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Posted: January 22, 2013 10:52 p.m.

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Patel in the business of peace

Oxford freshman Kahaan Patel knew from a young age he wanted to be a businessman. In 2011, Patel made the move from Mumbai, India, to America, the world's most capitalistic country. If he wanted to be the best in business, he knew he had to learn from the best.

It was expected for Patel to attend college. His parents, sisters and everyone around him all attended. The only problem Patel faced was where to attend college. He knew he eventually wanted to study abroad, but did not know where.

Patel finally decided to study abroad in the United States. He toured many college campuses across the U.S., and he knew right away that Oxford was the place for him. He felt that the campus' small but warm community was the perfect transition into the U.S.

"Oxford offered that chance to really get acclimated in the entire culture and then move on to bigger things after they equip you with the tools." Although Patel felt that the area of Mumbai he grew up in was very westernized, he knew that his transition to America would still be challenging due to culture differences. Patel found the tight-knit Oxford campus a perfect in-between transition from Mumbai to the larger Atlanta Emory campus.

His adjustment to college life has so far been smooth. Like many freshmen, he hates the dining hall food, is adjusting to doing laundry on his own and is making many friends. What is remarkable about his experience is that his college best friend is a Pakistani.

Since the British gave India its independence in 1947, what was once one country - Pakistan and India became two due to politics, causing many bloody, tense conflicts between the bordering countries. From a young age, Pakistanis are taught to hate Indians and Indians are taught to hate Pakistanis.

This was the case for Patel as he grew up in Mumbai. "I didn't really understand the situation. You're told to hate the Pakistanis, but you don't really hate them. You just say it. Even if you ask a local Indian why he doesn't like Pakistanis, he doesn't know. He absolutely doesn't."

Patel's time at Oxford so far has made him think further of the border conflict back home. "When you come to a place like Oxford, you start thinking. We've been a nation for thousands of years; we were one nation about 50 years ago until we had some dumb argument and we split. It was between two politicians, not even the whole nation."

"My best friend is Pakistani on this campus and he was raised exactly the same way I was. We eat exactly the same food, we talk the same way, everything is the same. I have no idea what the difference is. The first day on campus I remember thinking he was Indian. If he didn't know I was Indian, he would have probably thought I was Pakistani."

Patel chose a liberal arts college such as Oxford to challenge himself in the classroom, but he soon found out that the very diverse campus would question his way of thinking as well.

"I learned so much. It changed my perspective completely."

A person who would have been an enemy back home in Mumbai has become Patel's closest friend at college. This change in perspective is very common among students at Oxford. Students with conflicting religious, ethnic or racial views have found themselves overcoming those boundaries, thus altering their perspectives entirely.

Patel's friendship with a Pakistani and his involvement in the Pakistani Student Association, despite being Indian, serves as hope for the peace that can hopefully be achieved between the two countries one day.

If the students can live in harmony on Oxford's campus, who is to say that these same actions cannot be implemented throughout the world in areas with such conflict between people of different culture, religion, ethnicity or race?

There is a tremendous amount that one can learn from Oxford's professors, but, as Patel proved, there is also a lot that one can learn from one's fellow colleagues. Patel, who hopes to attend Emory's Goizueta Business School one day, said Oxford is, "The best thing that could have possibly happened to me."

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