St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, hosted a foreign-exchange student program with 12 Muslim students and one chemistry teacher from an Islamic boarding school located in Jakarta, Indonesia, called Insan Cendekia Madani. Prep partnered with New York City based-nonprofit organization, Nusantara Foundation, which focuses on interfaith exchanges from a Muslim perspective, as well as cultural awareness, specifically from Indonesia.
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 US History, Poetry and Religions of the World. They also attended a prayer service. Nusantara Foundation’s program coordinator Maryam Zakiyah shared with The Tablet her students’ experiences.
The students experienced a couple of classes that are not offered at their school in Indonesia, which were poetry and U.S. History.
In poetry class, Zakiyah said they learned about Rumi and were surprised that he was a Muslim poet. They thought it was cool to learn about a Muslim poet in a Catholic school.
In U.S. History, they enjoyed the teacher and how he was enthusiastic about the students’ visit. He shared some information that he already knew about Islam, so they viewed him as open-minded and respectful.
During morning announcements, everyone stands up and faces the cross to say prayers so the visiting students 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.
“That is exactly what captivated us about the ‘Franciscan’ experience,” Zakiyah said.
She said her students felt very comfortable, and did not feel like they were so different (besides the uniforms) from their peers. They expressed their wish to visit again because of how welcoming teachers, students and staff were, and felt like they were free from judgments.
“We actually met a Muslim student who wears the hijab,” Zakiyah added, “so it’s apparent how welcoming the Franciscan spirit is!”
Exchange Students’ Testimonials
- “I am learning how to be a leader, but most importantly, how to lead myself first while strengthening my faith.” – Fikri
- “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
- “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
- “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