Tastes of Illinois

It has only been my third week in the U.S., yet I have done quite many exciting activities. The four main activities that I wish to highlight are Indonesia’s Presidential Election Day, “Taste of Chicago” food festival, “Iftar in the Synagogue”, and Baha’i House of Worship tour. Within such a short period of time, I have gained a tremendous amount of lessons and I thought they needed to be organized and shared in this blog.


Indonesia’s Presidential Election Day  – July 6

The ballot took place at the Indonesian Cultural Center in downtown Chicago. It was a very meaningful day because my colleagues and I were able to interact with fellow countrymen of different backgrounds and hometowns who came to the U.S. for a common purpose: either to pursue higher education or professional training. Insightful exchanges about studying in the U.S. and current socio-political concerns in Indonesia became the icebreaker of our interaction with our new Indonesian friends. And for the purpose of celebrating Indonesia’s democracy, there could not have been a better way than to end the day with giant slices of Chicago-style meatball pizza with our new friends. Not that Indonesia’s democracy has anything to do with American food, but what I am trying to emphasize is that the day also marked my first encounter with a supersized pizza containing large meatballs—and therefore is worth noted in this blog.


Taste of Chicago – July 11

Held every summer at Grant Park, this food festival was so much fun because of three reasons. First, I found my favorite food: alligator sausage. It had been awhile since I last had alligator meat, and after finally being able to taste it again, I felt partially good—and partially like a mean predator, ready to eat some more food. The alligator sausage’s BBQ sauce, more importantly, was undeniably delicious. Second, I was able to restrain myself from eating one whole piece of the festival’s legendary and massive turkey leg (and if you have a hard time imagining its size, think of Fred Flintstone’s drumstick). It was very tempting to see one of my colleagues slowly enjoying his burning red turkey leg, so having been able to reject those hundreds of calories was an achievement for me. Third, I enjoyed seeing and being in the crowd. It was fun to hear catchphrases that I have never heard before from people around—it felt like watching my favorite American TV series live. Additionally, it was simply lovely to observe the diversity of the people of Chicago and their stylish summer holiday attire.


Iftar in the Synagogue – July 17

Thanks to Theresa and Melvin, who are foster relatives of Wara (my colleague from the sociology department), I was able to experience this engaging dialogue between Jewish and Muslim communities in Chicago. Hosted by the Chicago Sinai Congregation in its grand synagogue at Delaware Street, main highlights of the event were keynote speeches from the distinguished Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan and Rabbi Michael Balinsky. Both emphasized on the importance of mutual understanding and empathy towards one another as human beings, regardless of religion or beliefs (please also see Wara’s exclusive report about the important message delivered by both religious leaders). It was also my first time to join in prayer with a Jewish congregation. Listening to how the members recite and sing their prayers in Hebrew was priceless. Somehow I felt very much like attending an ordinary Mass. After the brief ceremony, it was our Muslim brothers and sisters’ time to break their day of fasting by praying the salat inside the chapel on the west side of the synagogue. Led by a young imam who happened to live in Evanston as well, people who wished to observe the salat were welcomed to enter the chapel. A Mediterranean dinner with everyone present followed next. It was overbooked that as walk-ins, my group unfortunately could not socialize further and join the dinner this time. Now that we know about this meaningful event, perhaps we will register to attend the entire program in advance next time.


Baha’i House of Worship Tour – July 26

Last but not least, just before the first day of my summer program in the International Summer Institute (ISI), my program manager Beth took my colleagues and I to visit a gorgeous Baha’i temple at Wilmette. The surprising fact about the temple was its being the center of Baha’i Faith in the North American continent. Situated in the middle of a lovely and upper class suburban neighborhood, the hectagonal temple stood grand and looked very much like a mosque from afar. Traceries on its pillars were unique and—I wanted to say jaw dropping—but perhaps eye-popping would be the accurate term in this case. You could find the Crucifix, Star of David, Swastika, Wheel of Dharma, cathedral arches, Arabic calligraphies, and many other religious symbols of the world on the temple’s eight pillars. Inside the temple, the altar was simple: one glassed podium with two sheets of Persian carpets beneath it. High above the altar was a dome with Arabic characters for “Ya Baha’u’l-Abha” which meant “O Glory of the All Glorious” (The Baha’i House of Worship pamphlet, 2014) engraved in gold.



