Thursday, September 22, 2011

Three Months Later

Well, I can hardly believe it but it's been almost three months now since I left Adelaide.  I clearly remember saying goodbye to Danni and Teigan at the Adelaide Airport and how unreal it felt getting on that plane and leaving Adelaide.  What was even more unreal, though, was coming home.  I couldn't help but smile seeing the sign in Los Angeles that said "Welcome to the United States" and when I walked past the Dunkin Donuts at Logan Airport, I thought: "I'm back."  It all really hit home, though, when I saw my mom and brother waiting for me just past the security checkpoint.  That was what I had been waiting for.  Hugging them for the first time in over a month and a half was just beyond words.  When my cousin popped out from behind a pillar and ran over to me, that really capped it off.  I was truly back, and I couldn't have been happier.
I'm back
I left Adelaide with a heavy heart, and anyone who read my last blog entry from Australia probably saw that.  I'll admit: my eyes weren't exactly dry as I typed up that entry on my last night in Adelaide.  But my eyes have dried and my head has cleared.  I re-read all of my posts the other day and was able to put myself back in my shoes and relive all the joys and excitements of my trip: everything from playing footy with the Year 4's to watching the Lion King with the Year 2's, from seeing the World's Biggest Rocking Horse to holding a koala. 

This trip was truly both life-changing and life-affirming, and on so many different levels.  It really opened my eyes to the fact that there's a lot more to the world than my little corner of Massachusetts.  But I also know that as much as I love being able to venture out into the world, I can never deny my New England roots, and I would really never want to.  This trip taught me a lot about myself and how I can still be myself even on the other side of the world.  I learned a lot about my faith, and how I can live out a Christian life beyond the walls of Campus Ministry at PC, how I can rely on and serve God in so many ways out in the world.  Above all of these things, though, my trip taught me how much I love to teach and work with kids.  The students I worked with at Blackfriars really made my trip what it was, and they showed me that I want to go into teaching (hopefully back at Blacks someday!).

My time in Adelaide was truly unforgettable.  Not only do I have reminders of it all around me in the form of Australian flags and koalas on the wall, but it seems to have imprinted itself in my mind as well.  I still look up into the trees every now and then, hoping to catch a glimpse of a koala.  And every time I see a deer crossing sign, I secretly hope to see the shape of a kangaroo on it instead.  A lone tree in a field reminds me of the gum trees I saw all over Adelaide, and my ears are always searching to pick up an Australian accent to remind me of my folks Down Under. 

But then again, I still get excited when I can order a medium regular at Dunkin Donuts without having to guess what it might be, or try to explain what I think coffee is supposed to be like.  When I can call my family without having to guess what time it is on the other side of the world, or hop in the car and drive down 495 (on the right side of the road), it's one of those great reminders that I'm back home.

As I continue to reflect on everything that has happened since May 26th when I first left for Australia, it's still hard to believe.  All of that actually happened!?  But it did.  And I am so grateful for that, and so blessed to have had the opportunity that I did. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hard to Believe

It's hard to believe that in just 12 hours I'll be on a plane to take me home.  What's even harder to believe is how difficult it's going to be to get on that plane and leave Adelaide.  I would never have imagined how truly life-changing this trip would be and how many amazing people I would meet.  Leaving home six weeks ago was hard, but this may be even harder because I know that I won't be back in a few short weeks.  Everyone from year 2's to year 10's to the principal of Blackfriars have asked me when I'm going to come back, and I hope that I will have a chance to return here.  It's been my home for six weeks and has meant so much to me that, as excited as I am to get back to the US, I will leave a part of my heart in Australia.

