Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Adeus Timor Leste

 COUNTRY: Timor-Leste
PROJECT: Health Science
WRITTEN BY: Georgia, Tim, Katie and Jess - University of Queensland

What an amazing experience! As our time in beautiful Timor Leste comes to an end, mixed emotions have set in. While we’re so excited to come home to Australia and see our family and friends, we are sad to leave our new friends and the clients we’ve been working with for the past four weeks.

We have faced some challenging and complex clinical cases during our time but have also had many instances of joy. We’ve been so encouraged by our clients’ commitment to their rehabilitation and their perseverance and have been humbled by their gratitude and efforts during therapy – this is something we will never forget. We also acknowledge the staff at CNR for their dedication to their clients in what is often a complex situation.

We feel privileged to have learnt about Timor and the Timorese people and are inspired by their passion, resilience, and happiness. We were lucky enough to travel outside of Dili and experience some beautiful parts of Timor. Most recently, we climbed Mt Ramelau, the highest mountain in Timor Leste. The picturesque views at sunrise were simply stunning and well worth the 2:45am alarm!

To our beautiful butterflies (i.e., the students), we’ve watched you grow and develop across our time in Timor and are so proud of all you have achieved. While there were many challenges along the way, you’ve taken it all in your stride and will be better clinicians because of this experience. It has been a pleasure to share it with you and to support you in your clinical journeys. Continue to reflect on your experiences and draw on them in your practice in Australia. Next year’s team have a lot to live up to!



Welcome To Udaipur

PROJECT: Teaching

I’ve been thinking about how to begin this blog for many weeks now; perhaps even months.
Venturing through India, whether on foot through the market places or by our supposedly fifteen-seater family truck or even by Pankaj’s Honda Hero; traveling in any way provides you with glimpses, snippets of imagery and pulsating language you pray won’t run away with the pixies before you can get your hands on pen and paper.

I suppose I could start with the airplane ride out of Brisbane, through a brief Singapore stop-over, on to Mumbai, then finally north to Udaipur, where Pankaj awaited me, all smiles, at the glass doors of the modest domestic airport.

But there’s not much else to tell there besides my onslaught of questions hurled at Pankaj on the ride to the house; my feverish cultural curiosity slowed in stride by the sudden language barrier; the repeated questions, then repeated again, then repeated once more for good measure.
That has been one of the enduring struggles on this journey; coming to realise just how inaudible a rough Aussie accent is to the outside world.
The outside world.

It feels like another world entirely, especially since India has been the first overseas adventure in my life. Before arrival, this simple fact was quite daunting. But after just a few days in this house, any sort of culture shock or anxiety starts to subsist; in part thanks to the glorious thrill of finally really being here, in part also because you’re sharing this experience with young people just like you.
No matter how different you are, as individuals, there is a deep-abiding understanding there, as immediate as the exhilaration you feel when you take off on your first international flight.

And then there are the kids.
Sure you’ve been granted a few days rest to nurse the fatigue of your first bona fide taste of jetlag, but then you’re thrown headlong into that sea of little, smiling faces; and their startlingly strong hands bombard you with high-fives, low-fives, hugs and hand-holds. You wish you had more than just the two, so you could shoot them all up into the air the way they beg you to every day.

But make no mistake, there are lessons to teach, worksheets to distribute, pencils to sharpen and naughty behaviour to weed out (oddly, the most mischievous kids are often the most capable learners, always yelling out the right answers with cheeky zealous). Yes, we’ve volunteered in this far-away to teach these children.

But having fun was always on the agenda.
And that’s just at the school, which takes up the majority of our weekday mornings. After an always gorgeous, sumptuous lunch prepared by the ever-lovely Meenaji and an hour or two devoted to planning work for tomorrow’s teaching, we all cram into the truck.

Our destination, an all-boy orphanage nestled tight between a load of humble shop fronts to one side and a number of marble construction sites to the other; the orphanage known more commonly, and sensitively, as The Boy’s Home.

The boys, themselves, are mostly adolescents, wrapped in the tangles of puberty, although a range of both younger and older boys move about among them as if to imitate the family many of them have lost or never known. Despite this underlying melancholy, these boys are as fun as they come.