From the presence of a large Indonesian community, the availability of all kinds of food, to the diversity of faiths, these past couple of weeks have shown me the many delightful tastes of Illinois. Hopefully the above experiences suffice to confirm that effective learning could be done beyond the classroom.

Situation of the ballot on Indonesian Election Day in the Indonesian Cultural Center near Jackson (blue line "EL") was well-coordinated.

Situation of the ballot on Indonesian Election Day in the Indonesian Cultural Center near Jackson (blue line “EL”) was well-coordinated.

The food stands in "Taste of Chicago" festival were all so tempting.

The food stands in “Taste of Chicago” festival were all so tempting.

Iftar in the Synagogue is a synergy between Jewish and Muslim communities in Chicago.

After our Muslim brothers and sisters finished delivering their salat, hosts from the Jewish community ushered them to the dining room for their get-together dinner.

Traceries on The Baha'i House of Worship's pillars incorporated all the religious symbols of the world.

Traceries on The Baha’i House of Worship’s pillars incorporated all the religious symbols of the world.


IFTAR IN THE SYNAGOGUE: Shared Community, Shared Responsibility, and Shared Dinner

By Wara Urwasi

When Hamas militants and Israel were exchanging rocket fire and airstrikes on Thursday, 17th of July, the Muslims and Jewish community in Chicago were busy sharing their prayers and meals.

It was a privilege for the three of us (Yoes, Sabina and I), to be able to attend an interfaith gathering of Muslim and Jewish community in Chicago Sinai Congregation on Thursday evening. Thanks to our foster family, Theresa Cameron and Melvin who had invited us to this event.

Iftar in the Synagogue is an annual event organized by the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative (JMCBI) since 2005. Iftar is breaking the fast during the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. The uniqueness of this event is that the Muslims in Chicago were not only breaking their fast in a Synagogue, but also carrying out their prayers, as well as sharing their stories and culture with the Jewish community.

The theme of the event is “Rekindle Our Faith, Renew Our Community”, which expresses the common goal of both communities to bring hope, harmony and vitality to the city of Chicago through their faith traditions, as mentioned in their media coverage. The event was packed with people, showing the enthusiasm from both communities to get to know their differences and similarities. They also came from a variety of ethnicity, nationality, and age group. This event sought to navigate these differences, bring together hundreds of people for a celebration of Ramadan and forge friendship between religions. The evening included speeches from engaging speakers, Jewish and Muslim prayers, Kosher/halal dinner and discussions.


Muslims and Jewish community gathered together at Chicago Sinai Congregation

Muslims and Jewish community gathered together at Chicago Sinai Congregation

The speakers were Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan who is an Assistant Director of the Office of Religious Diversity at DePaul University, and Rabbi Michael Balinsky, the Executive Vice President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis. In their speeches, both Imam and Rabbi underlined the importance of building up a community outside their religious groups, paying more attention to the local and domestic issues in their neighborhood, and sharing their responsibilities as the citizens of Chicago. Both speakers also revealed their concerns on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as on the insurgencies in Syria and Iraq. However, they also reminded that those conflicts should not destroy the community cohesion in Chicago. Instead, they also suggested the community to respond and act to several problems that are closer to the place they live, to help the poor and the marginalized people, as Chicago has a significant issue in terms of urban poverty, violence, and racism.

Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan

Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan

Rabbi Michael Balinsky

Rabbi Michael Balinsky

After the speech from the two speakers, the event was continued with a prayer. The Jews conducted their worship in one room, while Muslims performed their prayers in the other room. The Jewish people were also welcomed to observe and even participate in the Muslim prayers.

Surely Iftar was the focal point of this event, with a dish of kosher and halal food, which is also a similarity for Muslims and Jews. Both groups were sitting in one table, getting to know each other, and exchanging knowledge about their faith and traditional customs.