Today, though, was really a great last day at the school.  Christian and Adam came in to see me first thing this morning, and Christian kept hugging me and saying how much he loved having me here and was going to miss me --  I know that I've loved getting to know him and will definitely miss him too.  I went in with my year 5's for the first three lessons after this (longer than I intended, but I just didn't want to leave), and had some really good chats with the boys.  During prayer, a bunch of the boys mentioned me again in their intentions, and it really meant a lot.  I hope that I was able to make a lasting impact on them because they certainly have on me.  Of course, there were still plenty of questions about American food and what our money looks like, and I was happy to answer them all.  Near the end of the lesson, I got a visit from Tommy and Anton, who had both been out sick for the day.  Tommy proudly showed me the cross I gave him, and both of them wrote letters for me and put them in envelopes covered in scratch-n-sniff stickers.  Tommy asked for my address, my home phone number, and my mobile phone number; they both seem intent on staying in touch with me, and I hope to keep in touch with them too.  I've had a blast getting to know them, and will be sure to follow up with them once I'm back home.
This picture tells all the difference between the two boys

During recess, I went up to the staff room, where Maria mentioned me in front of the staff, thanking me for what I've done here and presenting me with some gifts.  It was really nice to hear her talk about me like that -- I have such a respect for her and all that she's done for me here, and so her words really meant a lot to me.  There was only an hour of school left after recess, so I made sure to visit the year 4's and 2's before the end of the day.  In the year 4 class, the boys all clapped for me and shouted out "Three cheers for TJ!" followed by three "hip-hip-hoorays".  They are great!  I stopped in with the year 2's for a bit afterwards, where I watched "Cars" and helped one of the boys color in football flags.  A great relaxing last lesson with them.  Before the day ended, I stopped back in with the year 5's to say good-bye.  As they were getting ready to head out, a few of the boys asked for my email address, one of them running across the room to get some paper and grinning from ear to ear when I gave it to him.  It really will be great to stay in touch with them!

Once the day ended, I said goodbye to Gregoire and got my last look around the school before we headed off for the staff lunch at a local pub.  It was nice to sit around with the people I've gotten to know so well these past weeks.  Saying goodbye to Maria, though, really made it hit home that I'm about to leave.  She hugged me twice, and told me that she was going to be the mom and make me let her know when I get home safely.  I will really miss her!  And everyone else I've come to know -- staff, students, and friends.  They've been so great to me, and it will be nice to know that I've got a group of people back in Australia who mean so much to me.

Looking back, this trip has been nothing like I expected and yet everything I hoped for.  I didn't do the work I thought I would with the chaplain, but through Learning Enrichment I made my way into so many great classes and formed close bonds with some really great boys.  I didn't end up living in the priory and instead got to become a part of two separate families as they welcomed me into their homes.  I didn't see any kangaroos hopping down the sidewalk, but I did get to hold a koala (possibly one of the highlights of my trip).  And I have been able to see God guiding me along this whole time, taking me halfway across the world and helping me to discover His will for my life as I met so many great people, discovered some amazing places, and had countless experiences that I'll never forget.

Reflecting on these past six weeks, it is hard to believe that my time in Australia is over; but it's easy to believe that there's a reason I came here and that God will continue to help me learn from all that I've done and all the people I've met.  At the end of this all, I can only look forward with hope and know that this is just another great beginning -- and that I am truly, truly blessed.

So long, Blackfriars -- until next time!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Tomorrow is my last day at Blackfriars and on Saturday I'll be leaving Australia -- I'm still in shock that my time here is almost up and am slightly unwilling to believe it.  Today was definitely a great last full day at the school, though. I spent the whole morning in the year 5 class; as soon as I walked in, one of the boys (Dylan) walked up and handed me a card he had made and then the whole class signed.  He included the Blackfriars crest and American flag and then a picture of me crossing the International Date Line, with plenty of well-wishes for my trip.  It really made my morning!  When the boys were doing their morning prayer and sharing their prayer intentions, a bunch of them mentioned me, asking that I have a good last two days at Blacks and a safe trip home.  I couldn't help but smile every time.

Mr Richardson gave the boys a lesson on Dominican prayer today, which was really interesting.  I always love to hear what young kids have to say about prayer, and it was an awesome lesson to be around for.  I moved around the room, asking the boys about their prayers and seeing what they wrote.  Since it's the end of the term, though, there was plenty of mucking around mixed in with the actual working.  Anton had a bit of a giggling fit and decided to practice smacking me with his ruler, and then had fun making faces at me behind the teacher's back to try and get me to laugh (it definitely worked).  

