creative:impact - Bridging Cultural Divides In Time For The Holiday Season

Dec 17, 2019

Raju Ahmmed and Lauren Zinn at the WEMU studio
Credit Deb Polich / The Arts Alliance

The impact of arts and culture can truly be felt during the holiday season, but it can also lead to isolation for those are visiting for a far-away land.  International House Ann Arbor (IHAA) was formed to make such visitors feel more at home in the U.S., and it gives them a chance to spread their own holiday celebrations.  The house's executive director, Lauren Zinn, and one of its current residents, Raju Ahmmed, talk about IHAA's accomplishments for this week's "creative:impact" with WEMU's David Fair and Arts Alliance president/CEO Deb Polich.

Deb Polich, President and CEO of the Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

International House Ann Arbor (IHAA)

International House Ann Arbor (IHAA) has served international students since 1888, reflecting a century-long mission to promote intercultural understanding and peace.  Today, IHAA welcomes international and US students and scholars. 

When students from China first arrived at the University of Michigan, the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor provided a welcome environment.  Students from diverse nations, cultures, and religions were soon living and learning under one roof.  The organization went through four name changes between 1953 and 2018 (see names below) as it grew in various ways to make international students and scholars feel at home.  Today, IHAA is a professional, nonprofit, educational organization providing below-market housing with a “home away from home” feel for international and US students and scholars as well as interns.  In addition to serving residents and alumni, IHAA’s Global Engagement for Understanding program is open to the University of Michigan community, students and faculty of nearby educational institutions, and members of the local Ann Arbor community and surrounding area. 

Historical Details

The first international students visited Michigan in the mid-1890s from China during a time of widespread anti-immigrant sentiment; the Chinese Exclusion Act had been passed by Congress a couple years earlier and the Supreme Court Case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, made segregation the law of the land.  Even so, ecumenical cooperation slowly increased on campus throughout the early 1900s.  By the 1930’s, the University of Michigan had become one of the four national universities with the largest number of international students, culminating with the establishment of the International Center in 1938.

The period after WWII witnessed another influx of international students, which catalyzed the establishment the Protestant Foundation for International Students (PFIS) in 1953, which expanded opportunities for international students through the Hospitality Program where students were matched with local families.  And in the spirit of promoting intercultural respect and creating a “home away from home” for international students, special attention was given to students from China, Korea, Japan, the Middle East, Africa, and other places that were experiencing profound political changes.

As international presence on campus increased, so did the need to develop the residential program.  PFIS became the Ecumenical Campus Center (ECC) in 1961, through which the resident community expanded programs promoting counseling, study, and social activity.  On April 30, 1982, fifty Washtenaw Country families hosted visiting scholars from the People’s Republic of China.  As pointed out by The Ann Arbor News, families hosted these international students in order to “reach out to others from halfway around the world and make them neighbors.”

Even in 1982, the Ecumenical Campus Center (ECC), as it was known from the early 1950’s to early 2000’s, was reaching out to international students through the International Hospitality and Educational Program in order to pursue a mission of intercultural learning and peace.  Cultural trips and educational programs were established throughout the 1980s.  Some of these programs continue today. 

The name ECIR, Ecumenical Center and International Residence, was first used in 2000 after merging the Ecumenical Campus Center (ECC) with Ecumenical Association for International Understanding.  Most recently, the new name of International House Ann Arbor (IHAA) was established in 2018.  Throughout these name changes, the mission has remained the same.  

About Raju Ahmmed 

Raju Ahmmed
Credit Raju Ahmmed

Raju Ahmmed is a Fulbright Scholar from Bangladesh.  He is working as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at the University of Michigan.  He teaches Bengali in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures.  Once a week, he also teaches English at the seventh grade in Scarlett Middle School

Back home in Bangladesh, Mr Ahmmed works as a Lecturer in English at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University, Bangladesh.  He teaches communicative English courses to undergraduate students.  His research interests are developing second language skills, Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TESOL) and Maritime English.  Mr. Ahmmed completed his B.A. (Hons) and Masters from Department of English, University of Dhaka.  He was born in 1991 in Bogura District, which is the northern part of Bangladesh.  As a cultural ambassador, Mr Ahmmed often shares the vibrant Bengali culture at different schools and organizations.

The Festivals in Bangladesh 

Victory Day in Bangladesh
Credit Raju Ahmmed

Victory Day- 16 December 1971 is the day when Bangladesh got her independence from Pakistan.  It’s the national holiday in Bangladesh. Bangladesh was formerly known as East Pakistan and after a war of nine months and deaths of three million people, the country became independent. 

International Mother Language Day: 21 February is the day to commemorate the brave sons of the nation who sacrificed their lives to demand Bangla as the state language of Bangladesh.  On this day, people visit Shaheed Minar to pay tribute to the martyrs. 

Bangla New Year
Credit Raju Ahmmed

Pahela Boishak/Bangla New Year- ‘Boishak’ is the name of the first month of Bengali New Year.  It is usually on 14 April every year. The day is celebrated with processions, fairs, wearing traditional dresses like Saari and Panjabi, eating traditional food like watered rice with hilsa fish, participating in cultural programs.  The word ‘Shuvo Noboborsho’ means Happy New Year in Bangla. 

Food in Bangla New Year
Credit Raju Ahmmed

Eid Festival: This is like Thanksgiving in USA.  People say their prayers, eat home made foods, visit relatives, go outing with closer ones. 

About Lauren Zinn

Lauren Zinn
Credit VeLoie-Alling

Lauren brings fresh insights and an interdisciplinary approach to her Development and educational roles at IHAA.  Her credentials include a doctorate in Urban, Technological, Environmental/Educational Planning from the University of Michigan, a Master’s degree in Philosophy from York University, Toronto, a Certificate in Gaming-Simulation Design from the University of Michigan, and ordination as an Interfaith Minister from All Faiths Seminary, NYC.  She has experience consulting, training, and teaching in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors.  She has taught at higher and lower institutions of education in subjects ranging from gaming, philosophy, psychology, interfaith, art, religion, and ethics.  She also led a congregation of families with Jewish roots and Interfaith wings and lived abroad on two occasions.


International House Ann Arbor

History of International House Ann Arbor

Lauren Zinn

Raju Ahmmed

Raju Ahmmed, WEMU's David Fair, and Lauren Zinn at the WEMU studio.
Credit Deb Polich / The Arts Alliance

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