One unique aspect of working with students from all over the world is my exposure to the challenges and trials the countries from which these students come are facing. Our school often feels the emotional hit when something significant happens abroad.
Some of our Japanese students were a bit shaken up after the tsunami in Japan a couple months ago. I’ve heard Venezuelan students generally displeased with the state of things under the leadership of Hugo Chavez. On a slightly different note, our Saudi students deal with the challenges that come simply from being Arab here in the States. And I imagine that there are many more such challenges of which I'm unaware or can't recall at the moment.
We also have a significant number of Libyan students, mostly male I believe. These students are very professional and respectful, many of them businessmen, sent by their respective companies to learn English for different reasons. There is a heaviness among these Libyan students right now that has been present for several weeks—probably the biggest “hit” I’ve seen among our student population in regard to the kind of thing I’m talking about here.
I had a conversation last week with one such Libyan student. His English is limited, but to the best of his ability he communicated a very obvious sense of angst felt by himself and many of the Libyans at Evergreen. He seems to feel conflicted, as if he’s not sure what he (or his fellow countrymen in Olympia) really want. On one hand, it’s a good time to be abroad, geographically away from the conflict. On the other hand, it seems some feel like they belong at home, in greater solidarity with the struggles of those in their homeland.
Yet going home, according to this student, might mean something dreadful: fighting for a cause he doesn’t believe in. He fears being asked to join with Gaddafi’s forces. I really can't speak to how likely that would be, based on my limited knowledge of the conflict, but it seems a real concern and possibility for him. But staying here in the U.S. for much longer doesn’t seem likely, as the scholarship money helping him study here will soon run out. And it seems that there have been issues with freezing of Libyan bank accounts, so I’m not sure how likely more financial aid would be for him and others. It's a messy situation.
I mention all this to challenge myself to pray and to invite others to join in solidarity with me. I know many have what one might cynically call “pet causes”—someone’s always asking for money, prayer, attention, or action for Darfur, or sex trafficking, or starving children, or fair trade, or Haiti, or Japan, etc. I suppose this fits that mold—my temporary pet cause. There is suffering everywhere, here and abroad. This particular manifestation of suffering and strife just happens to be one I encounter daily, and so I feel compelled to share it.
I don’t really know what can be done on our part; I certainly can work more at finding ways to be encouraging and comforting to my Libyan students, stepping outside of myself and my routine a little more frequently to offer a friendly hello or a few minutes of my time or some other gesture of compassion.
But there seems little harm in saying a quick prayer or two. So whoever you are and for whatever reason you pray—to prompt God to act in some tangible way, to bring yourself more deeply in touch with the sufferings of others, to discover God’s attitude and/or will, to inspire yourself or others to action—join me in remembering those Libyans here and abroad facing greater challenges than finishing a marathon or creating compelling and educational ESL lessons or deciding what to cook for dinner.