Mischief, it seems, is not solely prevalent in the wee ones, but perhaps flourishes and embellishes itself with age. These guys know not even Pankaj can interpret their unique tribal-area language, so they mumble the occasional jest or mockery on the sly, though it never strikes you as withholding any real malice. These kids are the same as those boys and girls you held this morning. It is only a handful of years or so that distinguishes the two.

Just like school, fun is the undercurrent here, running at the ankles of education – one cannot exist without the other in these places.
However, perhaps teaching at The Boy’s Home is the greater challenge due to the more demanding content of the work, as well as the simple fact that the students have stronger, more robust personalities.

It’s a much more challenging to rein in a student who has had far superior experience in dealing with ‘the new teach.’ But, all in all you get back from this place exactly what you put in. That sounds like a tired cliché, but it’s the driving force for all of us here. Every kid can feel when you’re making an effort, and likewise, they can just as easily pick up on when you’ve given up the fight.
So we dive in heads-first every afternoon and ride home soaking in our success.

Last of all I think I should mention all the marvelous free time we are granted here. After just three short weeks, my fellow volunteers and I have crammed in as much of India as we could possibly manage.
Visits to the market places, a weekend trip away to Jodhpur and the desert to ride camels and bask in the bliss of a traditional Hindu way of living; a day trip up through mountains to explore the Monsoon Palace, greeted (or not-so-greeted) by the temperamental monkeys at the steps.

But the experience that has stood out the most for me has been the temples we’ve visited, at least a trio now, with many more on the horizon. Each of the three thusfar has, without fail, stolen my breath away like you can’t imagine.

The feeling of standing beneath a ceiling that could, in all likelihood, be several centuries old is indescribable.
And your bare feet slide over the marble floors, sharing the same steps with some of the holiest and wisest men to have lived. Through history we re-discover old revelations and step back in awe at the sheer beauty and significance that dwells around every corner.

Visits to these temples are experiences to be cherished, even if you have lived a mostly secular life.
In these places of worship you can’t help but feel like there are gods smiling down upon you. Brahma grins knowingly, while Shiva stamps her feet and Vishnu is there, mending the broken ground behind her. Hanuman the monkey winks, Durga waves her many hands and Ganesh salutes his trunk of almighty fortune.
You are here and living every day as if each morning you are reborn anew.


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Only one month to go teaching in China

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Robert Meek

With a month or so left in Shenyang, the classic despairing "it's gone so quickly" moment is combated by a realization of how much I've actually done since leaving home. Having settled into a comfortable work routine, I made it my priority to break that routine and discover what Shenyang had left to offer me.

Being an active part of the expat community is vital for staying alive and sane in any city in China for more than two months. The majority of expats living in my district of Shenyang were English, with occasional Americans and a few from various European countries.

My lack of exposure to the Australian accent began to leave a very British toll on my speech, much to the amusement of the Northerners I was bunked with. Events within the community are sporadic and spontaneous, requiring a keen eye on the ten or so WeChat groups I had somehow fallen into.

It was not uncommon to receive party invitations at 8pm on the night, after which I would semi-begrudgingly hop out of bed to try and construct a pirate costume, or a sixties costume, or a Rubik's cube costume out of what's in my suitcase, hoping I'll make it in time (which I usually would thanks to the abundance of taxis).

I acquired a guitar from my neighbour after being introduced to Laowai Open Mic Night at Feng's Live House once a fortnight. All the expats (from our group anyway) meet up and play music for free beer. Through this I managed to join a band; "The Ting Bu Dongs" (Ting Bu Dong means "I dont understand what I'm hearing", a very useful phrase for both the Chinese and the Foreigners). Of course this development didn't affect my Open Mic solo career, during which my cheap guitar earned me many a free beer.

I met a man named Bai Ying at my local haunt, who seemed to have mistaken the bar for an English Corner (a bar that sets aside specific nights for locals and laowais to practice their languages on each other) and picked me out as the best candidate to drill his English with him.

The friendship became beneficial, as he soon invited me over to his small but cosy apartment where his wife cooked a delicious pork dumpling dinner and I practised my Chinese with him long into the night. These kinds of interactions are apparently quite common, and it is liberating to be in a society where my first reaction to a sweet old man inviting me over for dinner is not one of scepticism.

