5 Things to Know About Southeast Asians

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Do you want to see everyone represented in God’s table? Have you ever thought about what it would look like to welcome Southeast Asian (SEA) students into your chapter? Read on to learn 5 IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW that can help you in doing so!


  1. Southeast Asia is diverse - Southeast Asia consists of MANY different countries! Of these are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. With this and some upcoming resources, we hope to introduce initial steps and questions to consider in reaching out to Southeast Asians on a broader scope. However, those of each cultural background will require specific approaches (for example, ministering to a Pilipino student and a Hmong student is very different).
  2. Identity is confusing - It seems to be the case that many Southeast Asians of this generation often ask the question, “Who am I?” or question why being SEA is even a good thing. Southeast Asian students may find their identity in being American, Asian, or Asian American. They may find their identity in being immigrants or coming from a refugee background. Shame of SEA culture is not uncommon. Some Southeast Asian stereotypes are not flattering, even within the greater Asian community. Many societal factors come into play in the different thoughts/stances SEA students may have on their identity.
  3. Time looks different - Commitments/Priorities for the Southeast Asian community differ. Depending on which generation they are from, some SEA students might be either community or task-oriented. In either case, SEA students often prioritize choices that help in furthering their family or definition of success. This may be due to a “survival” mentality instilled from parents/relatives and recent immigration into the U.S. (also as refugees). If a student isn't able to make it to a small group or event, that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't interested! There may just be many factors working against it in their minds.
  4. Loyalty is huge - Spinning off of the above statement, SEA students typically are also quite loyal to communities they choose to join. There exists a high sense of unity and desire to further the community or “family.” Your willingness to help them and those they love means a lot and is huge for developing deeper relationships.
  5. Religion in SEA - Buddhism, Shamanism, Islam and Catholicism are the more practiced religions in Southeast Asia. Many Southeast Asian students adopt the religion of their parents but do not practice it as regularly. Despite that, there still exists a connection between their identity and religion, making it hard to consider leaving it behind for something new. That being said, many SEA students have never heard the Gospel before and are usually willing to learn more. Be willing to share the Gospel and take time to walk alongside the student. Help them navigate the tension between leaving, embracing, and living into identities.


Does this list make you more excited to reach out to Southeast Asian students? Does it raise more questions and a desire to learn more?? If so, check out the resource, “Reaching Southeast Asian students.” If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and our Southeast Asian leadership team (Alice Atkins, La Thao, and Jonathan Tran). We would love to help you.


Who Am I...Who Are We?

My name is Jonathan Tran and I am the area director for the Texas Gulf Coast in the Red River Region. I am a second-generation Chinese-Vietnamese man. Several years ago, I and a group of other Southeast Asian staff were gathered together at Staff Conference ‘14 to share and be in fellowship with one another. Little did we know that we were receiving vision and being asked to start something new in InterVarsity and on campuses across the nation. This meeting started our pursuit of helping SEA students on campus be seen and welcomed into God’s Kingdom. Our leadership for this movement is excited for what is to come! Will you join us in praying for the growth of this ministry and mission?

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