LEITOURGOS:

On Becoming a Liturgist

By Michelle Koppinger

 

 

            Liturgy (leitourgia) is a Greek composite word meaning, a public duty--a service to the State undertaken by a citizen.  The meaning of the word liturgy has extended to cover any general service of a public kind--including the arrangement of these services or performing the public duty itself (to do such a duty).  

            The public service of the Urban and Regional Studies Institute (URSI)--in collaboration with an Educational Foundations course for International Students and the City of Mankato--is welcoming International Students into the Mankato community through The Historic Downtown Mankato Walking Tour.

            Mankato is a potential threshold for all kinds of positive global relations throughout the United States.  Specifically, the URSI Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Mankato offers a rite of passage for International Students (indeed, for all newcomers and visitors) to actually experience and understand Midwestern culture and be exposed to the local heritage--an image-builder for all of America.  A Minnesota State University-Mankato International Student, Nawshin Rahman, wrote, Mankato is the first real city in [the] United States that I have lived in.  It has so much to offer.”  In addition to receiving education about local history and architecture, the Walking Tour dispels myths, stereotypes, and ideas for locals and, obviously, for Internationals alike--our future partners in commerce--in exchange for a more realistic version of real-world community life in the U.S.A.  Rahman continues “[Mankato] represents a very diversified community.  We have many...members here from different part[s] of the world and they practice their unique lifestyles and cultures in Mankato’s community.” 

            Now, the Walking Tour could very well be hospitality at its best.  Best put by another International Student during a course evaluation during his last day of class in Educational Foundations 106: “Keep the Walking Tour!”   Yet, another International Student who completed the Walking Tour requested even more opportunities and structured settings for “parties” and “social gatherings” be provided in the community, in response to how “we” can best reach and welcome International Students/newcomers.

            In one section of an Introduction to the City class, instructed by Professor Miriam Porter, students in a work group session discuss questions on where they feel fear or oppression in Mankato.  Students summarized their replies focusing equally, if not more so, on fear of strangers--not spaces--or on whom, not where. As the group noted, “Anyone who looks at you funny or any basic stranger could be scary.”  Fear of strangers is known as Xenophobia, fear of anything that is strange or unknown--a core issue of racism.

            To make Mankato feel like a safe place we must give opportunities for others to become familiar with us; we must welcome the stranger and invest our time and cultivate inter-cultural relations.  The work group of students concluded, “The place that you feel safe is usually where you are most familiar with, so the relationship has to do with familiarity of your surroundings.”  Imagine the impact The Walking Tour could and may already have locally and nationally on combating hatred of anything and anybody strange or foreign.

            In the aftermath (i.e. racial profiling and religious discrimination) of the September 11th terrorist attacks on America, the Walking Tour for the International Students, specifically, continued to be offered in Mankato. No Americans were stopping to question any students’ connections to Islam or the Middle East, or their reasons for being here.  On the contrary, Walking Tour participants were requesting a lot of information throughout the tours, such as: locations of specialty stores for purchase of used computer goods; where and how a MN State ID (for non-residents) is obtained, and locations of driver exam stations.

            In an informal questionnaire provided to students in Education Foundations 106, MSU Instructor Doug Ganss received several responses from two class sessions of first year International Students, including:

Ÿ         How could we join off-campus activities without a car?

Ÿ         I want to know how I can visit any other place in [Greater] Minnesota.

Ÿ         Why don’t the busses drive on Sundays or at nights?

Ÿ         Why do people here drive on the right?

Ÿ         Where is the Mankato post office?

Ÿ         What is the first thing you do when entering into somebody’s house?

Ÿ         How old do you have to be to rent a car?

Ÿ         Where can I buy the Mods Hair styling wax in Mankato?

Ÿ         Where do American’s get haircuts?

Ÿ         How come the bars are open until 1:00 a.m.?

Ÿ         Why do Americans wear shoes [inside the house]?

Ÿ         Is there any winter fair in Minnesota?

Ÿ         I have noticed that Americans are ignorant when it comes to knowledge of foreign countries other than their own.

 

Ÿ         When I go [out]...there is a long line every time.  In our country they work quickly in order not to keep customers waiting.  Why [are] American’s actions so neglectful?

Students provided six pages full of questions and comments similar to those above, with topics ranging from American linguistic expressions and national culture to etiquette and local culture.

