I went to mass at a Catholic church in Orem on Saturday night. The church itself can be intimidating; it is huge and has various stuctures for the which outsiders might not know the purpose. Because there is so much room, people sit very far a part from one another, unless they are sitting with family. There were only a couple of little children, and mostly older people. Few people talked at all during the mass. People’s actions indicated to me that this was a time to be solemn and silent, not to socialize.
How did you feel being the “other”? How did you cope with otherness?
I felt nervous even before I went into the building. When I drove into the parking lot, I saw people talking with one another and walking together. I also saw many people who appeared to be not of my race, and I second-guessed if I had come to the English mass. I got out of my car, walked into the building, and realized that the building itself was more complex than I had anticipated. I had to ask someone where to go, and he was very kind and helped me a lot. I sat alone for a while and felt alone. I didn’t know what to do but I didn’t want to do anything wrong, so I just sat in silence and tried to smile at the other worshippers. I was really self-conscious and worried about how others perceived me.
A young man who volunteers to help students from BYU who are attending mass for the first time came and sat by my. He was so kind, and helpful, and alleviated so much of my discomfort, especially during the service, when I wasn’t sure if or how I should participate. I honestly felt a little surprise by his service, friendliness, and eagerness. He was a really good missionary and I personally felt so grateful for this one helpful, understanding person. Even though I was awkward in following the mass, knowing when to sit, stand, speak, etc., I felt more understood and accepted after this boy (Will) came to sit by me. I felt like it helped to justify me with other church members too because they could recognize me as the “new convert”-type. I wanted people to know I was new, because I assumed they would be more supportive and understanding of my lack of practical knowledge in this situation. I fully embraced my “otherness”. Will also understood LDS culture and religion really well so he could explain concepts and beliefs to me in a way that I could relate to and understand. I wanted them to perceive me in a good way, especially as a member of a different religion. I realized they had already dealt with many curious BYU students, like me, but I still felt the need to represent a good BYU student and member of my church to hopefully alleviate false prejudices that others may have had.
Will gave me a little booklet to follow along in, so I could better understand what to do, and this helped a lot. But I didn’t want to do anything that anyone would perceive as disrespectful. I was very reserved. I didn’t take any pictures and I just followed what my mentor (Will) did. I ended up really enjoying this experience. I asked Will many of my questions and I felt like I grew in understanding and love for those of this faith. I hope to go back again.
What are the implications for the students in your classroom who are experiencing school as a “foreign place?”
I think some simple solutions (or helps) for students who are foreign to the school cultural experience coincide with my experience at the Catholic church. Having a mentor or friend to be physically close to you, answer any questions you might have, and voluntarily explain foreign concepts and activities is immensely comforting and enabling. I think, as well, new students should be able to expect other teachers and students to be kind and patient, and not expect them to be an ambassador for their culture unless they chose that responsibility themselves.
I took pictures of the guide book I received to use during the mass: