Twenty young adult students from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey completed the Dialogue Institute's 12th Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) for Student Leaders on Religious Pluralism in the United States on August 13, 2016.
They joined an extraordinary group of more than 220 other young alumni/ae from the Middle East and Southeast Asia who have participated in the DI's SUSI program since 2010.
The students return home following an intensive five-week program focused on religious pluralism and democracy, including four weeks in Philadelphia beginning July 9th and a week-long study tour in Atlanta, western North Carolina and Washington, D.C.
Here's how one Muslim student from Lebanon, Mohammed, summarized his experience:
I've spent five wonderful, intensive weeks in the U.S. exploring the diversity, pluralism and democracy there. Many poignant scenes will petrify in my memory: a Muslim woman wearing a veil in Philadelphia, women wearing scarfs working in public places, the commonalities between the Jewish and Islamic traditions, the African American churches '"happy" service, the Baha'i Center's openness, the Mormon Temple luxury, the Native American exterminated culture, the Yazidi's stories of struggling for life againstemerging genocide, the sound of different languages mixed in my ear while walking in New York City streets, the Ethiopian protest in Washington D.C. and many other distinct sights of freedom, democratic practices, multicultural diversity and tolerance.
I came from an engineering background, very far away from the social sciences field. I'm a believer and my creed is strong enough in my heart to not seek another faith. What I wanted was to inspect other beliefs and learn from them what might benefit humankind. Now I can say that I have knowledge about Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Baha'i, Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American beliefs and many others. I feel that understanding others allows us to diminish and demolish the gap among us in the community, where the bases turn toward respect, equality and justice instead of religious cults, casting systems and wealth discrimination.
Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. will remain in my heart. After my first dinner at home with my family, I got my hard-copy photo album from my bag. I started showing them my new U.S. family members through the pictures which I prepared for my coming memoir. I shared my memories with Len, Ghassan, Rebecca, Stuart, Barbara, Julie, Gaby, Sam, David, Jackie, Lisa, Linda, Peter, Per, Ari, Patricia, Iman, Nibras, Nawaf, Mina, Marcus, Mark, Todd, Harold, David, Mary, Grant, Issa, Mariam, Jeremiah, Nathan, Majid, Howard, Susanna, Suzanne, John, Diana, Hisham, Carol, Hussein, Abdalla, Amie, Andi, Brian, Stephen and others. And I can't forget my fellow students, who accompanied me during this of state of happiness. I got new friends and companions for my entire lifetime.
Finally, I must applaud and thank this amazing trinity of the Dialogue Institute and the International Center for Contemporary Education (with whom the DI partners), the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut for launching, facilitating and supporting this program. I'm an extremely proud alumnus now wishing to implement the U.S. experience in my country, Lebanon.
Integral to the program's overall and ongoing impact, students are charged with implementing individual action plans within their first six months back. Below is a brief description of students' initial plans:
- Ahmed: Start an NGO, tentative called "Current Affairs Research Academy," intended to study conflicts in the Middle East and Egypt’s economic crisis.
- Andrew: He will introduce dialogue workshops into both his university and church communities.
- Fady: He will write a short curriculum on dialogue and critical thinking which he hopes to use in teaching local workshops.
- Mai: She will run "awareness circles" to help prevent female genital mutilation in rural areas.
- Rana: She will work with her brother and a local NGO to expand educational efforts intended to help raise awareness about how to prevent HIV, malaria, and hepatitis C.
- Ahmed: He will work with a local NGO to raise funds to help put refugee children into schools.
- Botan: He will work with Professor Swidler and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to curate an exhibit on the Kurdish experience of genocide.
- Dhuha: She will organize a book club for girls and young women, ages 12-22, in refugee camps near her home.
- Hussein: Because he lives near the historic marshes in southern Iraq, recently recognized as a UN-designated historic site, he will work to raise consciousness among his city officials about environmental concerns and tourism.
- Jaafar: He will organize free lunch programs in local schools to attract street children.
- Joseph: He plans to create a safe space in his university to do a dialogue workshop on Christian-Muslim relations.
- Karim: He will work with an NGO organizing for the rights of domestic workers to raise their pay and prevent abuse.
- Mohammed: With a questionnaire he has already developed based on his SUSI experience to use with leaders of historic local mosques, churches, and synagogues in Beirut, he will conduct site visits, administer the questionnaire and write up the results.
- Reem: She will start a summer camp focused on art and music to create a safe space where, through the aesthetic dimension of dialogue, she can develop trust to discuss sectarian religious issues.
- Shant: He will start a course on interreligious dialogue in collaboration with his professors at his university.
- Dicle: She will teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to displaced local children and Syrian refugee children.
- Gülşen: She will work with a university-sponsored NGO to raise awareness of hunger and help raise food and money.
- Irem: She plans to publish an online journal of dialogue stories that will share individual journeys of ways to find God and peace in a war-torn environment.
- Nurefşan: She will focus her senior thesis on religious pluralism as she completes a degree in Islamic Theology.
- Talha: He plans to organize an interfaith conference on his university campus among Christian, Muslim, and Jewish participants.
Other SUSI Highlights
- Click here to read a reflection from Anna & David Less, co-founders of the Abrahamic Reunion, about their visit with our SUSI students toward the end of the residential program in Philadelphia.
- This Institute marked the final SUSI for program associate Abdalla Aljubori, off to begin a two-year post-baccalaureate pre-medical program at the University of Washington in St. Louis. An alumnus of our 2013 Summer SUSI, Abdalla has been serving as an intern and program associate for the past two years. We are extremely grateful for his time with us, and wish him the best as he heads into this next chapter. Click here to read more about and from Abdalla, including his own reflections on his SUSI experience!