Part 2: Play Hard! ISI Social Events

The journey to find a new home might be disorienting, especially when we finally face culture shock and feel disconnected from our surroundings. One of the objectives of the ISI is to ease the transition and help us to negotiate barriers so that we can adjust more quickly. Well, a long list of social activities in ISI actually did the job, because we didn’t have much time to feel lonely.

Some of ISI's social events: Picnic at Botanic Garden (left), Ravinia Music Festival (center), and Bonfire (right)

Some of ISI’s social events: Picnic at Botanic Garden (left), Ravinia Music Festival (center), and Bonfire (right)

Of the 18 social events organized by the ISI, I enjoyed three activities the most: Culture Night Presentation and Dinner, Dinner at the Sims, and Boat Tour & Navy Pier.

Culture Night Presentation and Dinner

During Culture Night, students of the same nationality worked together to create a presentation about their culture for the rest of the ISI students and the staff. We were sharing not only our cultural uniqueness but also our traditional foods as part of a potluck dinner. For the presentation, the three of us from Indonesia decided to talk about the rites of passage. We presented and performed three ceremonies in Indonesia, including Mitoni, a Javanese baby shower to celebrate the 7th month of pregnancy; Lompat Batu (Stone Jumping), a Sumatran tradition that marks male adolescence; and Ngaben, the cremation ceremony of Balinese-Hindu society.

Mass performance of Turkey's dance (Picture courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

Mass performance of Turkey’s dance (Picture courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

Potluck dinner after the cultural presentation (picture courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

Potluck dinner after the cultural presentation (picture courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

Boat Tour & Navy Pier

Chicago is a haven for an architect, as the city holds the prominent status in the history of modern architecture and features many buildings designed by renowned architects such as Louis Sullivan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Fazlur Khan. I think this is one of the most recommended things to do in Chicago, as people kept telling me to take the architectural boat tour. Well, I’m glad that I didn’t miss it. Shoreline Sightseeing guided our tour. For around 75 minutes we cruised along Chicago River and learned about several landmarks and skyscrapers that were built along the river, such as Marina City, Tribune Tower, Trump Tower and many more.


Architectural boat tour along the Chicago River

CCIS Dinner at the home of the Sims Family

One of the strengths of the ISI is that this program is not only supported by academics at Northwestern University, but also by the Community Council for International Students (CCIS). CCIS is a volunteer group that helps international students to feel that they are welcome to the US through a variety of activities such as foster family and home stays, conversation partners, international women’s group, and children’s playgroup. We were invited to have a dinner with the members of CCIS at the home of Greta and Ron Sims at 3015 Normandy Place. In fact, Home Alone 3 was filmed in this neighborhood, and the house itself was in the movie. We held a barbeque in their backyard, and put an end to the dinner by watching a football game in their TV room.


Dinner at the Sims family

Over the past few weeks, I have met many extraordinary people in the ISI and have built friendship with them. It is amazing that we have become friends in such a short time. As we ended this program, I would like to thank the entire staff and fellow students of ISI, who have walked with me and have allowed me to get to know them. My first (and I hope not the last) summer in the United States has been defined by the people in the ISI and the wonderful time that we had together. My home feels closer. For that, I am grateful.

-Wara Urwasi-

Part 1: ISI and Hello America!

Some people say that home is where the heart is. It is not just about the sense of belonging to a place or a person, but also following our bliss, doing what we like. Sometimes, “walking home” involves moving to another country, adopting a new culture, and speaking a foreign language. This process would be easier if we had a guide and a friend to accompany us in this journey.

Perhaps this is the primary role of the International Summer Institute (ISI); not only to ease the transition of international students to life in the United States, but also to help them feel that they belong in their new home.


It was a pleasure for me to get the opportunity to join the ISI as part of EDGS Arryman Fellowship Program, together with 45 other students from 14 countries. The program provided intensive English lessons, introduction to American culture, advice for settling into the US, and events for socializing with other ISI students. To me, there are three elements that define the ISI: instruction + social events + integration.


In his speech at the ISI Banquet at the end of our program, one of our friends, Walther Rodriguez, reminded us about the power of language. In his words, “language is a door.” This door can take us to another world, to really see each other, to communicate, and to perceive others with empathy.

