I <3 New York

Okay now where  did I leave off…

We left Bethlehem early in the morning (5am) to travel to one of the greatest and most well-known cities in the United States and in the world, New York.  It was still dark outside as we waited in the cool morning air for our bus to arrive.  When the bus came, I melted into my seat and drifted off into an hour-long nap,  I awoke to see stretches of highway and trees before me and the faint beginnings of a sunrise in the distance.  About a half hour later I could see the iconic New York City skyline and highway lanes swarming with traffic.  Approaching the city felt different to me this time.  I had never traveled to New York in a large group before and I began to worry about the logistics of our tightly planned itinerary.  I looked around the bus for the Indonesian students who were just waking up, their tired eyes brightening as they looked at the foreign city with excitement.

I’ve been to New York several times throughout my life and have enjoyed all of my experiences there.  Even though it was early morning the streets were bustling with people. I felt a jolt to my senses as I was suddenly hit with the sensation of being thrown into a crowded school of fish making their way up-stream at near lightening speeds.  When ever I travel to a big city I always have to take a minute to adjust my state of mind.  I must force myself to make the shift from the slow-paced, kindly, midwestern mentality to the aggressive, hyper-vigilant attitude that one needs to get from point A to point B in a city like New York.

The first place that we went to visit in New York was Wall Street and I finally got my picture with that big Wall Street bull (It probably has a name or something but I don’t know it).  We took some time to go into the breathtakingly beautiful Trinity church.  As we stopped to marvel at it from across the street, Fulvia (a life long New Yorker) shared with us her account of this area of New York and of the church following 9/11.  She told us about how there used to be hundreds of pictures and names of loved ones lost in the Twin Towers on the fences surrounding the church.  I could vaguely remember seeing news reports from the very area that we were standing and I couldn’t fathom how hard it must have been to be living in the city during such a difficult time.  It was a powerful moment for all of us to reflect 10 years later on such a tragic event.

So after visiting Trinity Church, we grabbed some New York street food and then headed to the New York harbor for a tour of the Statue of Liberty.  Despite having been to New York several times, I had never seen the Statue of Liberty up close.  It was pretty cool to finally see such a historic and cultural figure but it’s quite a shame that you can’t go up to her crown anymore due to security reasons.  And speaking of security, man was it tight (as it should be).  But I have to admit that standing around in 90 degree heat surrounded by a snaking line of eager tourist started to take its tole on me and after we got off the ferry I was relieved to be leaving the island.  After our visit to the Statue of Liberty, we went to Central Park to have lunch and to discuss this portion of the program.  The discussion was led by Lehigh prof Dr. Lloyd Stephen.

The discussion became really interesting when some of the Indonesian students brought their questions about how they could improve the Indonesian understanding and view of America at the grassroots level.  I could detect the frustration in their voices as they tried to explain to us the difficulty they were having with thinking about strategies that would effectively reach the people.  By the end of our lunch all of us had questions floating around in our minds but none of us really knew what the best answer(s) would be.

After lunch we went to meet with Daisy Khan, the executive director for the American Society for Muslim Advancement.  She shared with us stories about her own journey as a Muslim in American society and the identity issues that she faced throughout her life.  She explained to us how ASMA works to promote support within and outside of the American Muslim community to improve relations between different groups of people.  As she spoke with us I almost became tearful as I felt so inspired by everything she said to us.  She spoke to us about the importance of getting to know people and accept them on a human level in order to get past some of the stigmas and negative stereotypes people with conflicting cultures or viewpoints may have.

The Indonesian students asked her about how they could chance negative Muslim ideologies about Americans in Indonesia.   She explained to them that the best way to reach people would be to use the basic principles of the Quran as a means of exposing the importance of understanding one another and respecting one another.  She told us that much of the recruiting for extremist organisations starts at the grassroots level in places that are the most vulnerable or unstable.  However, by providing a counter movement that, through education, could promote understanding and peace you could stop people from getting pulled into such groups.  By the end of our meeting with her we were all feeling completely inspired.  As we walked to the subway getting ready to make our way back to Bethlehem we were all buzzing with excitement over the multiple epiphanies we had while speaking with such an influential person as Mrs. Daisy Khan.


America the Beautiful

I’ll quickly recap Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday we went to Philadelphia and went to the National Constitution Center and the Historical District.  We had lunch at Reading Terminal which basically made my day because I got to have my favorite soy chicken sandwich from this suuuper delicious vegetarian restaurant there.  I also got to see my sister briefly which was nice.  Later that evening I went to my first baseball game and unfortunately I didn’t really follow…any of it but it was still fun nonetheless.

