Sunday, October 22, 2006

On a wing and a prayer

Part 3 in a 3-part series about international students

Leah M. Caudle

Issue date: 10/19/06 Section: News


Graduate student Prapanna Tamarapu Parthasarathy from India practices Hinduism. She prays and sings praises to her gods and goddesses daily by worshiping outside of her makeshift shrine she built in her kitchen pantry.
Media Credit: Katie McCollum/Herald
Graduate student Prapanna Tamarapu Parthasarathy from India practices Hinduism. She prays and sings praises to her gods and goddesses daily by worshiping outside of her makeshift shrine she built in her kitchen pantry. "Out of the thousands of gods to worship, I choose the ones that give me education, who give me strength ... and it gives me a peace of mind," she said. The closest temple is in Nashville, and she is only able to visit once a semester.

Prapanna Tamarapu Parthasarathy traveled more than 8,000 miles from Andhra Pradesh, India, with her faith in her luggage.

Twelve idols of different sizes were tucked neatly among clothes and mementos from home, things the 24-year-old graduate student said she couldn't imagine leaving behind.

Tamarapu Parthasarathy is one of almost 600 international students on the Hill. These students travel great distances to receive international degrees and bring their religious practices with them.

Some international students are fortunate to find places to worship, while others find themselves adapting to the lack of temples in Bowling Green.

The most dominant religions among international students are Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, said Robin Borczon, director of international services.Places such as the Islamic Center of Bowling Green provide Muslim students with a worship place, but many Hindu students have to travel more than an hour to the Sri Ganesha Temple in Nashville.

But faith has proven to be unfaltering as students maintain their religion in any way possible.

For Tamarapu Parthasarathy, who practices Hinduism, worshipping means going home to her apartment on Adams Street. She can't make the trip to the temple in Nashville because she doesn't have a license.

But she regularly visits her shrine, or what used to be a pantry in her studio apartment. Statues of her gods line the shelves.

Each day, Tamarapu Parthasarathy kneels in prayer, hands clasped on bended knees, head lowered toward the ground. She pours oil into a cup for a lamp that she lights, along with a jasmine or sandalwood-scented incense stick.

But she misses the serenity and the atmosphere of the temple. Temples were frequent on the streets of India, a contrast to the sparse number in America, she said.

"I really miss it," Tamarapu Parthasarathy said. "The main reason I go to temple is because whenever I feel down it gives me strength. It gives me confidence."

Confidence also is what international student Zhenying Yang experiences while worshiping.

Yang, who is from southern China, said she wasn't religious when she was home, but has been attending a Christian church and Bible study every week since her arrival to the United States in August.

"I always feel stressed, but I don't feel stressed when I'm in church," Yang said. "When I worship I find peace in my heart."

The Baptist Campus Ministry tries to accommodate international students like Yang. Melissa Blankenship, international campus minister intern for BCM, said the organization works to meet the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the students.

The International Ministry at the BCM hosts activities from conversational English classes on Wednesday nights to providing rides to local churches for international students on Sunday mornings.

"We desire to meet all of the students' needs and some of those ome through religious exchanges," Blankenship said. "We're really excited to build relationships with the students."

Religion allows students to feel well-rounded and gives them a sense of peace, Borczon said.

"As human beings, religious traditions provide comfort," Borczon said.

Borczon also said she hasn't heard any students complain about the absence of worship places because they knew before coming to the United States.

Many students have local connections with students they knew before coming to Western, Borczon said.

Tamarapu Parthasarathy said she knew a temple on every corner wouldn't be an option when she arrived at Western more than a year ago.

"Religion isn't the only thing that would stop me from coming here," she said. "I have my education to think about. Besides, I carried my idols."

For Yang, becoming closer with God is something that she looks forward to, no matter where she worships.

"I don't call myself a Christian yet because I don't know that much about Jesus and the Bible, but maybe I will become one in the future," Yang said. "But right now, I'm not qualified."

Reach Leah Caudle at features@wkuherald.com.

Click here for an audio slideshow