Language is the essence of the ISI. And during this program, I had the opportunity to attend English classes such as Conversation and Presentation, Test Preparation, and Pronunciation. We then divided into groups, and I was taught by David Potter and Mike Frazier, graduate students in the Department of Linguistics. I appreciate that the instructors were able to deliver such academic topics in a relaxed setting. For example, in Conversation, we discussed a lot of subjects ranging from greetings to dating, from small talk to academic presentation, as well as the do’s and don’ts in American culture. In addition, I received one-on-one tutoring from Dr. Kenneth Konopka. This experience was indeed a privilege because it is a rare opportunity for students like us to work privately with a professor from the Department of Linguistics.



The integration aspect of the ISI program encompassed Practica, Integration Issues Conference, and Learn by Doing Workshops. The Practica sessions led by Lisa Del Torto helped us to find our physical homes. She guided us in apartment hunting and interacting with landlords and roommates. She also gave us information on transportation, health and counseling, shopping, and travelling in the US.

The Integration Issues Conference was the highlight of the ISI program. We attended discussion forums about academic culture such as the way to work with advisors and faculty, teaching assistance, and academic integrity. We also had a chance to present our research in front of other ISI students and staff members, and we received feedback from them.

From the various options for the Learn by Doing Workshops, I chose Improv Class, even when I was definitely sure that I don’t have the comedy skills. At first, I thought I had made a mistake! It took a lot of courage to give a spontaneous performance in front of many people. But thanks to our Improv instructor, Mike Frazier, I really appreciate the lesson I got from this workshop. Through a lot of games and activities, such as warm-ups, character building, and scene performance, I learned that the key point of Improv is not trying hard to be funny. Instead, it is understanding the other players, accepting their ideas, and working together to create a scene or performance. Basically, as Improv players, we have to let go our selfishness, trust our “partner in crime,” and just have fun!


(Continue to Part 2: Play Hard! ISI Social Events)

-Wara Urwasi-

The 2014 International Summer Institute Program

Before the Fall Quarter of 2014/2015 academic year kicks off, EDGS signed me up to attend a full four-week program organized by Northwestern University’s International Summer Institute (ISI) from July 28 to September 4. The program was filled with both serious and fun activities for effective North American English learning, and moreover, adapting to U.S. culture and academic standards. This year’s instruction was rather special because it not only consisted of the most fun cohort of 46 international graduate students, but also marked the 15th anniversary of ISI.

Perhaps it was part of ISI’s tradition to divide the program into 5 main sessions: English Class Instruction, Practica, Learn-By-Doing Workshop, Social Events,and Integration Conference. The following points were based on my personal experience with ISI.


English Class Instruction

The entire group was divided into 8 small groups of 5-6 students based on the results of their SPEAK Test (taken on the first day of ISI). Conversation class was conducted in the morning, whereas SPEAK Test Preparation and Pronunciation classes were held in the afternoon. My instructors were PhD candidates in Linguistics, David Potter and Michael Frazier (Mike). One challenging task from David’s instruction was the day which each of us had to introduce a specialized term in our field of study to fellow classmate from a different field within one minute only. This activity proved the effectiveness of direct feedbacks from peers, judging from the gradual improvements shown in the following 2-3 performances from each classmate. The most challenging task from Mike’s instruction was to debate on controversial issues. The task not only required us to take sides, but also persuade classmates from the opposing side to agree with my standpoint. In addition to the twelve-hour per week of classwork, I was entitled to receiving extra and private instruction by Lisa Hesterberg, also a PhD candidate in Linguistics. She was my tutor of 30-minute sessions for consultations on Tuesdays and Thursdays to improve my speaking and writing skills. My sessions with Lisa tremendously helped me in preparing my presentation better for the ISI Integration Conference.

Joint classes instructed by D. Potter and M. Frazier

Joint classes instructed by D. Potter and M. Frazier

Pronunciation Class

Pronunciation Class


During Practica, ISI’s Assistant Director Lisa Del Torto led the instruction about day-to-day basics for living in the U.S. Each session covered different topics such as tips on apartment hunting, on-campus health services, preparing for the winter, transportation, home and personal security, and many more. Guest speakers from the Northwestern Police Department, Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, and ISI Alumnae were regularly invited to speak and directly answer any questions from the class. Practica had served me well in planning my needs to settle down in Evanston.


