Guest Post: Conversations that Matter: A Dialogue About Immigration and Belonging

I am excited to introduce my first Guest Post on Shiawasen Sangha! This is a piece by Sagar Rajpal, an Office and Program Assistant at Northeastern University’s Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service. Sagar is currently pursuing his Masters in Engineering Management at Northeastern University.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, a speaker and writer on matters that concern humankind, believed that dialogue is a form of communication in which question and answer continues till a question is left without an answer. He went on to say that it is a conversation in which investigation reaches a certain point of intensity and depth which then has a quality that thought could never reach. Don’t you think such conversations are refreshing, or even liberating?

At least that’s what we at the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service believe and hence have started “Conversations That Matter: A Campus Dialogue Initiative” which will create a comfortable space for participants to indulge in meaningful conversations. Our most recent dialogue was held in the warm Sacred Space on a cold January evening and attended by a diverse group of students from various fields and backgrounds. The dialogue was centered around the idea of Immigration and Belonging.

A group of over 25 participants along with facilitators from the center started off the discussion with how and when they felt like they actually belonged to a place away from home. Students spoke about the process of gradual adaptation to the new environment. One of the participants pointed out that back home, we are set in our ways. To venture out of the comfort zone is a massive step to take but the experiences that follow, build, strengthen and uproot some values and that is how one grows and broadens one’s horizons. Someone added by saying that we take our perspectives for granted and believe that the world is exactly how we think it is, but only when we are in the midst of the most diverse settings, we realize how wrong we have been.

The group agreed that going away from home is not easy, but it definitely gets better, mostly because in due course, you meet people who share the same ideas and people with contrasting ideas, both making you wiser and hence altering your personality for the better.

Next, the concept of Home was discussed. The facilitators asked the participants what it might mean to not have a place we call home or to never be able to return to a place we call home. Numerous answers popped up, some said home is where they are happy, others were of the opinion that home is where family is. One of the students shared his experience of leaving the comfort of his home and shifting to a new place. He said that the decision felt like shutting the doors on the life he once had. He said that the whole process was a storm inside his head, but meeting and becoming friends with people who come from such different backgrounds and learning something new every day made him believe that he made the right decision. An introspective vibe spread across the room as everyone began contemplating over their journey and sharing their experiences with the group.

The facilitators then asked the group how they can ensure that everyone feels a sense of belonging, regardless of generation. A student excitedly volunteered to answer and just said one word: Food. The group broke into laughter and after a good few minutes, a beaming facilitator asked the student to elaborate. With the utmost sincerity, the student said that she believed that in a University having people of different races, religions, languages and mindsets, food is the only thing that brings them together, the only universal language with which you cannot go wrong. She went on to say that if she would want someone to feel welcomed and included, she would cook for them. Everyone nodded in agreement and one student pointed out how he felt the same warmth when he entered the Center and saw the numerous desserts from all over the world. A facilitator reassured that he can get back to them soon as the group had almost come to the end of the dialogue.

A general agreement stood suspended in the air as everyone looked around at placid and peaceful faces. One student broke the silence and said that he admired all the people who put themselves in such different and difficult situations to get closer to their aim. Another student added that amidst all the classes and assignments, she doesn’t know whether she’s happy or sad,  but she does know that she’s at ease.



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