Work continues to be full of ups and downs. The more I get to know my classes, the briefer my lesson plans become, and the more confident I am with deploying said lessons.

Nearing the end of my time in Shenyang, I have been planning a ridiculous adventure around North/Central China to be undertaken at the end of placement with some friends from Beijing and another from Australia. The Lonely Planet book has been vital in this process, and I would recommend it for anyone considering travelling in China. Until then I'll be enjoying these last weeks with my Shenyang expat friends.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Canada Summer Camp Life

PROJECT: Work Placement
WRITTEN BY: Kate O'Hagan

I’m currently writing this on my creaky top-bunk in the private staff area of Cabin 10 in Camp New Moon. I’m a “sleep in” (a specialty staff who sleeps in a cabin with campers, but isn’t their official councilor) for nine prep girls. My day ordinarily looks like this...

8am- Wake up the girls in my cabin, which is no easy task. We play a wakeup song each morning to pester the girls out of bed, which usually results in groans. Breakfast is at 8:15am in the Mess Hall. The best breakfasts always include bagel and cream cheese as the pastry chef at camp makes all of the bread fresh every day.

9am- Breakfast is filled with heaps of chants and messy clean ups. After, all the campers go back to their cabins for clean up before they go to their organised classes.

10am- Before lunch there is two scheduled periods when cabins come down to each specialties. Myself or the three other sail staff take the kids out on Hobies or Lasers, they all love them. During lessons we teach kids about parts of the boat, knots, how to set up a boat, and the general rules of the water. The best bit is taking a small group of kids out and getting to chat to them about nonsense.

12:30pm- Lunch is served!!!! By this time my stomach has been growling for about an hour. Since I work at a Jewish camp we sing a blessing before every lunch and dinner. Kids immediately start lunging across the table for the food after the blessing. It’s incredibly loud during lunch and dinner, I LOVE IT. Kids sing chants that are sparked by anything, it might be someone dropping a spoon or if someone says the word “announcements”.

2:30pm- Rest hour finishes now, I usually just chill out at waterfront where I am all day with the other staff and enjoy not being surrounded by campers.

6:15pm- Dinner.

8:15pm- Evening Program begins, usually it’s within the units (Junies, Inters, Preps, Pre-CITS, or CITS) but sometimes it’s a whole camp program. We play a lot of ice breaker games or running games like dodge ball.

I never want to leave camp and everyday seems like it’s going by faster and faster.


Monday, 31 August 2015

Au revoir France

Five things I got out of my Antips Experience!

PROJECT: Tutoring & Immersion
WRITTEN BY: Jennifer Khouw

1. I now have the utmost respect for immigrants, especially if English is not their first language. It’s hard. It’s really hard, and I only went to a European country of which I’d studied the language for six years and everyone knew a bit of English anyway.
I can’t imagine coming to Australia from somewhere like China or Iran. So please be kind to migrants. They’re trying their best.

2. I learned that the Western world is incredibly Anglo-centric. Us native English speakers are so lucky but we constantly take it for granted that European schools have to teach our language, that the vast majority of music and movies are in our language, that Europeans know all about Anglophone cultures but we rarely know theirs.
They’re used to it, but it seems a bit unfair that all the radio stations play mostly music in English, and ninety-nine percent of their movies have to be dubbed in French. I’ve watched many of these movies and there’s so much lost in translation- expressions, accents, idiosyncratic voices and so on.

3. I have a new-found appreciation for Australia. I miss all the little things that don’t exist in France- cricket, netball, meat pies, driving on the left, our amazing beaches- but also the general laid-back vibe of the whole country. It’s a beautiful thing. Everything’s relaxed and people are rarely bothered about minor things.
Not that everyone in France is uptight and stressed, but few places are as comfortably laid-back as Australia.

4. I’ve definitely caught the travel bug! I’ve been inspired to travel to every continent, but after I’ve had a break. Surprisingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about potential domestic trips, which is new. Most of my time here has been spent taking small trips around the region to visit other towns and villages, and I’m now looking forward to when I can do the same thing at home.
Seeing as in Sydney I can drive, it’s so easy to just go down to the beach for the day, or spend a weekend visiting my friends in Canberra and Melbourne.