            In spite of rampant media coverage of all the racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims or anyone looking like them, local International Students were being invited, through their Educational Foundations 106 class, to experience an unprecedented opportunity.   This ritual, by the very nature of the campus-community outreach, found in the guided Walking Tour, the City of Mankato and all of its residents inadvertently and unconditionally greets the foreigner or newcomer as friend.  By the very nature of the Walking Tours’ campus-community outreach, the City of Mankato and all of its residents inadvertently become part of a welcoming-the-stranger ritual--public service, indeed!

            Most local residents are largely unaware of what’s taking place in their own community and its potential impact for the future: a peace exchange that kindles fond memories of Mankato and all of her citizens (indeed, of all Americans) for young adults the world over.  Whether it is in a small Walking Tour group or just one person at a time (through a self-guided real or online virtual tour), the Institute continued offering tours and with them, rites of passage to non-Americans amidst a time of fear, national skepticism and suspicion. (http://www.intech.mnsu.edu/cherrington/Tour/TourPages/MankatoTourCover.htm) 

            Without exception, welcoming the newcomer in small-town U.S.A. (Mankato) was not deemed a newsworthy item in these times immediately following our national crisis of 911 but, like the World Trade Center attack, the Walking Tours will have their unknown ripple effects as well. Unlike the reasons behind the WTC catastrophe, the Walking Tour cultivates peaceful exchange far into the future.

            The liturgy being proposed, then, is for URSI Students and Staff--and all other collaborators, for that matter--to continue providing, “expanding” and evaluating the impact of the Walking Tour with special emphasis on International Students, as an act of global peace relations.   Beyond this writer’s opinion and experience, read on to see what the experts have to say:

                “When more international students are given the chance for meaningful study and opportunities to gain an appreciation of our society, there will be less hatred of America and misunderstanding of our values and way of life.  The personal and professional relationships that international students make while they are studying in this country help forge strong bonds with the United States after their return, as they go on to conduct research or do business with their counterparts here, and particularly when they move on to leadership positions in their home countries.  [Likewise, understanding] of and knowledge about the culture and society of others is critical to the success of American diplomacy and business, and the lasting ties...are important to our country in times of conflict [and] peace.

                Academic freedoms are among the most basic of our liberties, and it is important that we...share these freedoms with the rest of the world.  Those who come from societies that are less open and democratic gain a tremendous appreciation for the freedom that they experience here, and help us to better appreciate values that are often taken for granted.”

                                                                                                    --Henry Kaufman, Chairman, Board of Trustees &

                                                                                                                       Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO

                                                                                                                     Institute of International Education (IIE)

 

 

The Walking Tour lays the groundwork for building relationships with “strangers,” increases our understanding and appreciation of one another, dispels hatred and misunderstanding, and finally, provides the groundwork for continued and improved business and commerce.  Patti McGill Peterson, Executive Director of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (a private organization that administers the Fulbright Scholar Program) and Vice-President of the Institute of International Education writes, “America’s war against terrorism will not ultimately be won on the traditional fields of battle.”  We must foster educational and cultural outreach.  “Underneath it all...is a deep...current of international discord fed by poverty, illiteracy, and chasms of misunderstanding.”  She continues, “The understanding and goodwill that [educational exchanges between the United States and many countries of the world] has generated have been direct assaults on the stereotypes and cliches that often substitute for real knowledge.”

            In declaring his support for International Education Week (November), Secretary of State, former General Colin Powell, acknowledged that the role of public diplomacy and international educational exchange [is] crucial to the development of enlightenment and civility around the world (Peterson, 2001).  When Senator William Fulbright first proposed the Fulbright Program in the aftermath of World War II...he noted that mankind’s capacity for decent behavior seems to vary directly with our perception of others as individual human beings with human motives and feelings (Peterson, 2001).

            Peterson concludes, “...it will take a great many people from many countries working together to create educational institutions that support the values of civil society.”  Minnesota State University~Mankato students and employees, and the city of Mankato and residents, what steps will you take in the future to foster world peace?

                        Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy--else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams--more seriously still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival.

