I found a great pleasure and an excitement when I involved in the event called as the International Night 2012 at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. This event was conducted as a way for the International Students and Scholars Services Officers to build and help students to engage together in one international activity. Coming from a country where most of the students were not mixed in terms of race and nationality challenged me, somehow, when I wanted to take part at this event. Last year, I had participated as well in the same event by doing the Flag and Culture Show, but for this time, I involved myself by doing something different and challenging for me. I performed a Rantak dance from West Sumatra Province, Indonesia. I did not know why I was so fascinated to involve at this event, especially knowing that I am a “Fulbright” scholar. Honestly, I know that I am a scholar, a big title for me by the way, but I feel that I do not consider myself as that “high”. I could think as a scholar-like, but in terms of personal and attitude, I do not have any difference with anybody else. I loved to engage with friends and hang out but, of course, this activity should be done for positive and useful purposes. For the purpose of blending and learning together with other students and friends from other countries, I said to myself that I had to take part, especially after knowing that life and living at SIUe are peaceful, in my terms. Although I did not have many Indonesian friends with me at SIUe, I did not feel lonely for I view and see the American and international students are just like me. We can talk and discuss different things, although at some points, especially dealing with “cultures and habits”, we tend to be different in unique ways respectively.
From Indonesia to the United States and to the Way of Recognizing and Understanding the World
I began to be interested in joining this event since last year, Fall 2011. I involved in the event called Flag and Cultural Show, which was handled by the same credible and friendly student from Nigeria-mix-the United States, SL (her initial). She helped the International Student Committee in handling the event by focusing on the Flag and Cultural Show. Of course, as usual, an event could not be handled by one single person, so the other stuffs were organized by other students as well. When I was in Indonesia, I always loved to participate in different events. I participated in the local and national events, either in the form of seminar or academic scholarly panel. I loved to participate at such events. Usually, I participated in the events like debate or speech competition. Now, I have something different. An event that is way so much different from what I used to face. This event is considered as an internationally-based event. Then, at the moment where I am in the United States now (at times I am writing this), I took a chance to join. I decided to join in order to expand my potential and unseal another talent I have within me, perhaps. Growing up in Indonesia was tough because things were not as I would perceive. I had to work and study hard to get a chance to study in the United States under this prestigious scholarship supported by the U.S Department of State.
When I involved at this International Night event, I saw many students came from different countries. From what I learn before coming to the United States, I knew that people coming from different countries will have their own persona and culture. So, it was true! I talked and discussed with them as if they were my friends from Indonesia. The only thing that is different between us is language. They have their own native language and so have I. We communicate in English to overcome these differences. As an English lecturer myself, I noticed that many students speak in different accents. In spite of that, we still communicate each other well. To me, I tend to view others as nice. I tend to avoid having negative thoughts about others. I do not like politics because people who come to this stuff, usually, tend to make things politicized, for I know that, not everything in this life can be politicized. The attention from parents, for instance, cannot be politicized. At this event, I tend to view myself as a student who learns new things. I open up my mind for everything, but of course, as a Muslim, I would not do anything that is forbidden in my religion, such as having promiscuous life, stealing, raping, or any other bad things. Although I am being surrounded with students who have different faith from mine, we could still talk and hang out together nicely because I did not see the differences as the big wall that blocks the way we communicate.
To make this International Night event came true, many students were needed and asked to be dedicated to come to the meetings, practices, and rehearsals. I view these things as ways for me to meet and talk with other students in such a natural context on campus. I met a student from Nigeria. She was so passionate and full of spirit in handling the event. I met students from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Latvia, Spain, Mexico, Morocco, Ghana, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, and from many other countries. Most of the times, other students and I talked and practiced before the events. I tell you one thing. It was so difficult to manage time and place to make these students could come and meet together. Everyone had their own stuffs to do. I had my schedule and so did other students. I had many texts to read and some assignments to finish. I would assume that other students had their own schedule and activities as well. However, we finally made it. We finally could realize it. Usually, we met in the afternoon at 5:00 pm before practising in the Morris University Center building. It took times for about almost six weeks before the actual performance.
At times when I involved at the event and talked to the other students, I noticed that we only had differences in terms of “nationalities” and “borders”. Outside of that, we were the same. We were students of SIUe. When I viewed them, I felt like I viewed myself. Differences that they had in the form of traditional dresses empowered me to see that beyond differences, there are similarities. Some people in the politics forgot about this thing. From every practices that we did, I learned that the meaning of being cooperative in international setting means we could work together hand in hand despite many differences that we may individually have. I was the only Indonesian person in this event, although later on I had Susi as my partner in carrying out Indonesian flag on stage. When I look at the different countries, I realized that many news that are presented in media did not present every people in an individual basis from that country. I met some lovely and nice students from Iran, although I usually heard some random stuffs about this country from news. When I met the students, I did not see any problematic things I saw. They were just like me. For other things that I would see as a “bit” different was the idea of me being a Muslim. I was surrounded by many friends who were believing in other religion, but I still could coöperate with them. I never see the differences as something problematic. However, as long as we keep focusing on the thing that we would like to pursue, then everything else will not matter.
Lessons that I could take from Participating at this Event
I learn a big lesson from this event. It is, “To be respected, we need to respect”. I do not think that every individual person on earth would think the same way as I do at this point due to different particularities that they individually may have, such as in what society that they grow up. However, I realized that everyone needs respect, but not everyone understands that to get respect, we need to give it first. I came to a point that all humans are made to be equal and no one deserves to call himself or herself superior that the other. In my belief as a Muslim, everyone bows and knees to Allah SWT, no matter who they are. Everyone respects one another and everyone does not sacrifice their pride over something that is materialistic. For other people, it might not be working as it should be, but I would argue that differences shall not make us all in barrier. Everyone deserves rights to live in a way that he or she needs. At last, understanding all these international communication and partnership helps me build positive and balance relationship through equal opportunities in such a wonderful international setting. Thank you, Fulbright, for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to learn and engage with many international students, including American students, to seek for meaningful social engagement. I learn new knowledge through the inquiries I have and I learn how to humane myself as an individual person in front of many people. I learn how to control and behave myself in front of people who might look different from me in terms of personal background. As a Muslim, coming to the United States strengthens my faith that all humans are the same in front of God (Allah SWT), but the thing that differs people is the actions that they do on earth. If they are Taqwa and doing good deeds, they are successful dunya and akherat. From my general perspective, I view that in this world, there are two types of people: bad and good. Bad and good could not be justified through individual assumption. Bad and good can be seen from our own attitude. If we do bad stuffs that harm our body, for example, we already are bad person. We do not want to be like this, right?
May all international students who participated in this event are granted with good grades and success in their life! Sekinat, Ashley, and Anni, without your hard work, this event would not be real. I enjoyed having nice conversation with you. Good luck!
All the best,
Syayid (December 14, 2012 – the end of Fall 2012 term at SIUe)
(Video of Rantak Dance that I performed at SIUe – just to share with you)