What’s it like to be an international living in the United States? Kai Loh, of Singapore, recently chatted about her experience as a member of Tenth International Fellowship (TIF).
Kai is a senior engineering student who arrived in the United States for the first time in July 2013. She’s here on a collaborative one year program with UPenn and The National University of Singapore. You can usually catch her serving in some capacity at TIF. Whether helping out with the Lunar New Year Parties, or lending a hand with preparing communion, or welcoming newcomers, this smiling, bespectacled, dark-haired undergrad puts visitors at ease, mostly because she remembers what it was like to be a stranger in a (very) strange land.
“The first thing that struck me about America is freedom,” Kai said. “People can do anything they want. For many internationals, it’s a land of opportunities, of ambitions, and following dreams.”
But these opportunities can present challenges for internationals in general, and in particular, Christians, she said.
“The hardest thing about living in the United States has been relationships with roommates and being away from family,” Kai explained. “When you live as a Christian at home, then live with people who aren’t Christians, it is an opportunity to be a testimony to them. The harder part is accountability overseas and having someone to share struggles with. In Singapore, at least I can talk with my sisters and confide in them. In America you need more accountability. In Singapore you are very safe and there are rules for everything. Here you need support….Another struggle is choosing God over your own interests. A challenge of being overseas is wanting to visit every state on the weekends, so you make a choice about being in community on Sundays or to go on road trips. It’s not bad to want to see everything, but it’s a choice.”
Kai found that support and community at TIF. “I knew I wanted to be a part of the community here [at Tenth] because my Bible study leader in Singapore spent a year here at TIF and told me about it.”
But here at Tenth, we can always use help in being better hosts and ambassadors for Christ. So how can we be more welcoming to visitors?
“Start with simple things,” Kai advises. “Say hello to internationals. We want to experience other cultures, too! Open your home. Tenth is doing pretty well. It’s hard to want to reach out to other people, but try not to be in a clique. Say hi to people you would not talk to.”
To internationals starting to explore Tenth, Kai recommends coming with an open mind and asking for help when you need it. For Christian internationals, “come and find a community, or else you’ll be carried away by the culture.”
Kai will return to Singapore later this year, as is the case with many of our international friends. “I’m going to miss how open people are in a cultural sense. People are not as afraid. Here, people address others by first name. In Singapore, you create a sense of status by calling ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle.’ When you create a sense of status, you make people not as approachable.
I’m going to miss the international fellowship. In Singapore, you are more segregated as students: people of the same nationality tend to stick together. Here at TIF you have all people all together. That is a mission field.”
Tenth members, find your place in this field and befriend our international friends.
To our international friends: welcome! Come and see how we can be good hosts during your time in the United States.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Kari Randall. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org