On April 27, 2018, first-year MA student Choirun Nisa Ristanty from Banyuwangi, Indonesia gave a speech at the FIUTS Blue Marble Bash. In it, she talked about her experience living and studying in the United States so far. She has graciously allowed us to share the transcript of her speech, as well as the video. Read more below.
My name is Choi. I’m from Banyuwangi, the most eastern city of East Java, Indonesia. I grew up there and never dreamt that I’d be able to come to the U.S. – when I was a kid in school, I didn’t even know where America was on the map! I never imagined that fate would take that little girl to pursue a master’s degree in the US and to see the famous Space Needle of Seattle and even the Statue of Liberty and the statue of the Fearless Girl in New York.
But to be honest, the beautiful photos you see on the screen don’t tell the whole story. Not everyone in Seattle gave me a warm welcome. On the second day after arriving here, I was shopping for some secondhand clothes in the U-District when a stranger at a bus stop started shouting at me, using the F-word and yelling at me for being a Muslim. I cried all the way back to my hotel and shut myself away there for about two days. At that time I was scared that there was no place for people like me here, and I started to think that the U.S. was just too unsafe for me. I wanted to cancel my scholarship and go home.
Fortunately, I tried to escape that mindset. I wanted to be like the Fearless Girl in New York City and refuse to surrender. I told myself. “I’m brave, I’m not fragile”. Then in the following days, I had an international student orientation with FIUTS and I saw that there really was a place for me here. I joined some programs held by FIUTS, the unforgettable one is the Roslyn Small Town Cultural Exchange, a program where some volunteers visit Cle Elum-Roslyn High School to open up a cultural and political dialogue with the students there.
This trip the Roslyn was so unforgettable for me because really changed my perspective toward living here. I still remember the exact date we went there: Friday, November 3rd. Kailyn said in the orientation the day before, that it would probably snow when we went to Roslyn, but honestly, I never believe in the weather forecast because it always changes. But it was my luck! I almost cried when I saw tall pine trees that glistened with a fresh blanket of that exotic, crystal-white snow. This was the first time I’d ever seen snow with my own eyes! We even saw an elk wandering among the pine trees. After we arrived, we went directly to Mr. Wickwire’s Contemporary World Problems class at the high school. My first impressions were like, “Wow! The students don’t even wear a uniform”, “Wow, boys can have long hair and color it!” “Wow, they can pierce their faces while attending school!”. No students back in Indonesia would be free to dye their hair or pierce their body without getting disciplined by the school. At first I was so nervous because I was afraid they would have bad impressions of Muslims, especially I was wearing my hijab. But when we split up to have round table discussions, many students were excited to come to my table, and some teachers even asked students from my table to go to others to balance it out! Of course all the other volunteers were amazing, but I felt so honored that so many students here were interested in meeting and talking with someone who obviously had such a different background than them. We talked about things like Trump and his attempts to ban some Muslim countries from coming to the US. They also asked how I felt as minority living in the states. Their questions were beyond my expectations, they were so in touch with world affairs. I was impressed with their curiosity, the way they made an argument, the way they showed respect and sympathy. They thought so much about the world, peace, and the problems facing the contemporary world. I felt a little ashamed because when I was their age, all I thought about was how to get good grades and get into a good college!
It made me think there’s still a hope that the younger generation like them can make the world a better place, and keep fighting against racism, fascism, and terrorism. It’s not just us volunteers who inspired them and gave them information about our countries, but they also had a lot to share with us about their own perspectives on the world. When I go back to Indonesia, I want to share these kinds of experiences so that people understand that the United States isn’t just hateful politicians or businessmen who come to exploit other countries: the majority of the people here are good and kind. There is still love, peace, and hope that we can all come together in unity.
Several months after I went to Roslyn, a white man near my campus shouted at me to go home to my country. But that time I didn’t feel hurt, I didn’t let his words bother me, and I wasn’t sad. I kept walking, smiling and thinking: maybe every place in the world has its share of hateful people, but I know that they’re outnumbered by the ones with love in their hearts. And there will always be a place here for people like me to feel safe, to feel loved, and to feel respected: the home that I call ‘FIUTS’.
Choirun Nisa Ristanty is a first-year MA student from Indonesia studying in the Jackson School of International Studies in the Southeast Asian Studies department. She has been part of the FIUTS pen pal program and participated in the Roslyn Cultural Exchange. FIUTS (The Foundation for International Understanding Through Students) is a student-run non-profit organization that advances international understanding through cross-cultural experiences, student leadership, and community connections.