Today was also pretty great, we went to the Moravian Museum in Bethlehem and learned a lot more about the early history of this city.  After that we got to have a pretty long chat with the mayor!  I couldn’t believe that he spent as much time with us as he did.  Oh my gosh, that reminds me I  think I completely forgot to mention that we also got to chat with the Sultan of Jogja in Indonesia too!! In both cases, they were both so gracious with their time and were so willing to talk with us and answer our questions.  Boy has this trip taken us to some important places.  I mean I can now say that I got to meet a Sultan, like seriously…how cool is that!?

But back to my day today, so after meeting with the mayor we went to Amish country and got to eat dinner with an Amish family!  Okay, the dinner was soooo good and I can’t stop thinking about the mashed potatoes we had there because they were amazing.  It’s funny because Amish country wasn’t completely what I was expecting because now a days there is more technology than I would have thought.  For example, many of them do have propane powered ovens and refrigerators.  They also have phones and some of the young people even have cell phones (I don’t think that is very common though).  The family we ate with was so kind and their home was lovely.  Before eating with the family, we went to a few shops and I had one of their famous pretzels and I also bought some honey mustard, pickles, and salve.  Tomorrow we are going to New York City…oh snap! One thing I will say about this portion of the trip is that I am looking at my own country with new eyes having the Indonesian students here and I must say that America is in fact quite beautiful.


While it was sad to leave Indonesia, it was great to come back to the United States and be reunited with out Indonesian friends! Much of our time in Michigan was spent in Detroit, learning about the city and its rich history. We went to the Charles H. Wright African American museum in Detroit and had a wonderful tour. Our tour guides were from the different eras in African American history and it took the group a little while to figure out that their accents were fake. We also had a themed tour of the underground railroad tour at the First Congregation Church in Detroit and the Indonesians asked if all museums in the US were like that.

Anyway, all the time we spent learning about race relations in America really got me thinking about our country’s history. The United States prides itself on freedom and equality, yet we struggled (and still do struggle) to grant those values to every citizen. For the Indonesian students, it was their first introduction to slavery in the United States and they didn’t quite understand the concept of the underground railroad. By explaining slavery, the civil rights movement, rascism, and the experience of African Americans in the US, I began to see just how dark and horrible our history is. Slavery, an institution that lasted far too long in my opinion, was something that was based on the color of someone’s skin, enforced because of economic reasons and justified by the bible. It was interesting to see the way in which religion in the United States had a profound impact on , both for and against it. I think that slavery is a good example of how religion and religious teachings can often be used in a manner that has negative effects on the lives of many. When you reflect on slavery and the intense struggle that African Americans have had with American civil society, you start to realize just how significant it is that we have a black President.

When we were Indonesia, Jack was telling the Indonesians how Americans typically tend to shy away from any discussion that relates to race-relations today. Many people prefer to think that rascism and tense white-black relations are things of the past, but in reality, they are even more pressing than they were before.

Another day in Detroit we went to the Capuchin soup kitchen which was probably my favorite place on the Michigan part of the trip. We ate our lunch there and then worked in the community farm, Earth Works. We learned about the Capuchin friars and about the work the soup kitchen does to empower its surrounding community. I personally love when organizations don’t simply “help” those in need, instead they give them to tools and basic information for them to help themselves, giving them agency in their lives. It’s a truly remarkable organization and I love the locally grown food aspect. In Detroit, there’s really not a lot of access to fresh fruits and vegetables and people really don’t have a lot of options when it comes to grocery shopping. Capuchin Kitchen, however, saw an opportunity with empty lots of land and changed them into something productive for the community.

While we were there, we also got the chance to meet with a Friar who told us a little bit about the Capuchins and Saint Francis. Saint Francis was someone who believed in the equality for all people. regardless of gender, race or economic standing. He devoted his life to working with marginalized people, something the Capuchin friars still do today. I think that in the United States, there’s a common perception that religious institutions are corrupt and inherenetly evil. To those people, I would ask them to spend a day at the Capuchin soup kitchen and they would see just how powerful a faith-based organization can be in revitalizing a community.

Tomorrow we’re headed to NYC to see the Statue of Liberty among many other things. We have an early morning and have to be at the bus station by 5:30am.

Thanks for reading and check back for more updates on our exciting travels and learning experiences!


USA continued…

I’m in the final week of this great program and we’re wrapping it up in the East Coast.  We’ve spent five days in Bethlehem Pennsylvania at Lehigh University.  Lehigh is an interesting college in that it was constructed along a mountain so there are tons of hills.  The student housing is at the top and then most university buildings are at the bottom of the hill.  I sure do feel like a pansy complaining about walking up the hills to go to breakfast at Rathbone every morning for four whopping days when the Lehigh students have to walk up and down these hills all the time.  The campus is really lovely and there are a lot of old buildings and more traditional style architecture.