                                                                                                                                     --John D. Taylor, Primal Vision

 

                Aside from reasons already noted above, why should Mankato consider welcoming the newcomer?  According to the National Immigration Forum tourists, students, government officials and business visitors are non-immigrants.  Non-immigrants outnumber immigrants by about 25 to 1 each year.  In fiscal year 1995, more than 22 million persons came to this country temporarily, including 364,000 students.  Of the latter figure, the MSU International Student Office reports show that the number of International Students attending MSU at roughly the same time, the academic school year 1995-6, was:

Ÿ         September 1995.  Fall Quarter, 1995.  MSU had 607 International Students from 64 different countries.

 

Ÿ         January 1996.  Winter Quarter, 1996.  MSU had 592 International Students from 64 different countries.

 

Ÿ         March 1996.  Spring, 1996.  MSU had 566 International Students from 65 different countries.

 

            Given these figures, how many International Students did we welcome in the Greater Mankato community?  Familiarize to our culture?  Introduce to local tourism or Explore Minnesota? 

            During the Walking Tours, the students’ (reasonable) requests were accommodated along the way.  For instance, International Students asked if they could go into the Two Fishes Recording Studio on South Second Street.  Since it was open, the owners agreed to give us a spontaneous tour of the former church turned studio.  Walking Tour guides stopped the group at Embers for refreshments and fellowship, conversing casually around a table and building foundations for friendships, or at least diplomacy.  Some groups stopped at the University Pawn for browsing and at the historic Cray Mansion (YWCA) for a gander at the upstairs ballroom and to contemplate the romance and mystery of American heritage in Mankato.

            It is my hope for the Mankato community to continue providing the Walking Tour and, at the same time, invest in peace-building efforts right here on the home front.  The investment made thus far is believed to be making an impact, one person at a time.  One student writes, “...when the tour was over, I was absolutely amazed at what I didn’t know about Mankato!  My image of Mankato was increased ten fold.  Mankato was not just a town where I went to school anymore, it now was alive with character, heritage, and information.  It stopped being a one-dimensional place, and started being a community.”  (Kotajauri, 2000).

            A past student in one of Dr. Janet Cherrington-Cucore’s course, Introduction to the City, Blake Kotajauri heard about the Walking Tour assignment and sighed.  After the tour, he provided the following feedback: “This tour opened my eyes to the greater scheme of things.  My image of Mankato had not only broken down the barriers of districts, of paths that I took, and the node of the campus, but it broke through the barriers of time.  It made me see the whole Mankato, throughout time.   Old Town’ now means something to me, and the houses that I pass, now spark an image.  Mankato was no longer a place.  It was a piece of history that belongs somewhere.  My initial thoughts were wrong.  I admit it.”

            It has been through the tour guide experience that this writer has affirmed and reclaimed her ministry in public service.  To lead some of the Walking Tours was not an added burden onto this writer’s fall schedule; in fact, the exact opposite was true--the very experience of fraternizing with the International Students is what helped this writer survive and get through the semester, refreshed.  Approximately 15 years ago, this writer was a student in Professor H. Smith’s Intro to the City class and had the good fortune of experiencing Mankato for the first time through an enlightened lens.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

1.         Kaufman, Henry & Goodman, Allan E.  “Educational Exchange for a Safer and                                     More Secure World.”  About IIE  Institute of International Education.

                        (p. 1 of 2)  <http://www.iie.org/iie/educational_exchange.htm>

 

 

2.         Kotajauri, Blake.  Student Impression.  (2 pp.)            <http://www.intech.mnsu.edu/cherrington/tour/tourpages/student_impression.htm>

 

 

3.         MSU Statistics on International Students provided by Char Rheaume,

International Student Office Manager. (1 p.)  <charleen.rheaume@mankato.msus.edu>

 

 

4.         McGill Peterson, Patti.  “Another Kind of Army.” Council for International                                Exchange of Scholars. (2 pp.)  <http://www.cies.org/cies/news_army.htm>  

 

 

5.         McGill Peterson, Patti.  “Let’s Not Close the Door.” (1 pp.)

                        <http://www.cies.org/cies/statement1.htm>

 

 

6.         New Advent.  CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Liturgy:  (p.1 of 20)                                       <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09306a.htm>

 

 

7.         Non-Immigrant Visas.  Prepared June 1997 by the National Immigration Forum,                                   220 I Street, NE #220, Washington, DC  20002-4362

 

 

8..        Rahman, Nawshin.  “Diversity in Mankato” (excerpt)

<http://www.intech.mnsu.edu/cherrington/tour/tourpages/diversityinmankato.htm>