I had never been to New York City before. I’d read about it in books and seen it in countless movies: the sounds and smells of its city streets; the sea of people walking and talking and riding through their days; sunsets on the Brooklyn bridge, casting long shadows over a complex city maze. No amount of reading or seeing prepared me, though, for the feeling I had taking my first steps through the Village to find lunch at a small diner soon after arriving. It was a feeling of expansion and a new sense of self that only comes from being in a place you’ve never been before.

I was there with a racially and religiously diverse group of staff, undergraduate, and graduate students on an interfaith trip focusing on identity made possible by my Con Ed II placement with the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life at Emory. In addition to exploring the city, we were able to visit the Church Center of the United Nations, where we had a workshop on identity and oppression; the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center, where Imam Talib discussed Islam in a racially diverse America; and the Mission of Iraq to the United Nations, where we were challenged on both the positive and negative aspects of religion and geopolitics. In between these official sessions were countless discussions on identity, race, and life all while eating some of the best food in New York.

As a Contextual Education II intern with the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of undergraduate groups on campus in both official and unofficial capacities. These opportunities include this interfaith trip to New York, but also my work on Sunday mornings in University Worship, Emory’s weekly protestant worship service, and my involvement with ReStart, Emory’s collegiate recovery program. Through these experiences I have been able to encounter all that Emory has to offer outside of Candler.

I have found that these experiences in the Contextual Education program make their way into my coursework and classroom discussions on a regular basis. They have not only enriched my time as a student at Candler, but have added value to my life as a global citizen.

Photo: Isaac (third from left) and the Emory group in New York City.