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The Power of Immersions

Excitement is building within a group of Year 11 students as they continue their preparation for the ATC India Immersion. They will depart on their adventure on the 30 November. The importance of travel should not be underestimated. At Friday’s College assembly three staff and ten students were commissioned for the upcoming India Immersion. This will be the first ATC overseas immersion.

It is the next stage of development of our Service Program. The intent is to provide Year 11 students an opportunity to experience a different culture, be challenged outside of their comfort zone, learn from a different community, and to serve communities in a different cultural setting. The staff and students will have the opportunity to stand in solidarity, and build positive, respectful relationships with people who live a different life to us. It will be an amazing life changing opportunity that we will plan to offer Year 11 students each year.

As a teacher within the EREA community I am called to guide our students in the promotion of peace and justice for all. The essence of our ‘Touchstones’ steers my energy to educate young men compassionately. This will not come at a cost to a robust, accredited curriculum. It will compliment it. Many notable individuals from our history have used a ‘journey’ as a catalyst for change. Moses lead The Exodus; Siddhārtha Gautama fled the opulent palace to discover enlightenment; Jesus roamed the desert; Mohandas Gandhi united the Indian masses with the Salt March and in more recent memory the journey of our Aboriginal Brothers and Sisters in their occupation of the Tent Embassy in Canberra. For some time, EREA has used authentic immersion experiences as a significant tool in promoting internal change. In our digital-rich social economy, now more than ever, we all need time for the 3 R’s: to reload, reprocess and reassess.

Motivated by the words of our former congressional leader Br Pinto, who stressed to ‘look outward, rather than staying in and protecting what we have always done’; I have had the privilege of participating in 41 immersion experiences in PNG, India, Timor Leste, Samoa and remote Australia. On each immersion I have found the experience as a sacred blessing.

Past Immersion Memories

To use a specific example of the richness of immersions, I will draw on my 14 trips to Samoa. On the one hand we are a sceptical organism. We are resistant to the large, mechanical nature of our western bureaucracies. However, it is within these bureaucracies that our stable economy, legal, education and health systems are intertwined. Within Australia most of the populous enjoys the daily benefits of these institutions. The polarity of this is the romantic ‘subsistence affluence’ that most Samoans reap. The honourable daily routine of working within their plantations or going to school, attending church and embracing the mantra ‘the village will provide’ can be superficially seductive. But it is within this rich learning environment (with structured briefing and debriefing) that participants honour the presence of the other. Transformation happens within the participant and the lens in which one views the world. Their place within it is recalibrated to a more compassionate, humble and justice-orientated foundation.

An immersion experience must never be confused with poverty tourism. The seed for my first immersion occurred as a very young teacher. I wrote a letter to various Catholic Bishops in the far-reaching provinces of PNG expressing an interest to connect with the locals on the upper Fly River. Many had been displaced from their traditional lands because of devastating impact of the OK Tedi Mine. After some months all the Bishops wrote back. It was the first time that I genuinely surrendered myself to the hospitality of those at the margins. Living in and exploring the PNG highlands changed me profoundly and most notably shaped the lens in which I taught. This first trip triggered a tsunami of energy to connect with others. To stand with, rather than stand by. To build and maintain relationships many of which remain as strong today as they were when they formed.

An essential pillar in our Catholic Social Teachings is the necessity to recognise that ‘everyone belongs to one human family, regardless of their national, religious, ethnic, economic, political and ideological differences’… I found that I was welcomed with sincerity and in turn I grew to understand the power of presence in one’s life rather than the commercialised need to have presents. The “I” became the centre of the experience. Not in a selfish manner, but through a profoundly personal reflective process. There is a paradoxical challenge in any immersion which serves only to deepen the learning experience of participants.

The participants will grow in self-awareness of their essential values and morals.

An authentic immersion experience, when done well, impacts our whole community and compliments our holistic curriculum. An EREA student, despite their future pathway must be ‘hope-filled’ and ‘strive to make the world a better place for all.’ We have moved beyond poverty tourism or a catchy wellness phrase on Instagram. We strive to be deeply present, tolerant and respect the dignity of others. I would encourage you, on your own Christmas holiday pilgrimages, to keep in your thoughts and prayers, those ATC students who will travel to India. Travel is important, even if it is to navigate their own heart. This short, although challenging, journey will encourage them to stand in solidarity with our Indian sisters and brothers and convert to a deep level of connection and compassion.

Keith Halpin
Immersion Coordinator