The gathering is certainly a unique learning, which needs to be told to a wider community. It is an initiative to bring Jews and Muslims into a single community in addressing city problems, especially with regard to religious hatred and discrimination. It also leaves a legacy for the children to build friendship regardless ethnicity and religion.

Interfaith harmony should become a headline of our media, instead of bombardment news on wars and other conflicts. This event is exemplary for other cities and nations where shared spaces need to be created in the midst of segregation between ethnic, racial, and religious communities, particularly in Indonesia as the largest Muslim country in the world. We should be able to create a space of interfaith dialogue, and to get to know our neighbors without stereotypes and negative judgments, as mentioned in the commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.

From left to right: Sabina, Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan, Yoes, Melvin, Theresa Cameron

From left to right: Sabina, Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan, Yoes, Melvin, Theresa Cameron




Reflections from My First 4th of July

On my first ever American 4th of July, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to connect with Lucas and Mary Helen, perhaps one of America’s loveliest couples. They had given Yoes (my colleague) and me the perfect 4th of July celebration by taking us to watch the annual Evanston parade in the afternoon and fireworks in the evening. From this experience, I would like to focus more on the parade which thrilled me the most.

The parade I witnessed in Evanston gave me the impression of civic cooperation. That day, I learned three things from the people of Evanston: their demonstrated passion in celebrating Independence Day; creativity to show the community’s potentials and businesses; and wonderful ways to unite the community.

Referring to my first point, I was in awe of the amount of passion the people of Evanston demonstrated through each of the parade’s entries. They also showed the true spirit of independence. There were 110 entries and they represented the diverse groups in the community from sports, music, religious affiliations, politics, etc. Groups defending different and even opposing views all participated, yet everything ran graciously and peacefully; the audience was very appreciative of every participating entry. Members of the parade waved to the audience and people actually waved backed in return to support them.

For my second point, I find the parade to be an effective way to showcase Evanston’s creative and business potentials. Of the 110 entries, I noticed 16 entries were musical/cultural groups, and 12 entries were small businesses. Imagine the exposure and how many prospective members and customers those groups could attract!

Finally, the parade was a good medium for families to spend time together and for the people of Evanston in general to bond with one another. There was a sense of unity and nationalism throughout the event. The spectators were cheerful and excited to see someone they know performing in the parade or simply the public figures who had coordinated all the activities for Independence Day.

From the points above, I would like to conclude that such parade is a great example for effective community-building. Parades should be done more frequently in small communities in Jakarta. With the many advantages as the above, such a parade in smaller local communities could be an effective means in uniting and building the people of Jakarta.

The "Pro-Choice Coalition" participating in the parade for a cause.

The “Pro-Choice Coalition” participating in the parade for a cause.

Associacion de Charros La Mesa: Entry from Evanston's Hispanic community.

Associacion de Charros La Mesa: Entry from Evanston’s Hispanic community.

Mel and Mel-o-Dee and their Calliope: Demonstrating one of Evanstonians' musical talents.

Mel and Mel-o-Dee and their Calliope: Demonstrating one of Evanstonians’ musical talents.

Genesis Drum & Bugle Corps: One of the best musical performances from the parade.

Genesis Drum & Bugle Corps: One of the best musical performances from the parade.

Waving with Pride: A sense of unity and nationalism among entries and spectators throughout the parade.

Waving with Pride: A sense of unity and nationalism among entries and spectators throughout the parade.

Everyone enjoyed the parade!

Everyone enjoyed the parade!

Post-Parade Picnic: Mary Helen and Lucas explaining the traditional way to have an authentic 4th of July picnic to Yoes.

Post-Parade Picnic: Mary Helen and Lucas explaining the traditional way to have an authentic 4th of July picnic to Yoes.

The weather was fine but also very windy; hence, the jacket and long sleeve shirt.

The weather was fine but also very windy; hence, the jacket and long sleeve shirt.