After recess, I went into the year 4 class for two lessons.  They were watching that show "Mortified" again and doing some work to put their portfolios together.  I didn't do too much with them, but at the end of class they were really keen on throwing those balls at me again.  For whatever reason, they love when you whip the balls at them (they're small enough that they don't hurt), and so I had plenty of fun doing that at the end of class.  For lunch, Anton and his friend Christopher came over to the office.  Tommy was out sick again, so I have Anton a note to take home for him, along with my blue cross necklace that he loves (I had promised to get him one, and the one I ordered online never came).  It was my last lunch at the school and was really enjoyable -- Anton and Christopher are both great kids, and they seemed thrilled to come over for lunch two days in a row.

For the last two lessons of the day, I went in with the year 2's.  They were getting ready to lead the afternoon's assembly and were a mix of nervous and excited to speak in front of the rest of the primary school.  I watched proudly as they all read at the assembly, and then gave them all a little card afterwards with the class picture I took and a small message with an American flag on it (I couldn't find any pennies, but they still really seemed to like the pictures).  One boy told me that he'll always remember me with it! 

The day was just about over by this point, and when I went back to the office I made plans with Maria to go to the hospital and visit Reegan and the new baby.  What a great way to spend one of my last afternoons here -- with the baby girl Leni Eden.  She's only two days old, and it was so peaceful to hold her and think about the new life that I was holding in my arms.  

The youngest baby I've ever held

I've only got two nights left Down Under, and tomorrow is my last day at Blackfriars -- all I can say is: yikes!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Nearing the End

During my first week here, Christian asked me if I would want to stay in Adelaide and at Blackfriars long-term.  I told him "Nah, I don't think so."  Five weeks later, I have another boy ask me almost every day and my response is always, "I wish I could."  It's been a great six weeks at Blackfriars, and I can't believe that my time here is almost up!  Today a lot of that really started to sink in.  I started off my day with the year 5's (I was supposed to be with the year 7's, but I'm basically ignoring my schedule and just going where I want to at this point).  Before I left the room, I got a class picture with them, and they all thought it was my last day.  I was relieved to tell them that I still had two left, and it was great to see them smile and say "Oh good!" when I told them.  It will definitely be hard to say goodbye on Friday, but as everyone keeps telling me, I'll just have to come back again someday!  
My year 5's

After my time with the year 5's, I went to my last year 10 RE class.  That class has been really good to get me thinking about what and how I'd like to teach after college.  Today I talked with a few of the boys and learned my random fact for the day: Australian dollars don't rip.  They're made of some sort of plastic, and won't rip the way American dollars will.  As cool as this is though, AU dollars are too colorful for me; it'll be nice to have good ol' American money back in my wallet!

I spent two lesson with the year 4's after recess, and then went back to the office for lunch.  It was really cool -- Danni threw a little party for me!  She brought in a bunch of snacks and all the Games Club boys came, along with Gregoire.  Tommy was out sick today and couldn't make it, but his brother Anton was there (they're awesome kids -- easily two of my favorites), and I always love talking with him.  There was also an unwelcome guest -- an Australian redback spider.  Danni's husband Nigel found it in their shed to show me, and apparently they're really common -- and also deadly.  I was warned that there are lots of deadly creatures in Australia, and apparently they lurk right in your house!  Besides the spider though, it was really a great time!  I didn't realize I'd make such great connections in Australia and find such awesome people here.

Gregoire and me
with Danni, Leane, and Maria

with Adam, Brian, Anton, and Chris

For the last two lessons of the day, I went with the year 2's.  They were doing show-and-tell and then had some free time.  I'm ashamed to say that I was beaten in Connect Four by an eight-year old.  Although in my defense, he was really good!  After the boys left for PE, I stuck around to help their stressed out teacher out some work away in their portfolios before the day ended.  When the final bell had gone, I stopped by the office for a minute then wandered back out to the primary section.  On my way through, I was attacked by a couple year 4's who decided to throw some balls at me -- what else could I do but throw them back?  I spent the next twenty minutes running around with the year 4's, dodging and throwing the balls -- a great way to end the day!

Well, tomorrow is my last full day at Blackfriars and then Friday is a half day (since schools will be on holiday the next two weeks) -- exciting, but definitely sad to think that six weeks have already passed!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Philosophy? How 'bout Games?