Anyway, on my first day in Bethlehem we began by getting a very thorough lesson about the basics of the U.S constitution and the creation of the Federalist papers.  I was really glad to have the lesson because embarrassing as it is, I really don’t have a very comprehensive knowledge of U.S history or the inner workings of our democracy.  But I do now! After that we went to the Global Union at Lehigh to see a movie about their preparation for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Lehigh in 2008.  The video was quite interesting because we got to see some excerpts from his private and public speeches and we also got to see how the university spent an entire year creating activities and classes to prepare for his visit.

Debra, our program coordinator/supervisor at Lehigh was one of the main people who put together the entire event and she was able to give us the inside scoop on preparing for such an important and dynamic person.  I’ve started reading his autobiography and it is quite good.  The video worked as a good segway into the next days activity, a visit to the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in New Jersey.  The center was located deep in the woods and was absolutely beautiful.  I took an introductory Buddhism class last year so quite a few things that we learned about were pretty familiar to me.  We got to observe a Buddhist service that was in a room with gorgeous colors and flowers and statues of the current Buddha and the next Buddha as well as a few other important figures in modern Tibetan Buddhism.  The service began with an explanation of the prayers and chants that would be recited and the entire service lasted about an hour.

After the service, we went to have lunch and then when we returned to the center in the afternoon to sit in on the class that discusses and interprets Buddhist texts.  What I liked about the class is that people were able to apply the texts to handling issues and challenges in their own lives .  Unlike in Indonesia, Buddhism didn’t really become popular in the U.S until hippies thought it was “far out” :p  Also, it is my understanding that Buddhism really isn’t very common in Indonesia though I don’t really think that it’s all that common in the U.S either.  At the end we got the honor of briefly meeting with a very old Tibetan monk who was staying at the center.  The center was also the place where His Holiness the Dalai Lama stayed when he spoke at Lehigh.

Debra told us a story about His Holiness that really struck me.  She told me that there were some Tibetan people from the area that wanted to protest during his time at Lehigh.  They protested the fact that His Holiness isn’t against Tibet becoming apart of China if the culture and religion is still respectfully preserved.  And upon hearing that people wanted to protest, His Holiness not only accepted this but encouraged it and requested that the protesters be placed in the front of the spectators instead of far off in the back of the crowd.  I think that this demonstrates not only how kind and accepting he is but it also shows how important having the ability to engage in dialogue is.  Furthermore, through his actions, His Holiness demonstrates the need to hear and consider everyone’s opinions even if they are in opposition to your own.  I think that this lesson can really apply to what we’re doing here because with many of the things that we’ve done it has been really crucial that all of us keep an open mind.  Especially when visiting the religious organizations and services we’ve been to in both the U.S and Indonesia, I have been truly delighted by the openness that we have had as well as those we’ve met from those various places.  I have seen since being on this trip that in Indonesia there are religious groups that are closed off to the idea of learning about other religions or aspects of life that they are not accustomed to and the same certainly goes for the U.S as well.

As for differences in the place that religion has in both Indonesian society and American society I will say this.  Because of the separation of church and state that we have in our constitution,  religion is considered something that is more of a private issue than in Indonesia.  I think I may have already mentioned how Indonesia requires people to claim religious affiliation of some kind (within the 6 recognized world religions).  Basically, I feel like race is to the United States what religion is to Indonesian society.  Both are important ways of dividing people and also bringing them together.  They are those hot topics that can be really loaded and stir up a lot of passion in people.


I love irony.

So while I’m in Indonesia I’m popping Imodium and Tums like candy and worrying that I would get owned by the “D” and be confined to the bathroom for hours.  Then, only once I’m on my way back from Indonesia after having a nutritious Burger King dinner at the airport in Singapore do I get sick.  I will spare you all the details but I will say that my stomach has probably never been through so much turmoil before.

Anyway, once we got to Michigan we went to visit Pine View, a Pentecostal church in Ypsilanti… a definite first for me.  Though I am not a person who identifies as being “religious” I can appreciate religion and find it fascinating to see how deeply a religion can affect people.  And I must admit that I have never seen a religion touch people as powerfully it did at Pine View.  I enjoyed seeing all of the joy that religion brought those people and I really got into the music.  I had one of the songs stuck in my head the other day haha.  One of the most notable features about the church that I really respected was how racially diverse it was.  I feel like most American churches are racially segregated so it was really nice to see blacks and whites worshiping together and supporting one another.

