Interview by Kate Riney with Megan Carter
One of the wonderful things about going to a divinity school that is part of the university system is the privilege of being part of an even larger student body, and for Mercer students at the Atlanta campus, that student body is very diverse. I recently sat down with McAfee student, Megan Carter, to talk to her about her involvement with the international community and Multicultural Student Association (MSA) at McAfee.
K: How did you get involved with MSA?
M: I started volunteering with MSA from my first year at McAfee, but it was actually my experience cultivating friendships with international students during college that made me want to get involved.
K: What was it like to be a part of the international community at your college?
M: At Carson-Newman there were a lot of international students, but a great divide between them and the American students. I started noticing it in the cafeteria at lunch; most of the Americans didn't try to forge friendships with any foreign students. So I joined the ELI (English Language Institute) program that “buddied” up a domestic student with an international student to help them learn and practice their English skills. By the time I got to the point of bringing three Asian friends home with me for Easter I was committed.
K: What is it about those friendships that is so precious to you?
M: Although it sounds cliche, its really broadened my horizons and kept me grounded. Its good to be reminded that everyone isn't like me. My closest international friend, Ji Eun (pronounced: Jee-Oon), blessed my life so much. She has an energy for life and she's just so sweet and so passionate and has so much to offer the world, but because she's Korean a lot of other students didn't get to know her.
K: Where is Ji Eun now?
M: She's in Seoul now teaching middle school boys English and we still talk through Facebook, I help her with her English from time to time and she reminds me of why I do what I do.
K: Crossing cultural boundaries has to be difficult…
M: Actually, the majority of ELI students here at Mercer are Saudi Arabian males and that is a huge cultural boundary to cross. Luckily, because I was engaged (to my now husband), Ryan, when I started here, that made it easier to bridge the gap and communicate with them. Amaar, was one of the first students that we met and he lives next door to us. When we moved in, he and some of the other men helped us move our heavy furniture into our apartment. We noticed that one or two would help us at a time and then one would disappear and another would come out to help, but didn't think too much about it. It was only later that one of them told us that when they helped us move they were in fasting for Ramadan. So they were conserving their energy by taking turns, since it was still hot outside and they couldn't even drink water until sunset. We've never had more selfless friends and actually, Amaar was in our wedding.
K: Wow, that's awesome, so he was in your wedding party?
M: Yeah, he loved it and we explained all the American customs and symbols to him so that he would understand and know what to do. We actually had African, Middle Eastern, and Asian friends there. Its not right to just say that you have foreign friends, but not to actually include them in your life. It was important to us to have them there.
K: So what you're multicultural and multi-faith friendships taught you?
M: My Muslim brothers especially, have taught me about true devotion to what to you believe in mind and practice. They reflect in their whole being and everything they do. That's something we all say as Christians, but it becomes a cliche: “let God's light shine through you in everything you do,” but not many of us actually live our lives like that. So watching my Muslim brothers practice their faith, reinvigorated my faith and devotion. It's shaped my theology and teaches me that we're really not all that different.
K: What would you tell someone considering joining MSA or getting involved in the international community?
M: When you reach out to help someone else, you're giving them the opportunity to bless you and world around you. We don't reach out to be blessed, but that's just what happens. We reach out to teach English and what ends up happening is that they actually bless your life.