Learn-By-Doing (LBD) Workshop

Each student may choose only one of the available eight workshops: coffeehouse culture, contemporary art, walk the talk, social media, improvisational comedy, food and shopping, games and sports, and digital yearbook. I was very happy to have chosen improvisational comedy (Improv). The skills that I developed from my LBD sessions with the Improv group contributed a lot to the fluency of my presentation during ISI Integration Conference, especially when answering questions after presenting. ISI’s LBD workshop also helped me discover my new interests and passion in theatrical performance and standup comedy.


My Improv Group in action during Coffeehouse Night!

My Improv Group in action during Coffeehouse Night!

Social Events

The number of social events that I joined was large that it seemed impossible for me to write about each and every one of them here. However, one social event that I enjoyed the most was Dinner at ISI Director Julia Moore’s House. Dinner was held outdoors and the weather was just perfect for the combination of good food and company. I was able to meet new people, ranging from Julia’s family, neighbors, to church friends. Furthermore, I was able to apply the things I learned from my previous conversation classes about starting socially acceptable conversations. It was just exciting to be able to expand my network of friends and new acquaintances within few weeks in a completely new environment.

Dinner at ISI Director Julia Moore's House was so much fun and mainly about sharpening our English speaking and social skills

Dinner at ISI Director Julia Moore’s House was so much fun and mainly about sharpening our English speaking and social skills (photo courtesy of Kartikey Sharma)


Integration Conference

This conference had two main structures: discussion panels on academic integrity and culture at Northwestern University and small-scale research presentations. Senior PhD students from various fields of study and faculty/staff were present to give advices on good academic and professional conduct. The discussions were highly important, as they would be useful for graduate students like me who are expected to teach undergraduate students and excel in academia. The second half of the day was the time when I had to give a 10-minute academic presentation to a group of 4 ISI participants from Indonesia, Mainland China, and Turkey, who will be studying political science and sociology. I chose to present my research plan to the group and was very happy to receive quite many questions with both negative and positive feedbacks from peers and moderator Kenneth Konopka.


Colleague Yoes Kenawas presenting his past studies on Political Dynasties in Indonesia.

Colleague Yoes Kenawas presenting his past studies on Political Dynasties in Indonesia.

Colleague Wara Urwasi presenting her past project on Urban Studies.

Colleague Wara Urwasi presenting her past project on Urban Studies.


At the end of ISI, a formal farewell banquet was held to celebrate all participating students’ learning achievements throughout the summer. I had the honor to speak on behalf of my English Class Instruction group on the podium and share about my ISI experience to the audience. The presence of The Graduate School’s dean and other faculty/staff made me extremely nervous but it was good practice for my public-speaking abilities. Fellow ISI students had also been a great support system. In sum, ISI has built a good start for my graduate school life and new meaningful friendships ahead.

The best: ISI Class of 2014!

The best: ISI Class of 2014!

Farewell Banquet

Farewell Banquet


A Tidbit of American Politics

During the period of my one-month commitment with the International Summer Institute’s series of academic English programs, I had a wonderful experience attending an event to meet and greet one of Illinois’ state representatives. Together with colleagues, Yoes from Indonesia and Yi-Shu from Mainland China (PhD candidate in Statistics), we went to a wine store near the Jarvis CTA station, simply 15 minutes away from campus by train. The following post will comment on the organizer, activity, and my post-event reflection based on my field observation.

Meet and Greet with State Representative Kelly Cassidy,” a straightforward name for the event, was organized by Illinois’ state representative Kelly Cassidy herself and her team* to reach out and communicate with her constituents in the 7th legislative district. Representative Cassidy is one of the 71 Democrats in the State of Illinois’ House of Representatives, and this event was part of her efforts to encourage voters in the upcoming November 2014 election to consider the measures and constitutional amendments she has sponsored during her current term. The three things that she sponsored and mainly addressed in her informal speech during the event were health insurance, minimum wage increase, and tax increase for people with higher income to fund better education. Other than legislative updates, Rep. Cassidy also announced a few social activities, including a gardening competition, that were open to the public as part of her efforts to support local schools and her district’s green home initiative.

Before Rep. Cassidy presented her speech, she mixed and mingled with all attendees. The three of us even shook hands with her and we conversed amicably. I found it very wonderful and amazing to be that close to a political figure. She was very passionate about reaching out to the people of her district to let them know what she is actually doing legislatively.

