Making Connections Through Religion  

Doni Rizki Akbar, Indonesia, Indiana State University: I have two local families around my campus who really care about me. One family is Muslim and the other is Christian, and they are both like my host families. The first is the Alam family. They are a Bangladeshi-American family who have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years. There is a husband, wife, a son, and three daughters. The husband, whom I call “Uncle Alam,” is a doctor in the hospital in this city. I met this family because I frequently come to the Islamic Center in my host community and their house is next door. Uncle Alam is part of the management at the Center. While I always came to the Islamic Center by walking, after I got to know Uncle Alam, he picked me up from my dorm to go to the Islamic Center. Sometimes, during the weekend, he takes me to go somewhere with the other Muslim brothers. Every few days, his wife cooks South Asian foods just for me and Uncle Alam allowed me to borrow a refrigerator for my dorm room which was very helpful. Uncle Alam calls me almost every day just to ask my condition. He treats me like I am his son and frequently jokes to people in the Center that he wants to send his son to my country and exchange him for me. I am so glad to have the support of this family.

My second host family is the Lee family. They are a religious Christian American family whom I met at a Thanksgiving open house for international students which was hosted by a church organization. I went to that event with my teacher and friends from English language center in my campus. A few weeks later, Mrs. Lee sent me an invitation to celebrate Christmas with her family. After that Christmas evening, we started to become close to each other. The family frequently brings me to their church and invites me to lunch with them. I feel like their son. I am so glad to know both families and I enjoy learning about American culture from them. It’s nice to learn from people who are different from me. It makes me grow and become more mature.

Laddaphone (bottom left) with a few of the participants at the retreat

Laddaphone Chaleunphonh, Laos, University of Central Missouri: I recently attended a Women’s Retreat – a Christian activity that gathers many women to learn about Christianity, Jesus, and God. The Retreat is held at my host university’s Navigator club every year and more than 30 women joined this year. The staff of the event taught and guided all women to share our opinions about many interesting topics from the Bible. I, as an international student who also has different religious backgrounds, have never joined an event like this before. A member of my friendship family invited me, and while it was a new activity to me, I welcomed it. All the members were kind to me and listened to my opinion and understood that I might have questions about some of the topics.

From the Women’s Retreat, I learned two things. First, in American culture, religion is what people rely on to guide their behavior. I can see why Christianity is important to them. Religion encourages people to do good things and love themselves because God loves them. Second, I have learned about women’s empowerment. The Retreat’s objective is to encourage women as the women of God. It is emphasizes the role of women and never gives up on believing in ourselves. The Retreat taught us to always be faithful and believe in ourselves. We discussed and shared experiences about how important it is to be faithful to God, and to be faithful to ourselves even if there is a hard obstacles waiting for us. In my perspective, as a woman, it is so powerful and impressive that the Bible teaches women to never doubt being themselves. The Women’s Retreat, for me, was a fun cultural activity. I did not just learn about culture, but I also met some awesome women whose lives were changed and improved by God. It was such a great opportunity to make new friends.