Even in an area as internationally connected as the Bay Area, we sometimes don’t really understand cultural beliefs in other countries. As part of the Student Ambassador program, we have the opportunity to increase our cultural knowledge through person to person connections.
A few weeks ago, the Student Ambassadors had the opportunity to videoconference with an Islamic high school in Jakarta, Indonesia. World Affairs Council and Indonesian students took turns asking and answering questions about our faiths and communities.
The video conference was moderated by the organization Face to Faith, created by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The goal of the organization is to forge cultural connections and bring an end to conflicts based on people misunderstanding each other’s religions.
We discussed our schools, communities, personal religious beliefs and the role faith plays in our lives. The Islamic high school’s religious environment seemed completely different from that in the Bay Area. I am not religious, and many of the Student Ambassadors told our Indonesian friends that faith is not a matter often discussed in their schools and communities. However, many of the Indonesian students seemed extremely committed to their faith, and described it as the most important thing in their life. They also expressed a level of tolerance and generosity towards people with other religions. One student said she wished everyone could have faith as the same strong guiding factor it was in her life.
The Indonesian students told us about some of their religious holidays and ways they celebrate their faith, while some World Affairs Council students spoke about the role their faith plays in their desire to help their communities.
The hour long conference seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and soon we were waving goodbye to our new Indonesian friends. This conference forged a connection between us and people half a world away, and I understand and appreciate more fully the ways that faith and life are intertwined for people in another culture.
By Mira Chaplin, Student Ambassador, Berkeley High School