A Sense of Belonging

At the 2019 FIUTS Blue Marble Bash fundraiser on April 20, three inspiring students spoke about their experiences connecting with others through FIUTS programs. We'll be publishing the text of these speeches over the next couple of weeks so that those who couldn't attend the event have a chance to hear what these incredible members of our community have to say.

The following is the text and video of a speech by Madeline Kusnadi is a senior at the University of Washington from Indonesia studying Creative Writing. She is currently serving as the secretary and Marketing co-chair for the FIUTS Student Board, while also participating in various FIUTS events, including CulturalFest and the Pen Pal program.

Despite being born and raised in Indonesia, I want to say that I’m from FIUTS. It’s an office that feels like home and a community that feels like family. Tonight I want to tell you all the story of how I found that sense of belonging in FIUTS.


It all started when my mom went to college in the U.S. After finding out how hard it was to learn English as a second language, my mom wanted me to learn English while I was growing up. So, I was raised with a more American mindset, reading American novels, watching American TV shows, living based on American ideas, and speaking American English, so much so that I started getting out of touch with my own native tongue and culture. Growing up, I went to international schools, where my subjects were taught in English and my friends were a diverse group of Japanese, Korean, Irish, and Indonesians who preferred conversing in English.

When I first came to the U.S., I was a sheltered 16-year-old with a thirst for adventure. I met a big group of Indonesians who weren’t as open and accepting as the Indonesian friends I had at home. Thinking I was the one at fault for not knowing more about my country, I spent my first two years struggling to fit into their exclusive circle, struggling to keep up with my classes, struggling with family issues, struggling to find any motivation to keep going. My lifelong dreams of living in the U.S kept on crumbling and crumbling for those 2 years. It was nothing like what the movies and novels taught me, it was nothing like my daydreams and fantasies. It was just heartbreaking. So when I transferred to UW, I was determined to use the fresh start to make the most of my last 2 years as a student.

I spent my first quarter at UW frantically joining everything I could, which included registering for 20 clubs, such as the Gamers Nation, Graphic Novel Society, and Write Away, while also rushing two sororities. Finding my niche group in university became a momentary obsession for me. Keeping up with all my extracurricular activities then started affecting my studies. The social life I dreamt of required so much sacrifice educationally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, especially for a natural introvert like me. It was then that I was referred to Unite UW by one of my friends. Spending my Winter quarter with them helped me open up enough to seek more opportunities like the one they provided, like when I first discovered FIUTS through the mandatory International Student Orientation, but it wasn’t until I joined the FIUTS Student Board that I got more involved. Interviewing for the Student Board was nerve-wracking and bone-chilling.

Maddie (front left) and the rest of the FIUTS 2018-2019 Student Board

Maddie (front left) and the rest of the FIUTS 2018-2019 Student Board

It’s a funny story actually. I came to the FIUTS Office a few minutes early and was asked to sit and wait at this couch by the front desk. I sat next to this girl, who out of nowhere, started talking to me. Immediately, my defenses shot up, my mind raced, and I smiled and answered like the awkward mess that I am. A few minutes later, she walked into the office and I had a moment of peace alone. Soon after, I was called into the office. Lo and behold, the girl turned out to be the President of the Student Board.

So that’s how my journey started with FIUTS. Since then, joining the FIUTS Student Board really opened up a whole new world for me. During the Student Board Orientation, I met Fia, who shared to me a very similar experience I went through back in Indonesia; feeling isolated in my own country from my own people. Up until then, I thought I was alone. I then started to wonder if there were others like me. I got to meet and know more amazing people, through doing things like drinking Anna’s homemade bubble tea, discussing race and politics with Rachel, and going to Oregon Coast with Yuxuan.

Maddie (second from left) serving ice cream to welcome international students to Early Fall Start at UW

Maddie (second from left) serving ice cream to welcome international students to Early Fall Start at UW

As I went on my journey with FIUTS, I also became a facilitator, one of FIUTS’ volunteer leaders, to overall grow as a person, while feeling the need to catch up to all the wonderful people I’m meeting through FIUTS. The great thing about facilitating is that you can choose to lead any kind of FIUTS event, big or small, as many or little times as you’d like. This gave me the chance to both force myself out of my shell by leading others as well as facilitate as many times as necessary so that I can get used it. I went from just serving ice cream to Early Fall Start students to leading bigger events like, hiking to Bridal Veil Falls and pumpkin carving at a corn field up in Snoqualmie. I ended up facilitating 83 hours in September before I finally felt the least bit comfortable with the idea of facilitating, which is quite the contrast now that I’ve facilitated 134 hours as the Top 1% most facilitated in the last 12 months.

Maddie interacting with kids at the CulturalFest Expo

Maddie interacting with kids at the CulturalFest Expo

My proudest moment has to be when I signed up to be a Booth Captain for Indonesia at one of FIUTS’ biggest events of the year: CulturalFest. Not only did I make and run a booth with 2 fellow Indonesian friends, I also got the chance to research, learn, and connect with my country’s culture in ways I never could even imagine. I remember pacing around, shaking and hyperventilating just thinking of the kinds of questions I wouldn’t be able to answer if anyone asked anything about my country that wasn’t on my trifold poster board. I felt like an impostor, I always have, because I feel like I’m in a gap between Indonesian and American culture, never knowing enough about either, never fitting in in both. I made it through the day though, and it felt enlightening.

As I went on with the newfound confidence and self-improvement I got from FIUTS, I was able to enjoy the leadership position I feared, speak up when I used to be the shyest, and step out of my comfort zone when I used to hide in it. I then wanted to reach out to those who felt like they were alone, who felt as small as I did when I first started at UW. FIUTS has given me the space to learn and grow, the environment to try and to succeed, the people who are supportive and encouraging, and the opportunity to be the best version of me I can be.

Watch Maddie’s speech:

Ellen Frierson