After going to Pine View, we went to the Islamic Center in Dearborn where I got an even better understanding of Islam and the interreligious issues that Muslims face in America.  The next day we went to the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning at U of M to learn about the new Interfaith Action program that’s been created on campus.  It is interesting being back in the United States after having spent time in Indonesia.  From what I gathered from our lectures in Indonesia, more conflict stems from religious issues rather than racial issues (as it is in America).  However, while I believe that race will always play a rather significant role in this country, I do believe that in America today it is increasingly important to promote interreligious dialogue and understanding.

In several discussions in Indonesia and in the U.S we have talked about how negatively Muslims have been portrayed (especially in the media) after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  I feel that when the attacks happened, it sent a surge of panic through every American household and suddenly instead of worrying about a nuclear disaster or contracting lyme disease, Americans all over the country became consumed by a new fear, the fear of Muslim terrorists.  It was as if after 9/11 equating Islam with terrorism became so wide spread that it became difficult to rationally think about what  exactly were creating by the reactions we had in this country.  This trip has really made me realize the importance of truly interacting with individuals or groups that may be misunderstood or stigmatized in society.  Even though one can read about Islam and about how peaceful most sects of Islam are, it simply does not have the same effect as being able to sit down and engage in dialogue.  Because it is only when we are given the chance to interact on a human level that we can realize that while we may have differences, there are also many commonalities that we share as people trying to live, laugh, and love in this crazy world of ours.

But anyway…the next day I was really sick and didn’t get to go to the African American History museum and the Ford Rouge Factory in Detroit.  But the next day I got to go to Detroit to volunteer at Earthworks Urban Farm.  I was really excited about this because I have known many U of M students who have volunteered there.  I must say that I think that what they do out there is so great and really admirable work.  It’s no secret that Detroit has been struggling for some time now and it is really lovely to see that there are people out there trying to change the city and improve the lives of those who live there.  While we were there we got to have a really tasty meal (though I couldn’t really enjoy it due to illness) and then we cleaned yellow and white onions.  Lastly, we went out to one of their gardens and transferred broccoli sproutlings to new soil.  It was really fun and I also bought some of their FANTASTIC honey.  I can’t wait to cook with it!  Going to Earthworks made me feel hopeful for Detroit.  And then our trip concluded Thursday with canoeing at Gallop Park and later having a great dinner at Kate’s house.

Now I’m in Bethlehem Pennsylvania at the gorgeous campus of Lehigh University and with that…I think I’m all caught up now!

Oh and did I mention how nice it is to be in the position of helping the Indonesian students and their answering questions, and explaining American food and culture.  After all of the questions I had there and all of the patience and kindness they have all shown to us, I want to make sure that I can make it up to them now that I’m feeling well again 🙂

Images from Michigan

At the Detroit river

At the Islamic Center 0f America, Dearborn

Eating ice cream at Washtenaw Dairy, a Michigan summer tradition

Our last night in Michigan

Interfaith/ African American History Museum

Yesterday we visited the Ginsberg Center at the University of Michigan. The Ginsberg Center is focused on community service and learning in particular interfaith action/dialogue. As part of their dedication to interfaith action, the center is active in bringing together various faith based groups on campus as well as students in order to discuss topics and misconceptions that in any other case would never be discussed. The interesting thing we learned about the University of Michigan is that as a public university the school does not have a religion major or religious study department. Classes in religious subjects are still taught but they are taught under a specific area study such as Asian studies. Students of all faiths sitting down together and discussing religion, bringing into question all the misconceptions people have of one another, and educating others about their religion is to me one of the principle ways that we will finally begin to break down the stereotypes that are continuously placed on various religions. As we travel along with Indonesian students we have learned more and more about the misconceptions both sides have about one another and where these misconceptions stem from. As we live and study with the Indonesian students, it is interesting to go back and forth and discuss the misconceptions that exist among people in our respective society. It is through this type of interaction that both American and Indonesian groups have developed a greater understanding and respect for the diversity in religion and culture that exist in society.

Today we had the opportunity to visit the museum of African American History in Detroit. The struggle of African Americans beginning with slavery to today’s issues with racism and stereotypes has been an intricate part of the development of American History. As we entered the museum and began learning about the history of African Americans starting in the continent of Africa and slavery, I began to think of the idea of multiculturalism and religion in the United States and how it has developed. Although in Indonesia we observed that the problem with multiculturalism, religion, and pluralism stems more from a religious aspect, in the United States most stem from racial tension that exists. Although we accept and recognize all types and forms of religion there is still a large issue of race and how it is dealt with today. For the Indonesian students learning about the history of African Americans gave them the other side of “democracy” in our country and the price and struggle for freedom that some of our citizens had to pay. They might have found it shocking for America a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice” for all to have such a dark history but I think it was key in understanding the overall idea of democracy and its development in the United states.

Until next time =)