It’s OK to be Different

Hana photo
 Better Together @ UNF President and UNF Interfaith Center Student Assistant Hana Ashchi reflects on her Better Together Coach Training in Chicago over the summer.

Becoming a Better Together Coach—a student leader for the Interfaith Youth Core service campaign—has been my biggest accomplishment since becoming involved with the interfaith movement at the University of North Florida. Having attended the Interfaith Leadership Institute in Atlanta back in January 2013, I wanted to be a part of a group of extraordinary interfaith leaders from all over the country, where bridges were being crossed to bring together religious and non-religious leaders.

Over the summer I had the honor of being selected as a Better Together Coach and joining the other ten coaches in Chicago for a 5-day training course lead by the IFYC staff. Coming into training week, I didn’t expect to become as close as I did with everyone in just a little over a week. My most cherished experiences were not in the training room but out on the town with my fellow coaches walking the streets of downtown Chicago. I gained a new amount of respect learning from each and every one of these beautiful, talented and inspiring people of various beliefs, traditions and faiths.

It was our last day of training and we had all finished sharing our stories when some of the IFYC staff took us out to dinner at a Persian restaurant, Reza’s Kitchen. Being Persian, I became overly excited and was ready to share my experiences of eating delicious food with everyone else. The amount of rice, vegetables, kabobs, bread and flavorful sauces that we were served to us could feed at least 20 more people. By the end of our meal, tears were shed, laughs were shared and we were all grateful for the experiences we shared together, the new knowledge we acquired and the amount of respect we gained for various faiths, traditions and beliefs.

Being a Baha’i my entire life, I was always taught that service to others is one of many ways of worshipping God. One of my favorite quotes to live by from the Baha’i holy writings is, “By Thy grace I am, at all times, ready to serve Thee and am rid of all attachment to anyone except Thee.” Being a part of Interfaith Youth Core has helped me to make a positive influence through service is which is what I pretty much grew up and live for as a Baha’i.

These experiences have opened up my mind and help me learn more about who I really am and why I am involved in interfaith cooperation. There were times when I was scared to share my own stories because I was so used to being judged about my faith. Leaving Chicago, I finally realized who I am and what I wanted to do as an interfaith leader and how I wanted Better Together at University of North Florida to become.

Being able to make a difference in my community and taking back what I learned as a Better Together Coach, I gained a newfound appreciation for other religions and to encourage others to gain appreciation as well. I hope to live up to the training that I have received as a coach and to continue to learn from my fellow coaches as well as my peers within my community.

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