‘Celebration and Understanding’ part one: Muhibbah Night

[This article is part of the Double Feature “Celebration and Understanding.” The two-part series explores the experiences of international students studying in Chambersburg. Part one focuses on Wilson College’s Muhibbah Night, a celebratory event comprised of international cuisine and performances. Part two describes Wilson College’s Empathy Lab, an immersive art installation that recreates the disruptive experiences international students face through immersive narrative.]

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – Wilson’s Muhibbah Club will hold their annual Muhibbah Night on Saturday, April 15. The event starts in Jensen Dining Hall with a dinner featuring cuisine from around the world at 5 p.m., followed by student performances at 7:30 p.m. in Laird Hall.

Muhibbah is a Malaysian word meaning “unity among nations.” Accordingly, Muhibbah Night embodies the “international and intercultural” club’s mission of building connections through activities.

“It’s a space for international students, and also local American students, to exchange cultures and values,” said James Pasaribu, treasurer of the Muhibbah Club. He explained that it is about international students taking pride in where they come from and “not just respecting, but appreciating other people’s cultures and values.”

Muhibbah Night is split into two portions: a dinner where the international students showcase a huge array of foods and an evening of cultural performances.

Pasaribu has been particularly impressed with the campus dining hall staff’s ability to recreate the traditional dishes. “They’ve made it pretty close and pretty good,” he said. “I’ve made some challenging asks, and they’ve been pretty on top of it.”

Last year they made a poached egg and chili that, in Pasaribu’s words: “Took me straight back home.”

Unity for its members, the campus and the surrounding community

The Muhibbah Club had been severely impacted by the COVID-induced travel and student exchange restrictions. This year, however, things have mostly returned to normal. The club has nearly 35 members, about 20 of which are regulars.

True to its name, Pasaribu sees a lot of unity within the Muhibbah Club’s membership.

“This year, especially,” he said, “it’s one of the larger groups that we’ve seen, and yet, it’s still one of the most friendly.” He enjoys seeing international students becoming friends on campus and in the dining hall – something that he said can be a slow process that can require a lot of effort. “I’m seeing a lot more people get connected.”

He added: “You can see those avenues of friendships, those avenues of support starting to get built, and so that’s really encouraging to see.”

For non-members, Muhibbah Night is an opportunity to taste and experience new things. It is an avenue to reach out to the broader Wilson campus and beyond.

“We are sharing our culture, our values,” said Pasaribu. “We’re – in a very loose sense of the word – being vulnerable with who we are…It’s a chance for people, I think to be exposed to a lot of cultures that may not resemble their own, and if they’re open and receptive to the ideas, they might see that there are better ways of doing things than the ways they’ve always known.”

“At the very least, it’s a cheap and interesting meal,” he said. For $10, attendees can enjoy traditional Chinese, Mexican, Indonesian, Armenian and Korean cuisines (and more). “You’ll know they will have tasted good because the students will have vetted that they taste good,” he said laughing.

The event is free for current Wilson Students. Non-students can pay $10 at the door; RSVP at iss@wilson.edu.

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