Before I started working around Blackfriars, I was expecting to do a lot of work with the older students, teaching some theology and trudging through philosophy.  Well, that's not exactly how things have turned out -- or at least not exactly.  And honestly, I'm really happy about that.  I do love studying theology, but philosophy is nothing better than a necessary evil and I can only take so much of it.  I think that's why I went into the year 12 philosophy class this morning for 20 minutes before walking out as they turned on Inception and prepared to talk about epistemology (I made sure that the teacher wouldn't mind me leaving, though).  

I went to the year 5's after that, which was a breath of fresh air.  The teacher asked me to come up with a fitness lesson for them, so I racked my brain to think back to middle school gym class.  I came up with one of my favorite games, which is kind of like dodgeball but in teams of 4.  The boys really seemed to like it -- there's nothing better than running around and chucking stuff stuff at each other!  I hung around with them for about an hour after that, checking out their art projects and talking with their teacher about what it's like teaching in primary school.  On my way back to the office, I ran into Tommy, who was talking about how much fun he had at lunch yesterday and asking if he could come back again today.  I told him that the Games Club lunch wasn't until tomorrow, but that still didn't stop him from shouting out, "Okay, see you at lunch TJ!" as he ran off to the playground.

After a quick recess, I went with Maria to her RE class.  I do really enjoy doing stuff in that class, even if it is a lot different than working with the younger kids.  Sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get the year 10's to participate, but I think you just need to find the best way to get the teeth out.  It's a bit tough balancing control of the class with Maria, since we have such different approaches to teaching, but we found a good balance today (I'm not very good at sharing teaching).  I did get to tell off two kids who were really annoying me, and then Maria made them move (telling kids off is always good fun).  Teaching seems to be all about balance, and this experience has been great to observe how other teachers function and to learn from that so I can bring it into my own classroom someday.

I went back to the office for lunch, and within five minutes I heard a door open and little feet walking down the hall.  I look up, and there's Tommy walking into the room: "See, I promised I'd come!"  He wasn't technically supposed to be there, but he was so excited to come and I was more than happy to spend time with him.  He brought his Harry Potter posters to show me, and was rocking back and forth in his chair excitedly the whole time he was chatting with me.  We fixed up the little Mr Potato Heads in the office that I had rearranged a couple weeks ago, and then drew a bit before we went back to his class.  

Within ten minutes of being with the year 2's, I had five boys all asking me for help with their spelling, and so I spent a bit of time being pulled (literally) in five different directions to help the boys out.  Afterwards, they had some free time and Tommy was not shy about grabbing my hand and leading me over to the play area.  I laughed as another boy said, "Tommy, he isn't you brother."  I definitely see him as a little brother or cousin, and it was really funny to hear one of the year 2's say that.  Instead of going to the year 7 class (which I've kind of forgotten about by now) I hung around with the year 2's and built stuff with them, probably having just as much fun as they were. 

Hard to believe that I only have three days left at Blackfriars -- but you can be assured that I'll be spending plenty of time with my primary kids and far away from studying philosophy!

With my year 2's

And the year 4's!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Every year, I look forward to the Fourth of July -- it's one of my favorite days of the summer.  The only problem this year is that I'm in Australia.  I tried my best to compensate for this: I drew a picture of an American flag to hang up on the LE white board, along with a large red, white, and blue Fourth of July greeting.  And I had a hot dog for lunch!  That's about as patriotic as I could be for the day...
Desperate to feel like a true American
Fourth of July (or lack thereof) aside though, today was actually a really good day.  I started off with Maria's RE class, where the boys were working on their term assignments and I wandered around to help them out.  They're lucky I'm not the one grading them -- I'd like to push them  a bit harder than Maria does, but I suppose it's all good experience.  After RE, I went to the year 4 class.  They're a really fun lot -- a bit crazy though.  At one point, the teacher left the room and asked me to watch over the class.  That was a bit intimidating -- no one killed anyone else though, so I suppose that was a success! 

When I left the year 4's, I saw my year 2's out on the playground so I went over to see them.  They started asking me to play tag with them and before I knew it, I was "it."  The boys were all chanting "TJ's It, throw him in the bin!"  I chased them around for about 10 minutes, and it was wicked fun.  I was always It though; as soon as I tagged someone, they'd just tag me right back and run away.  I was scheduled to go to the year 12 class after that, but I didn't particularly feel like it (I popped in for a second, but then left and went right back to the year 2's).  That always seems to be a good choice.  I helped them out with math for a bit, then played around with them for their free time.  

