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Monday, July 20, 2009

Change Your Perspective: Join Student Exchange (2)

Yesterday I attended a farewell as well as welcoming party of AFS Semarang Chapter. As last year, my ‘duty’ was to give comments to students’ presentations. However, in this short article, I will not write about the students’ performance, but I will write a little about one returnee’s experience when he was in America.
This particular student—a male—is from one Islamic boarding school which is quite well-known from Central Java. The interesting thing was during one year in Uncle Sam’s country, he was sent to a Christian (or Catholic, I am not really sure about it). Before he left, people around him were a bit doubtful to let him go; with a similar reason of Eric’s parents (whose experience I wrote in this blog of mine too a year ago): they were worried if the so-called ungodly country would change the poor boy’s faith and he would be a devil’s followers. (Eric was sent to Norway which is said to have the highest percentage of non-believer citizens in the whole world.)
As Eric, this new returnee narrated his amazing experience how people in the whole Christian school did not marginalize him only because he was the only Muslim. Even they showed big interest on what Islam is, its teachings, bla bla bla, and especially it’s ‘jihad’. Why this experience is amazing for him, I believe, is caused by how Indonesian people (in religion’s area) show ‘the majority rules’ and ‘the minority follows’. (One very clear example in this case is during Ramadhan month how selfishly the majority asks the whole country to respect this month without reserve. All restaurants must be close in the morning without respecting other people who are not fasting, who perhaps need to go to a restaurant.)
Going back from America, this returnee is of course expected to tell his folks that the so-called ungodly country has taught him a very valuable lesson: the majority must respect the minority.
This story reminded me of one workmate who told me about one niece of hers. This niece was selected to go abroad after winning the selection of students exchange. At first, her family was not sure that she would get the chance since she was wearing ‘jilbab’. Therefore, then I explained that—in my opinion—the committee of this students exchange intentionally seemed to choose students whose religious familial background was strong: such as those who study in Islamic boarding school. They are expected to open their eyes that the teaching of their teachers as well as parents that religion is the only principle to make life better is not always right; that people whose religious ‘knowledge’ is strong will make good people (‘good’ here means will not do any harm to other people) can be biased.
What do the committee expect from this? The returnees will be moderate and will not be easily brainwashed by those fundamental Islamic teachings, let’s say to kill other people in the name of God. The returnees will respect people who do not always turn to religions when facing their lives because there are always other ways out.
Ever seen this T-shirt?

PT56 14.14 200709
P.S.: my post about Eric is here


triesti said...

Living abroad is very different than vacationing abroad. keep an open mind while staying abroad.

So just you know, I know enough ppl who becomes fanatic with their religion because they are living abroad. I think it's one of ways how ppl cope with a new situation/culture, another extreme way of coping is to "be more than locals".

WIth such exchange programme, they send impressionable teenagers. it can go either way.

I think as long as they remember that not all Indonesian thing/habits are 'right' (think jam karet), just as not all the new place's habit/way of life are 'right'.. pick the best of both worlds and making it their own, they will be ok.

A Feminist Blog said...

Dear Triesti,

When the first time I was 'awakened' by myself (via my own readings, contemplation, perhaps also triggered by my rebellious nature), I was almost 100% sure other people who have a chance to live abroad (coming out of the limited box called Indonesia) would easily agree with my opinion. Even, I thought they would be secular too, just like me.

However, I was wrong. A year ago a good friend of mine went back from her two-year study in US, and spiritually she didn't change at all. And I consider her as someone very bright.

I don't understand why and how. :(

Btw, she also studied about literature, one thing I also studied when pursuing my master's degree which was ONLY in Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia.

tiw tiw said...

i can say nothing but agree ma'am. for me, they (returnees who just came back) seem to have brighter and wider mind than a year ago, before they leave. i got my mind opened too, hearing their experiences.