Interfaith study abroad in Iowa

by Mackenzie Bills, Special to The Simpsonian

New experiences. That is what college is all about. That is what Simpson study abroad capitalizes on. Every May term, Simpson students find themselves amidst a new location, new culture and experiencing a new lifestyle. Some might be in India experiencing delicious curry while staring at a stunning Hindu temple or watching a lion run wild on an African safari.

Every year, students return with a fresh perspective on the world and consequently are more culturally aware.

Why is this an attractive opportunity for prospective Simpson students? My short answer is because Simpson is predominately white and Christian (and when I say predominately, I mean almost everyone!).

It’s not Simpson’s fault at all. Most students come from all areas of Iowa, which is a result of 19th and 20th centuries’ Western Europe emigration to the United States. The 21st century has allowed Iowa to become a hub of a diverse population due to its stunning economy and “Iowa Kindness”. The result? A growing, diverse, and eclectic Des Moines metro that luckily is about a 30 minute drive from Simpson’s fine maple trees.

My main goal as the 2014-2015 Interfaith Intern was to bring the same excitement to my peers that a study abroad does right here in Des Moines. You see, life-changing events occur every day. What makes them unique compared to ordinary events is what I have been discussing. It’s new. It’s unusual. It’s thought-provoking.

Des Moines’s growing religious and ethnic diversity grants Simpson students the opportunity to experience something similar to flying miles away. They experience something odd, unusual, and thought-provoking, just in Iowa.

I brought students to the Sikh temple in West Des Moines, the Mosque in Ames, the orthodox and conservative Synagogue, and the Hindu temple in Grimes. Students loved it! Students’ minds were challenged and their eyes were opened. They found that the same sort of exposure can be found right here in Des Moines. Their academic maturation was able to progress without dropping hundreds of dollars on plane tickets.

So, what am I saying? I’m promoting trying new experiences. I fully support putting oneself out there whether this is outside of the United States (if you have the opportunity to go somewhere new, do it!), but some of the same experiences are found right here in Des Moines.

Take your weeknights and weekends to visit some of the nooks and crannies Iowa has to offer. The goal is to cultivate mind-altering knowledge. So, take advantage of the Pagan Pride festival in Des Moines or the Hindu festival. Take the service spring break trip to Florida or head down to historic JFK’s assassination in Texas. No matter what you choose you won’t be sorry unless you don’t choose anything at all.