When it came time for lunch, Tommy didn't seem to want to leave me, so I took him along back to the office for Games Club.  He was so excited!  He kept asking, "Am I really allowed to go with you there?" and then was thrilled when we got there and he saw the cupboard full of games.  We built a marble obstacle course, and he talked my ear off the whole time.  Very fun!  Once we went back to his class, he didn't leave my side the whole time.  The boys were working in the computer room, and every time another boy called my name, Tommy wasn't far behind.  At the end of the day (after racing back to the classroom with Tommy holding onto my hand), we saw his brother Anton, who's in the year 5 class.  Talking with the both of them was really great -- they remind me a lot of me and my brother, with the older calmer one and the younger crazy one.  That must be why I like them so much!

Such a fun kid!

After school, I went into the city with Teigan.  I want to make a little American souvenir for all my primary school kids and attach an American penny to it.  We searched all over the city for somewhere to get American change, but they all said they don't handle coins.  I'm going to call up a few places tomorrow to see what I can manage -- who knew finding a penny could be so hard!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One Last Aussie Weekend

Hard to believe that this is my last weekend Down Under!  It's been quite the journey, but Danni assures me that they have a jam-packed week planned for me, and this weekend was the beginning of that.  Saturday was a bit of a washout, so we didn't get to do too much.  We started the morning off at Teigan's netball game, a not-so-riveting girls sport that's pretty popular here.  To warm up and dry off afterwards, we headed to a local coffee shop for breakfast.  I tried an Australian bacon and egg sandwich -- pretty similar to an American one, except with barbeque sauce.  It sounded really weird when I first heard that, but it was actually pretty good.

We had to cancel our waterfall trip because of the rain, but Fr Mannes had invited me to the priory for the day, so I went there later in the afternoon.  We went out to a steakhouse in North Adelaide for lunch -- Outback Jacks.  It was really good -- they had some pretty typical steaks, but the kangaroo meatballs reminded me that I'm definitely in Australia.  After lunch, we headed back to the priory for Mass and evening prayer, which were both very Dominican.  It was really nice to spend an afternoon at the priory, but I am so glad that I didn't end up living there -- these past few weeks have shown me a lot, and yesterday confirmed that the priory isn't meant to be my home.

Today, I went with Danni, Teigan, and Jake (her son) to Monarto Zoo and Murray Bridge, just on the other side of the Adelaide Hills.  Monarto is really cool -- it's like a mini Africa in South Australia, with lions, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, and the like.  You can hop on a tour bus that takes you all around the zoo, through the different animal enclosures.  I felt like I was in the Lion King!  I had never seen so many African animals in one place, so it was really exciting.  The zoo was huge, and it was great seeing the animals in something more than just a small cage.  The African wild dogs seemed to like the extra leg room -- the whole pack went flying when the trainer put out the kangaroo carcass for them! (not exactly the prettiest site when they started ripping that apart).

The giraffes were so cool

After the zoo, we went up to Murray Bridge, a popular nearby town on the Murray River.  I had my first Australian meat pie (something I was told should have happened a long time ago), and we got to see the bunyip!  Danni has been telling me about it for a while, so it was really funny to finally see.  The bunyip is an Aboriginal mythical monster, and in Murray Bridge they have a mechanical bunyip replica that pops up out of the water and roars at you (when you put a dollar into the machine).  It's the quirky little things like this that really make a trip memorable!

Watch out for the bunyip!
On the river with Jake, Tiegan, and Danni

On the ride back home, I managed to accomplish one of my Australia goals -- take a picture with a koala crossing sign.  We had to search a bit to find a good one because most of them are right on the freeway, but we succeeded -- twice!  There was one type of sign with the koala climbing that we found on an old side road, and then another with the koala running.  The only problem with the running koala sign is that it was at the busy start of the freeway, right along with median strip.  I was determined, though -- I can only imagine what the people driving by where thinking!

Sign #1
Sign #2 (with busy traffic in the background)

Having survived my freeway side photo shoot, I can safely prepare for my last week at Blackfriars!