After Rep. Cassidy finished her brief speech on legislative updates, and as more people were starting to taste free and fine wine, a Q&A session was opened. Attendees enthusiastically asked follow-up questions on the issues she raised, mainly concerning minimum wage and taxes. There was also an attendee who conveyed her appreciation for Rep. Cassidy’s achievement in passing a bill that will enable citizens with past criminal records to have equal rights in applying for jobs. Her voice sparked a huge round of applause from everyone present.

From my brief explanation about the main activity of this meet-and-greet, it may seem obvious that I was and still am in awe of the event. I strongly believe Indonesia’s regional representatives should begin taking the same approach as what I experienced on that day. This concrete example of a state representative’s connecting with her people shows one of the effective ways for a politician to build up people’s trust and confidence in the person for whom they voted.

Kelly Cassidy giving updates to attendees in Taste Food and Wine at West Jarvis Ave.

Kelly Cassidy giving updates to attendees in Taste Food and Wine at West Jarvis Ave.

Big thanks to Ms. Pat Ewert, Rep. Cassidy's Community Outreach Coordinator for inviting me to the wonderful event!

Big thanks to Pat, Rep. Cassidy’s Community Outreach Coordinator for inviting me to the wonderful event! (Photo courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

*I wish to thank Rep. Cassidy’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Ms. Patricia Ewert, for inviting me to the event and for being such an inspiring community leader.


Intensive English Courses

Still within the spectrum of fascination, I would like to discuss one of the many programs and facilities that Northwestern University (NU) offers its students for academic trouble-shooting. Help is always available as long as we go and ask for it. The brief account of my recent activities in the following paragraphs serves to give a clearer picture.

In my first three weeks in Evanston, the Equality, Development, and Globalization Studies (EDGS) program had designed an English as a Second Language (ESL) Intensive Course exclusively for the Arryman Fellows. The course was held on weekdays from 9 am to noon at the homey Buffett Center. Topics being covered were mainly about standard North American English in academic settings and casual daily life. Each attendee received the same amount of attention on our pronunciation, speaking/reading/writing/listening, and discussion skills. More importantly, information about the available resources for enquiries on academic writing, health issues, student life in the US, and sports facilities were also explained in quite a few sessions. I feel very fortunate to have had Kathleen, whose expertise is in speech pathology, as my instructor. She delivered every lesson with enthusiasm and clarity. Also, having Carol as my writing advisor was another advantage. Her being meticulous and firm in stimulating my thoughts to restructure my sentences was one of the many traits that I learned about being an effective instructor from her.

My meetings with Kathleen made me realize one key point: the intense amount of my exposure to North American pop culture is no guarantee for speaking the correct and standard form of English. Rather, my improvement in English relies more on my self-awareness of how I use proper English in my daily conversations and writings.

As a simple example, we may find it easy to memorize and sing English songs almost perfectly like a native speaker of English. However, when it comes to doing ‘elevator pitches’ in semiformal social events, errors occur frequently in terms of grammar or pronunciation, and stuttering. Hence, the first week of the course focused on word stress patterns and pronunciation. It was a memorable experience because I never knew learning English is so similar to learning Mandarin Chinese in comprehending its five basic tones until the day of my first meeting with Kathleen. The second week centered on U.S. academic settings. The four main themes were leading reading discussions, summarizing verbally, paying extra attention to plagiarism, and communicating with colleagues and advisors via e-mail. Last but not least, the third week’s concentration was on evaluating my writing assignments of the previous two weeks and preparing for a few tests that are compulsory for admission to The Graduate School of NU.

English Short Course for 2014 Arryman Fellows

One of the advantages of being an Arryman Fellow is joining a three-week English as a Second Language (ESL) short course, which is specially designed for the newly arrived fellows. The tutor for this year is Kathleen Geraghty, a Northwestern graduate from the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department. The intensive course lasted for three weeks for about three hours per day. The course was mainly conducted at the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies at Northwestern University, with several occasional field trips to downtown Evanston.