New Beginning

Who would have thought that I would land my feet on U.S. soil? Two days ago, I finally did that. Prayers for “protection from mechanical failure and violent storms” (Chan, 2007) were delivered from Soekarno-Hatta Airport and I landed safely with colleagues, Yoes and Wara, at O’Hare Airport.

Chicago has entered the summer but it has not shown the kind of weather I expected. My colleagues and I arrived on a cloudy day and the wind seemed to be very enthusiastic about our arrival. The legend is true. Chicago is a windy city.

The three of us were very fortunate to have Beth, our Program Manager, pick us up at the airport. The queue to pass through immigration was as long as the queue of cars from Sudirman to Thamrin on Friday nights, so Beth must have had a huge amount of patience to wait for us to finally emerge one hour after our arrival time.

During our ride from O’Hare to Evanston, there was no traffic congestion and I enjoyed seeing the houses along the road. Most seemed to be built of dark red bricks and had no fence or gate—a rather different view from the typical middle to upper class homes in Jakarta. But I noticed also a small similarity with Jakarta, that is, most houses I saw had one to two cars parked in front. In between one housing area and another, we passed a car company and were surprised to see the amazingly low prices of used and new cars out for sale. If city administrators of Jakarta were to come here for their annual policy study exchange, I hope they would not be inspired to reduce the prices of cars back at home. Can you imagine how the traffic in Jakarta would be?

Evanston, in my opinion, is a small town that is quiet in the right amount. It is also easy to get around because the people are very friendly and helpful. The next great thing is Northwestern University’s (NU) campus. Although NU is known to be academically demanding, it also offers wonderful refreshing settings such as their jaw-dropping blue lake near Norris University Center. Overall, the environment of NU campus is very conducive to studying and learning.

Going back to the time way before this experience, my main motivation in applying for the Arryman Fellowship was to fulfill my dream to live in and work for an academic environment. Hence, I am grateful that I have now reached the beginning phase of living that dream.

(Sabina Satriyani Puspita/SSP)

A Journey to the Beginning

By Wara Urwasi

It was two weeks ago when I started to pack my stuff for a journey to the United States. My mind was filled with various thoughts, a mix of excitement, thrill, joy and anxiety. It was very similar to the atmosphere in Indonesia at that time, in which people were drawn into a political twister of presidential campaigns, the euphoria of World Cup and the start of Ramadhan. However, I was ready to put aside all those matters for a while, to depart to the U.S. and to start my one-year fellowship program.

Crossing several time zones could make your head spin. I had to take a domestic flight from Bali to Jakarta and there met with the other Arryman Fellows, Yoes and Sabina, before moving on to another flight that would take the three of us to Chicago via Seoul. I also made ​​the mistake of spending 24 hours watching the in-flight movies, which in turn triggered a long jet lag.

We finally set foot on American soil on the morning of July 2. Despite the long wait at O’Hare International Airport, it was calming for me to see the diverse people who come from all over the world standing in line for the immigration process. Some people who were just in transit, others came for a vacation, and still others, like me, who want to achieve their American dreams. We were picked up by Beth Morrissey, our Senior Program Coordinator, who patiently waited for us for more than two hours.

Touched down at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago

Touched down at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago


Despite the jet lag that hit me, I was still amazed by the view from our taxi windows. The American cityscapes were somehow familiar, as I have studied them from my urban design books: wide roads, big cars, boxy skyscrapers. It was a pleasure to finally get to see them with my own eyes. Along the way, we were also astounded by the rows of vernacular houses, gracious parkways, arranged in a grid street pattern. Then we entered the Evanston, an historic suburb set in a verdant environment.  I could not stop noticing the abundant old houses, probably from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, combined with international and contemporary buildings.

Even though I kept telling myself to be ready for a year-long adventure, the sudden bombardment of new things created a strange feeling in me. But, I reminded myself that I came to the U.S. for a greater purpose, to conduct my research and to achieve my educational goals. I believe that it will take time to adapt, to open my mind and absorb new experiences and sensations. There will be a lot of turbulence along the way, but that is how life teaches us. In the words of Ursula Le Guin, “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, at the end.”