Fatima is a Visiting International student from Pakistan. She spent the Fall 2013 semester at the U of A. She shares her experiences in a series of blog posts.
I have decided that my American experience has so far been marked not by events, but by people who have made those events special. I have met many, many unique individuals during my time here in the states – many kind, wonderful people. Hence, I have decided to talk about my experiences in terms of the people I have met.
Jenna Turner is one of the first in the long line of amazing people I have met here in Arkansas. She is a Resident Assistant in my dorm. Jenna is the poster All-American girl you’ve seen on TV or heard songs about or read about in books – blonde, athletic, Christian. When I first met her, she spent ten seconds repeating my name so she could get the pronunciation right. I did not care much – I had just moved in that day, and desperately wanted to go to sleep. The next morning as I was walking towards the elevator, I noticed a note with my name on it stuck to the door of the room next to Jenna’s (she had thought that that was where I lived). It was a really sweet welcome note from Jenna saying she would really like to hang out some time and to call her if I needed anything at all. I decided then that I would like her after all (yes, I’m very picky when it comes to liking people – I usually just barely tolerate people). I stuck the note on my study desk, and it is still there two months later.
Later on, I would meet the other RA – Kendra – and eventually the rest of the Holcombe Family (Holcombe is the name of the hall we live in), and we go eat Mexican food with the rest of the group and play sand volleyball (a game that for some reason is very popular here in the south – also, a game I will never be good at) and have movie nights watching old Disney cartoons, but those first few days were what really mattered. Jenna showed kindness to a baffled, socially awkward foreigner who may or may not have come as aloof because of not knowing how to act in social situations – and she continues to be kind and thoughtful to this very day.
II Visit to Dallas and a church
Over the labour day weekend, Chi Alpha, a campus Christian fellowship, had arranged a two-day trip to Dallas, TX. They were offering a reasonable rate, pleasant companionship and security – so I signed up along with a couple of other international students.
The most cliched tourist-y whim was indulged for a day and half in Dallas – visiting a theme park (Six Flags and Hurricane Harbor). These are are strictly not cultural experiences (unless you count the very sugar-y funnel cake that I bought and consumed there) so I won’t talk about that. There is not much to talk about anyway (we went on as many rides as we could – rollercoasters, etc. – and took many pictures). Instead, I will talk about our visit to a Church that we made on our second day there, an experience that I found very interesting.
I am truly fascinated by the very modernist architecture that many churches are built according to here. As a friend remarked, this was not what I thought of when I thought of a church (admittedly, I’ve always thought of them to be more like the gothic structures that most Catholic churches follow, which is in retrospect a very asinine expectation). But the architecture of the church was not the only non-conventional aspect of the church. I had expected a solemn-faced man dressed in black to stand behind a pulpit and talk to us monotonously for an hour or so. Instead, we were greeted by what one international observer in our group described as a ‘mini-concert’ – on the well-lit stage at one end of the room, four singers – two women and two men – backed by a band complete with an electric guitar and drum set, sang a couple of hymns. Many of the attendants got up and sang with them, some waving their arms in ecstatic devotion while other silently swaying with the rhythm.
It was after this that the preacher came on and began to address the audience. Even the preacher’s general appearance was slightly surprising. He had on not black robes but an open collar polo shirt and khaki pants. He talked about faith and doubt for about half an hour and then called some people to come to the front to lead the prayer.
Because the Church that we were attending was one that a member of our group, Eric Betencourt, went to with his family, the preacher acknowledged our presence, welcomed us into the community and had some people distribute $25 gift cards to all of us. We all walked out very happy.
Surprisingly enough, the Church experience was unique not only for us, but also for some of the Americans in our group. There was a very interesting conversation about the different worship styles in the different Churches later on.