Friday, August 7, 2015

Making Connections

We were picked up from our apartment by Ann Marie and we headed straight to St. Ursula’s College. We were so excited to finally visit our sister school. It’s amazing how we can be almost 10,000 miles away from home and yet feel right at home as soon as we walked through those doors. We were greeted and embraced as though they had been waiting a long time for us Americans. The charism and spirit of St. Angela is very evident here. We walked through the halls and everyone greeted us with smiles and hellos along the way. We were served a delicious breakfast in the boarders’ cafeteria and we were quite impressed.

After we ate breakfast we were led around the school by Molly, a junior (or “year -11” student in Australia). She took us around and gave us a great perspective of what it would be like for a student at St. Ursula’s College. We went into classrooms and the students and teachers were so warm and welcoming. They stopped and let us talk with them and take pictures. They immediately knew that we were from America because of our accent and yet we still feel as though they are the ones who have the accent. We both felt as though we were back at home at Ursuline because in so many ways the students reminded us of our own. We heard some music over the intercom and then it was time for tea.

The students and teachers all took a 20-minute break from classes and had snacks while catching up with each other. We were pleasantly surprised to see that nachos were available during tea time. For a moment, we thought we were back in St. Louis. The students all found places to go outside. The co-workers all gathered together in a lovely space for snacks and tea or coffee. We discovered “white tea” (hot tea with milk) and now we must have it with every meal. After tea time we left the school and toured Toowoomba with Karen, the global education coordinator. We went to the Queens Garden and walked around to see the beautiful palm trees and various flowers which were getting ready to bloom in September. We stopped by an art gallery which had art by aboriginal artists. The artwork was quite colorful and unique. Each piece had its own story. The manager Rosie was very big on us experiencing the art through touch as well as sight. We sensed her enthusiasm and passion from the moment we walked in to the gallery. After that we went to lunch at Picnic Point which had spectacular views looking down from the range. God blessed us with a beautiful clear sky.

We then took a drive to the “Uni” a.k.a. University to see higher education in Australia. Our night ended with a journey in the St. Ursula’s van to Morangadan for dinner. We were pleasantly surprised that our dinner included an evening with some Japanese co-workers from St. Ursula in Hachinohe, Japan. Even though there was a language barrier our common Ursuline connection combined with the massive quantity of food on each plate soon brought laughter and smiles among us. Suddenly the phrase “build community wherever you go” became very real for us.

Our next day at St. Ursula’s began with Ann Marie, the principal, picking us up again. (Neither one of us has completely adjusted to driving on the other side of the street, let alone driving on the other side of the car.) She has gone above and beyond making us feel welcome. Although she was out late with us last night, she was there bright and early this morning. She brought us to school and we were once again embraced by the warm and friendly atmosphere. We are so impressed with how friendly everyone seems to be in this country. People go out of their way to help us wherever we go. We were invited to be part of the year-11 retreat in their chapel. It was amazing to witness the similarities in our students and their retreat experience. The retreat leader was dynamic and we were impressed with how engaged the students were. After the morning of the retreat we had tea time and conversation with the Principal once again. After finishing our “white tea” we exchanged some gifts and we were sad to say good-bye, but we know that we never really say good-bye. Ann Marie drove us to the bus station and we parted ways. Even though we were together for just 48 short hours we felt such a strong connection to our mission and our new friends at St. Ursula’s College. We continued our journey to our next stop of Brisbane.

-Mike Smith and Joni Mullen

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