A couple of days ago, I got the chance spend a weekend in Chicago. I had been anticipating this trip since the beginning of fall semester as a means to finally step foot outside of campus and to get away from Luther life for a little while. This trip was an event for scholars under the International Women Leaders (IWL) scholarship program. Throughout the weekend, we were joined by other scholars from the traditional International Leaders program in conferences and Sunday services. On the last day of our stay, we were able to head downtown for a tour of the windy city! On Friday, after classes were done for the day, my group and I departed from the Union and drove to the airport in Rochester, MN for our flight to Chicago. Driving included, it took us about three hours to get to our hotel in Chicago.
On the first day, we got to formally (and informally) meet all the scholars from other attending colleges like Wartburg, Newberry, Augsburg, and Lenoir-Rhyne. We also had the opportunity to meet scholars from the traditional program. The day began with opening devotions where everyone had to write on a handed out paper footprint, instances where God's presence was felt strongly in his or her lifetime. After this, we stamped our fingerprints on a canvas painting of a tree representing the many walks of life we came from to all unite under one tree. The devotion was followed by worship singing and a short prayer. Next, each of us was appointed to a pen pal! One International Women Leader paired with one International Leader. I was appointed to a young Japanese lady called Mayuko, who unfortunately wasn’t present at the time because she had muscle cramps. However, the coordinator suggested a phone call for the both of us and it ended up working quite well! Mayuko and I learned lots about each other and even exchange stories about each of our favorite verses from the Bible. The conference/forum was led by two experts on cultural understandings in the U.S.: Emma Sellers from Lenoir-Rhyne University and Gaylord Thomas. Ms. Sellers conducted a discussion about what it means to be “Under the Diversity Umbrella” and the several culture shocks we’ve experienced throughout our stay in the U.S. Mr. Thomas held a presentation about the realities and current issues people of color are currently facing in Chicago. The conference was closed with a warm, Southern-inspired dinner that was accompanied with a talent showcase by the scholars. The IWL family went on stage to sing a short rendition of “We Are The Champions (Women)." One of my fellow Gospel Choir members and I got up on stage to sing Malibongwe. There was also a recognition ceremony of scholars who managed to attain academic achievements (e.g. being on the Dean’s list in their schools) before the day came to an end.
The next day started off with the scholars attending different Sunday services in churches assigned for each individual. I was assigned to attend Ascension in Northfield with another IWL scholar, two other IL scholars, and one of our coordinators. Upon arriving, the congregation was very warm and welcoming to us. The service wasn’t any different from the Sunday service held in Luther's CFL. Halfway through the service, we were introduced to the congregation formally and each of us got to tell a little bit of ourselves and this program. At the end of the service, we were led to the lounge outside of the worship hall to have some coffee and brownies with the congregation. I managed to converse with a few of them, and I felt really comfortable with their hospitality. When we returned, we had to say our goodbyes with the IL scholars because they were leaving on that day. After all the hugs and a nice boxed lunch, we got on board the train to downtown Chicago!
The initial plan our coordinators had was to bring us to a ferris wheel to see the city’s skyline, but unfortunately it wasn’t open that afternoon (I was thankful for this because my fear of heights is REAL). Instead, we got on a bus to Willis Tower (Sears Tower)! The walk from our stop to the tower was not so pleasant because we had to brave through winds as powerful as a tornado! No one kidded me when they called this the windy city, I felt like I was going to topple over at any second! Anyway, we headed straight up to Sears Tower once we arrived and watched a documentary on the history of the tower in a mini-theater. I was surprised to find out that it was taller than the Empire State Building. I was also surprised to see many featured miniatures of the Petronas Twin Towers—Malaysia’s architectural pride, a piece of home. When we got to the highest floor, the view was just indescribable. I’ve never seen a skyline as bright or as beautiful. It felt a little bit like home again seeing Chicago all lit up with sparkling, glowing lights. The most exciting part about the tower was its Skydeck—three ledges just right at the edge of the tower where visitors can pictures of the skyline scenery. A couple of my friends and I were scared initially to stand on the ledge, but we decided to do it anyway because it might be another year again till we got to see Chicago. Taking pictures was rather awkward because we were a large group with a lot of scaredy cats, but we had a fun time bonding with each other one-thosand feet above the ground.
We were famished after our skyscraper experience, so we headed to Nando’s—my favorite restaurant all of all time. Nando’s is a South-African restaurant that serves their signature chicken marinated with African Bird’s Eye chilli, and also serves sides with Portuguese-inspired cuisines. We enjoyed a hearty meal of peri-peri marinated chicken with some spicy peri-peri sauce to challenge our tastebuds. Dessert was calling us very soon too. When we were finished, we headed to Shake Shack—a tradition for the IWL trips in Chicago because it apparently serves one of the best shakes in town. Since we were eating a lot, our coordinators brought us to Millennium Park for some calorie-burning. I was glad that we were able to see the Cloud Gate—otherwise known as the Bean. The trip in Chicago ended sooner than we thought, and we had to depart the next day already.
On the last day of our weekend, all of us shared problems we’ve experienced throughout our time here so that our coordinators could further better the program and help enhance our experience here in the U.S. We discussed some of the steps that should be taken and then we ended with a prayer before departing to O’Hare. This time outside of Decorah has given me some time to think and reflect on what I want to bring to Luther as an International Women Leader. This trip has made me realize how blessed, supported, and especially loved I am despite having no family members here in the States with me. I’m grateful for this family I have with me for the rest of my stay here in the States and the rest of life. And for that, I thank God for all of it, bringing us together in Christ.