A Letter from Dinar Kharisma


When you asked me to write this letter about my experience studying in the US, I was actually in the middle of many things, including my thesis. I decided to accept the request anyway with a hope that the benefit of sharing my stories would exceed my effort to write this letter.

I would say that my first semester I had at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, was not an ideal experience that is normally expected from an international student. I spent most of my time only for studying and working hard on my classes. I am not saying that that was not good, but as an Indonesian student in the US, I should have realized that besides academic work I have other responsibilities: studying about and contributing to social and cultural life of American people.

Started in my second semester I tried to be more engaged with the community. Here I obtained a chance to learn a very wonderful culture of US people that is volunteering. My first volunteering opportunity was with Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC). In this once-a-month volunteering work, I with other volunteers help packing foods from donators before being delivered to needy families in Boston Greater Area. The volunteering work was surely not as easy as I expected, instead it was like a real physical exercise. We had to lift many sacks and boxes of potatoes, onions, broccolis, or meats, continued with dividing them into hundreds of packages that will go to the families. All should be done in a quite limited time.

However I could not agree more that that was extremely satisfying. I feel I gained a lot of positive things. First, as a normal human being I simply felt satisfied by the reality that I had done something good for the community. Second, I learnt the beauty of volunteering culture embedded in US society. Despite the fact that ISBCC, a religious based institution, hosted this activity, the volunteers came from many backgrounds, races, ages, education levels, and religions. They all worked together with a same good deed for the needy people. They did not expect to be paid, except by a nice slice of pizza provided by donators, a nice chatting time with each other during and after the work, and a warm feeling in their heart. On that very first day of my volunteering job, I ended up with muscle pain all over my body, but fortunately without any intention to stop doing this rewarding activity.

Not only from my volunteering opportunity had I got to learn the US culture. After studying for a while in the US I also learnt that American people are very helpful and trusting. The experience that made me realize this was when on my first day in Boston I intended to ride a bus to my campus. At that time I did not know how exactly the bus system would work except the information from my friend that it would cost me $2 per ride. Feeling secured already I waited for the bus with a $5 bill in my pocket. You would not be able to imagine how confused I was when I hopped on to the bus and the driver told me that she would not receive anything other than an exact $2 or a ticket. She could accept my $5 but would not do so because she did not have any change. I was so confused that I just stood up there in the front side of the bus, had no idea what to do, while I also realized that I would be late for an orientation class if I have to find $2 (or a ticket) and wait for the next bus. Ending my confusion, the driver then said to me kindly: “that’s fine, you don’t have to pay for today, just get in,” I was so relieved when that happened and I remember I said many thanks to her. But more important, after that I notice that similar thing sometimes happens to other unfortunate passengers and the driver almost always does the same thing: being trustful, understanding, and helpful. Considering I am a foreigner, it would be understandable if she suspects me for lying and only wanting a free ride. But that is not the case, she trusted me, she understood that I was actually intending to pay but could not do so, and she was trying to be as helpful as possible by letting me in to her bus anyway. This cultural experience has taught me at least two lessons. First, anytime you can, just be helpful, In Sya Allah it would never hurt for being helpful. Second, trust other people and be truthful. People will help you if they trust you, and people can only trust you if you are honest and truthful.

Best wishes,