. It’s amazing to hear people’s perspective on global political movements, whether it be from Residents who have dedicated their lives to studying these topics; Residents who are actually from a specific area, and can comment on the way policies have effected their immediate communities; and officials who are on the front lines of these policy reforms.” Ivana Dizdar, from Serbia and Canada, has only been at I-House for two months and is working toward an MA in Curatorial Studies (modern and contemporary art) at Columbia and a career as an artist and filmmaker. “I appreciated Ambassador Akbaruddin’s positivity and also his honesty — his ability to speak diplomatically about issues and not sugarcoat them. His serious approach to human and global issues, as well as his sense of humor, made it not only informative and stimulating, but also an enjoyable event.” “I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to attend events like these on a regular basis. The diverse speakers that come to I-House inspire my research interests, artistic interests, professional interests, and my approach to activism and social betterment.” International House residents have unique opportunities to meet and engage with  various interesting and exciting figures throughout the year. Over the next few weeks, Residents will discuss America’s criminal justice system with 2017 National Book Award Winner James Forman, Jr.; the multifaceted issues surrounding sexual health and its progress globally with Planned Parenthood Global Executive Director Latanya Mapp Frett; and much more. The I-House calendar lists these and other upcoming events for Residents.