During the course, the Arryman Fellows received not only English language tutorials, but also how to adapt to American culture, both in academic and casual settings. For instance, Ms. Geraghty taught the Arryman Fellows how to lead a fruitful discussion as a student or as a teaching assistant (TA). She also taught the fellows how to create an impressive elevator pitch – a very brief introduction – which will be very useful when they meet their future colleagues or professors in various occasions such as seminars, conferences or casual meetings in their respective department hallway. One of the most important lessons that the fellows received from their tutor was how to pronounce words in an American English accent, which is very different compared to other English accents, such as Singlish, Taglish or even British English.

English Course Tutorial

Short course at Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies

Ms. Geraghty employed various teaching methods that not only made the tutorials seemed less serious, but also significantly improved the fellows’ understanding about ESL and American culture. For instance, in one of the tutorial sessions, Ms. Geraghty took the Arryman Fellows to a local coffee shop in downtown Evanston. She wanted to introduce the fellows to service culture in the US. The fellows learned that tipping is a very important custom in American service culture because it shows our appreciation to the good service of the server. On a different note, the fellows also learned that pronouncing “café latte” in an American English accent is slightly different compared to an Indonesian one. It may seem unimportant, but one of the fellows almost ended up with a cup of tea instead of a latte because the way Indonesians pronounce latte sounds similar to the word “tea” for a native speaker of American English.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.00.59 PM

Field trip to a local coffee shop

The short course also helped the fellows prepare for the SPEAK and VERSANT tests, which are required by the International Summer Institute (ISI) to measure English proficiency of the incoming international students. ISI requires the new international students to pass the tests.  Otherwise, those who failed the tests will need to attend additional classes in order to improve their English skills.

In conclusion, the short course was useful for the new fellows to adjust to the new environment in the US. The short course was a great initiative by the Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS) to maximize the potentials of the new fellows, so that they can easily immerse in Northwestern University and its culture.

Yoes C. Kenawas, 2014 Arryman Fellow.

* The Arryman Fellows would like to deliver their highest gratitude to Kathleen Geraghty for her guidance, passion and determination in helping the fellows to adjust to their new life in the US.

Run for Walk Race

On Sunday, July 27, I joined the 3rd Run For Walk Race organized by Northwestern University (NU). The race was a 4.1mile (approximately 6.6kilometers) run starting from Ryan Field or NU’s grand football stadium, then along the campus’ lake and Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center (SPAC), and back again to Ryan Field.

The race is held annually from 2012 to commemorate one of the university’s best football coaches. Head Coach Randy Walker contributed many victories for the Wildcats (pride and mascot of NU) and died of a heart attack at a young age in 2006. The figure “4.1” is taken from Coach Walker’s jersey during his collegiate football years in Miami University.

One of the reasons I joined this mini marathon was because an NU t-shirt and a ticket to NU’s football game giveaways were promised for a $25 registration. However, experiencing completely new athletic participation and keeping my body in shape were my two main motivations. I am glad I actually made the decision to register for Run For Walk.

I managed to persuade my colleague Yoes to join as well. Both of us admire the passion Americans have for sports. More than 600 people—and about 10 dogs—were present at the 7.30 am race. People in their senior years were even more enthusiastic than the youngsters to run and walk until the end of the race. It was also interesting to see adorable children joining the run and bringing their pet dogs along.

Another big excitement for me was also being finally able to see an American College Football Stadium (just like in the movies). On the walls of Ryan Field surrounding the spectators’ sitting area, I saw the years of NU’s victories in Big Ten conference championships. In the middle was a large press office box that looked very sophisticated. Americans not only take academic issues but also collegiate sports very seriously.

From this healthy and fun experience, I also learned about a sophisticated technology called “B-Chip” timing system. A chip was attached to the back of my bib and so after finishing the race, I was able to know the exact pace of my run and my rank among the total number participants.

In short, what seemed to be simply a fun race just to keep myself fit and socialize with new friends in the beginning, felt like a serious race at the end of the day. The organizers had done a great job in motivating people like myself to continue doing sports on a regular basis to up my game next time. I highly recommend anyone coming to NU to join next year’s Run For Walk race. Even without actually winning 1st place, the rewards of the race are still fulfilling.

Posing with NU's mascot, Wildcat Wille at the Finish line in Ryan Field.

Posing with NU’s mascot, Wildcat Wille at the Finish line in Ryan Field.

The B-Chip timing system enables me to search my results online.

The B-Chip timing system enables me to search my results online.



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.