America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

Winona Vaitekunas’ pre-departure relfections

AUA Summer Service Intern Winona Vaitekunas shares her thoughts on what Indonesia will bring and her service with Dian Interfidi.

This post was originally written by Winona.

I was sitting in the Cleveland airport waiting for an airplane and thinking about how in just another week I would be boarding a plane that would take me somewhere way more exotic than Atlanta. That’s when I realized my mother was trying to talk to me.
“What?” I asked her. Hoping she would repeat what I just missed.
“I said I’ve had two different people in the last week ask me if you were converting to Islam.” She commented. There was kind of this implied question at the end of her statement. She was waiting to hear me validate the statement with an answer one way or another, as I might change my decision at any time. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked, but it was definitely one of the more polite occurrences. Many people do not understand my studies, interests, and recent decision to go abroad and work for Dian Interfidi in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. They are confused about why a white middle class female with a Protestant upbringing suddenly throws around Arabic slang and listens to Palestinian music. But I do. So I decided to gather up all my contradictions: my love of international studies, Islamic culture, and my oddly acquired love of South East Asia and find an outlet where I can make an impact.
America’s Unofficial Ambassadors was an amazing organization that immediately fit the bill. They’re so passionate about connecting America with the Muslim World, and just as passionate in supporting all my uniqueness along the way. When I chose them, they chose to help place me in a location that not only fits my interests and personality but also helped me locate a non-governmental organization that I could make a difference in.
So where does that leave me? Well, it leaves me where I am now. Preparing to board a plane and immerse myself in the culture of Indonesia. I’m relocating to where I will be an ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority. My suitcase may not even be packed yet, but I’m not exactly worried. I have both my work and personal goals established, and everyone at AUA has my back to help me achieve them.
To quote my roommate from freshman year of college, “there shouldn’t be fear when approaching something you love”, and everything I am about to embark on is something I love. I’m thrilled to make an impact as an intern for Dian Interfidi where I can engage interfaith and communications work while diving into everything Indonesia has to offer. Through AUA and Interfidi I hope to engage different religious communities and not only represent America abroad, but also a piece of the Muslim World when I return.

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