5. On the other hand, all this travelling has made me feel a little more settled. I’ve gotten all this restless energy out that I’d had pent-up from HSC then doing nothing for six months afterwards.
I’m looking forward to going to uni next year, and I can do it secure in the knowledge that I’ve completed one of my life’s dreams before I’ve even turned twenty!
This is my last blog entry before I go off to Paris for Bastille Day, so thank you for reading and au revoir!


Friday, 28 August 2015

Welcome to Camp!

PROJECT: Work Placement
WRITTEN BY: Cassidy Shaw

Hello from Haliburton, Canada. I am currently a counsellor at Camp Northland for Unit 2 girls (aged 10-12) I currently have a group of 11 girls under my care. Whilst this is my first year attending a summer camp I'm having a wonderful time experiencing and soaking up the amazing culture of a Canadian Summer.

It really is amazing to experience a camp with so much culture, tradition and history. From little things like dancing across certain bridges to avoid badluck to singalongs to canoeing across the lake and camping under the stars. I'm learning and picking up all these little traditions slowly and easing into life at camp and even though it's only the first week I really am loving it.

A day in the life of camp looks a little like this. 7 15am the alarm goes off and the four staff in my cabin make sure all the campers are awake and getting ready for the day. We all head down to the mess hall for breakfast which can be pancakes, French toast or eggs and there is always hot chocolate!

We have two activities and then a hobby (which is an activity the campers get to choose and counsellors also get to choose) this week I am on adventure which involves rock climbing and high ropes. Hobbies are a great opportunity to meet different staff and campers within the camp. Lunch is at 12 15 and then we have a desperately needed rest hour till 2pm, nap time is essential at camp.

The afternoon consists of 2 more activities and then free swim time before dinner at 5 30pm. Counselling, honestly is one of the most difficult jobs I've had but it is also one of the most rewarding and most enjoyable jobs.

Whilst being with the same people 24/7 can seem strenuous, they become your family away from home and the people you'll always remember. I can't believe how many amazing people I've met and how many new friends I've made in the 10 days I've been at camp. I really can't wait for the rest of the summer.


Thursday, 27 August 2015

France: The gross and petit differences

PROJECT: Tutoring & Immersion
WRITTEN BY: Jennifer Khouw

Some people assume that because France is a Western country, it’s no different than Australia. That’s not true! I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting about the differences, both big and small, between France and Australia, trying to work out exactly what sets our respective cultures apart.

1. Language- obviously, the official language of France is French. This is also, however, a difference in the way they approach foreign languages. Learning English is compulsory, so most people speak French, some English, and often another European language, such as German or Spanish.
Being bilingual is not a big deal because almost everyone is, whereas in Australia, people are impressed if you continue a foreign language to HSC level!

2. Food- coming from a country that doesn’t really have a defined cuisine, I loved trying all the regional specialities. I’ve eaten Boudin Noir (blood sausage), Foie Gras (goose liver), Crème Brulee, and a lot of duck! Cliched as it is, I often have baguettes, patisseries and crepes.
There’s always a bakery around the corner- I’m going to really miss them when I’m home! They also eat dessert for both lunch and dinner. I’ve now gotten used to it but I won’t be able to continue it when I’m home, it’s too unhealthy!

3. Cooking- there is a lot more emphasis placed on cooking. I was surprised that my host brother is a fairly proficient cook, considering most boys I know are limited to 2-minute noodles and bacon! That being said, he also eats weird stuff, like sugar on pasta, and honey-coated duck. I’ve been told to disregard it as teenage boy cuisine rather than French cooking!

4. Opening hours- this has driven me absolutely crazy my entire stay. Aside from the mandatory (and in my opinion, unnecessary) closure of businesses for 2 hours for lunch, shops seem to open and close arbitrarily.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked 20 minutes just to discover that the bakery is closed. I did find out, though, that it’s the law for French businesses to be closed one day a week. It’s their choice which day, but most close on Sundays.

5. Formality- from what I’ve seen, the French are more polite in a very formal way. That being said, I think a large part of that is that Australians are so laid back.
It’s more a general feeling than specifics, but it’s little things like waiting until everyone’s together to start eating dinner, even if the food gets cold while we wait.
Things that don’t exist in France:

• Cricket
• Netball
• Meat pies
• Sausage rolls