Although my first semester as a graduate student has come and gone I wanted to take this time to acknowledge what an amazingly transformative experience it was for me. To personify this transformation I will tell the super shortened version of my immersion project (aka My Favorite Assignment!). As the final assignment for my Psychology of Diversity and Difference class I chose to immerse myself (racially and religiously) by attending the Arabic Evangelic Baptist Church of Boston.
–Keep in mind that I grew up Catholic and am of Mexican, Irish, and Italian decent.
Driving up to the church I was surprised to see a large yet modest brick building rather than the expected ornate quality of so many mosques. As I parked my vehicle in the church parking lot I began to feel nervous. Since I was not able to secure an official interview date and time I worried that I would be turned away. However, something inside of me told me to proceed. As I rang the doorbell to the main entrance I feared that no one would answer the door. The longer I stood at the door the more anxious I became. Maybe they’re watching me and do not like the way I am dressed. Maybe they will not be helpful. What if I make them angry? I should just leave.
The second that I convinced myself to leave someone came to the door. A gentleman -that I would later learn was named Saleem- kindly waved me into the church and asked what he could do for me. After I explained that I was a student at MSPP who was looking to finish up an immersion project I was informed that several members were working to prepare the church for a bible study later that night.
I spent the next two hours drinking tea, wandering about the church, and aiding Saleem in setting up for the bible study. Throughout that time I was introduced and warmly greeted by a number of members of the congregation. Everyone seemed curious as to my presence and had no qualms about walking right up to me and introducing themselves. Every single person I met made me feel right at home, like I had instantly made a new group of lifelong friends.
As the bible study was about to start a young man brought over a headset and asked me to put it on. I was assured that because I did not speak Arabic there would be a translator just for me. I was moved by the constant hospitable nature of these people. I listened to the entire bible study and prayer meeting with a smile on my face. I even managed to offer a bigger smile when I met the eyes of several of the church members who had turned around throughout the small service to make sure that I was still there.
At the end of the two-hour meeting I thanked the pastor and practically skipped out to my car. All the while I was clutching my iPhone, now containing the contact information of a handful of church members I had met over the course of the evening. In fact, I am still in touch with several of those people and am making a point to attend a full service this month.
The last thing I assumed would come out of my time spent with the Arab Evangelical Baptists was the feeling of being comfortable around them. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what happened. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute spent in that church and with the church members. I learned to understand a group of individuals that I felt were so far different from me by simply allowing myself to experience them.
And this is just one example of how I have been changed by attending MSPP. The transformation is scary, astounding, amazing… I can’t wait to see what this semester brings.