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.

A Warm and Welcoming Community

By Meghan Cullinan


As I sit preparing for finals at Villanova University, it is hard to believe that I will be departing for Aceh, Indonesia in a week! I have been envisioning my experience since October and now it is quickly approaching. Over the past two weeks I have been learning about the Sukma Bangsa School, and developing a plan to use my skills as a Math Education major to support the staff and students. I have also been thinking about conversation topics to facilitate with the students, and browsing online resources for English language lesson ideas. I have not taught since this fall, when I traveled to the Dominican Republic, so I am both anxious and excited about getting back in the classroom!

There are so many questions running through my mind. Will I be able to make connections with the students and teachers at the Sukma Bangsa School? Are my teaching skills strong enough to be valuable in the classroom? Will I be accepted as an American woman? Will my students teach me about their community in exchange for learning about mine? I wonder how different our human experience could be. While I have traveled to Europe, Dominican Republic, and within the United States, I have never been as far as Asia. I am interested to see what it will be like to live in a place where I do not understand the language at all.

But despite my questions, I am reassured by the warm community at the Sukma Bangsa School. Last week, I spoke with Victor, the head of the Sukma Bangsa School, and his colleague, Lena. Our discussion helped me understand how much the students and staff value opportunities to speak with native English speakers. In my first conversation with Victor this fall, I saw how much the school community wanted to share their Aceh culture with me, and learn about my American experience. Last week’s conversation reaffirmed their welcoming spirit.  At some points it was challenging to ask my questions because of the language barrier, but I am confident that I will be able to adjust my phrasing to communicate with Victor and the other teachers. At the end of our conversation, I asked Victor how I should prepare for my experience. He answered, “Nothing! Just get here as soon as possible!” I laughed at first, but I think his response is a great reflection of the Sukma Bangsa School’s welcoming community. I can’t wait to experience Aceh’s culture firsthand, and meet Victor, Lena, the students, and my colleagues.

I know my questions cannot possibly be answered until I arrive at the Sukma Bangsa School. For now, I can only research, pack, and compile pictures and stories to share with the Aceh community. I am excited to return to my home in New Jersey before embarking on my trip so I can take pictures of my community to share with the students and teachers. I am hopeful that the Aceh community will share their language with me as I share my language with them! I have always believed that language is at the heart of relationships, but I think my experience in Aceh will prove that relationships can be built on a warm smile and a desire to understand one another.


Meghan is a student at Villanova University, focusing in Math Education. For the next month, she will be teaching English and Mathematics at the Sukma Bangsa School in Aceh, Indonesia. Stay tuned for more of Meghan’s posts and reflections! 


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This entry was posted on May 10, 2016 by in Volunteer Related.
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