2017-12-20 / Features

St. Francis Prep Welcomes Students From Indonesia

St. Francis Prep and visiting students via the Nusantara Foundation with Prep’s Director of Admissions, Lisa Schaefer (r.). St. Francis Prep and visiting students via the Nusantara Foundation with Prep’s Director of Admissions, Lisa Schaefer (r.). St. Francis Prep hosted a foreign exchange student program on Thursday, November 9 from the Nusantara Foundation with their coordinator Maryam Zakiyah. This nonprofit organization is based in New York City. Their focus is on interfaith cooperation from a Muslim perspective, as well as cultural awareness, specifically from Indonesia. The group that attended are Indonesian Muslims. The day began with a meet and greet with members of Prep’s administration, and Prep’s Franciscan Mission Coordinator, Brother James McVeigh, O.S.F. The guest students then attended classes, including Advanced Placement U.S. History, Poetry, and Religions of the World. They also attended a prayer service.

Prep’s Director of Publicity and Public Relations, Robert Johnston recently caught up with program coordinator Maryam Zakiyah and asked the following questions.

How many students visited, and where specifically were they from? Twelve students and one teacher (chemistry) visited from an Islamic boarding school located in Jakarta, Indonesia called Insan Cendekia Madani. They were a mixture of 10th and 11th graders.

What were some of their experiences, specifically academic or social? They experienced a couple of classes that are not offered at their school in Indonesia, which were Poetry and U.S. History. In their poetry class, they learned about Rumi and were surprised because Rumi is a Muslim poet, so they thought that it was cool to learn about a Muslim poet in a Catholic school. In U.S. History, they enjoyed the teacher, and said how he was enthusiastic about the students and shared some information that he already knew about Islam, so they viewed him as open-minded and respectful. Also in the morning during the announcements, everyone stands up and faces the cross to say prayers so my students just stood as well to show respect, which was also a completely new experience. Their favorite part was during the World Religions class, where they got to share about their typical life in Indonesia in a boarding high school and the whole class was engaged and interested in the discussion.

Was there anything that stood out as a “Franciscan” experience? Meaning, we pride ourselves on being open and welcoming to students and families of all races, religions, etc. Did that conscious effort come across? That is exactly what captivated us about the Franciscan experience! My students felt very comfortable, and did not feel like they were so different (besides the uniforms). They told me that they wish they can visit again because of how welcoming the teachers, students, and staff were, and felt like they were free from judgment. We actually met a Muslim student who wears the hijab (who attends St. Francis Prep), so it’s apparent how welcoming the Franciscan spirit is!

What similarities did your students find between them and our Prep students? Having taught at Prep for 22 years, I find teenagers to be incredibly alike. During our dialogue in the Religions of the World class, they discovered that both of our students listen to the same music and like to go shopping. One of my students plays the piano and he met a Prep student playing the piano as well, so they both played together and then exchanged social media accounts. Another of my students and a Prep student both found out they they have a little sister of the same age, and talked about sharing their clothes with their sister and other moments together. No matter how different they may be in terms of culture and religion, in the end they’re both teenagers and definitely have a lot in common!

Some quotes from the guest students:

“I am learning how to be a leader, but most importantly, how to lead myself first while strengthening my faith.” – Fikri (15)

“I wanted to come to America to see if Islamophobia is real, like how they portray it in the media. Turns out people here are more open-minded and kind and I feel normal.” – Ilham (15)

“I learned that diversity is beautiful because there are many kinds of people that we can be friends with. And the more I interact with them, the more confident I become.” – Nabila (16)

“I learned how to be independent and more disciplined, and being open-minded to other faiths and cultures that we will never have the opportunity to experience in Indonesia.” – Samara (15)

For more information, please contact the Office of the President, (718) 423-8810, ext. 232, or lconway@sfponline.org, or Lisa Schaefer, Director of Admissions, (718) 423- 8810, x264, or lschaefer@sfponline.org

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