Final Days in Sydney!

We came home to Sydney a little wind chilled but warmed right up in the Sydney sun! Sydney dwellers don’t realize how lucky they are to have SUCH mild winters. Even in Canberra, despite the cold, it was not nearly as cold as New England winters.

On Monday I helped Sr. Rose Mary and Elizabeth with the book inventory they have been doing for the past month. It is a small library at Santa Sabina College called “Las Casas Library.” It took a lot longer then I expected it to take, and we didn’t quite finish everything. But, we did get a lot done and the time flew by!

Here we are in front of one of the shelves we took an inventory of!

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Elizabeth, Sarah and I went to help Sr. Rose Mary, Jane and Anne pack boxes and organize them to send to the Solomon Islands. They received tons of books, science equipment, sport equipment and other learning materials that had to be taken out of storage, packed into boxes and then labeled. Thankfully, we had the help of Sarah’s boyfriend, Brad, to lift the heavy boxes and expedite the process. That night, we were taken to Messina, which is a gelato shop in Sydney. It is infamous for its tasty gelato and Sarah and Louise told us how good it was so we needed to go before we left! It was delicious gelato and definitely worth waiting in a long line for.

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Yesterday, Elizabeth and I met briefly with Sr. Rose Mary and Jane to go over our evaluation of our program. We spoke about what we did like and what could be improved for future fellows! At the end, we had to say goodbye to both of them and thank them for all the time and effort they have put into our program. There has been so many goodbyes lately and they haven’t gotten any easier!

Here I am with Sr. Rose Mary and Jane

*I’m holding up the aboriginal spirit figure that Sr. Rose Mary organized for Elizabeth and I to receive. It’s hand painted by an aboriginal woman. Sr. Rose told her I am interested in children with special needs, so the lines and circles on my cross represent that.

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4 Degrees Celsius

It was quite chilly in Canberra! 4 degrees celsius translates to 39 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s a very chilly city in comparison to Sydney! When we arrived on Tuesday we met with a professor at ACU, Australian Catholic University, named Richard, who is great friends with Fr. Robb and has visited PC! It was nice talking to him and learning more about ACU. Afterwards we headed over to CatholicLife, which is affiliated with ACU and does work with the Catholic diocese. They have youth ministry programs as well as programs involving adults.

One event we had the opportunity to attend last night is called Guinness and God. It’s held at a local pub in Canberra and they get a new speaker each time to discuss a particular topic. Last night, Patrick who graduated from the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, spoke on “Truth in the Modern World.” It was a very interesting talk and there was a great discussion afterwards including a Q&A. Some of the talk went a bit over my head (I’ve never been an A student in philosophy and ethics). But it was interesting to hear another perspective on exploring the concept of what is true in todays times. There was a great turnout of people, from young people like Elizabeth and I, to older adults.

The following day, Jane and Sr. Rose Mary took us to ACU to meet Sr. Jo. Sr. Jo is a Josephite sister who teaches theology at ACU. She is coming to Providence this September so Sr. Rose Mary wanted to connect us. We exchanged emails and have plans to meet up with her when she comes to visit PC. Afterwards, Elizabeth and I were taken to the National Art Gallery where we explored the Aboriginal section of artwork. Sr. Rose Mary knows so much about the artwork so it was interesting to listen to her explain the meaning of some of the paintings. All the aboriginal paintings have a story associated with them or are trying to explain something to others. I learned that the circles often represent water holes in the village as water was such a sought after necessity for villagers to seek out.

Here we are with Sr. Jo!

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Elizabeth and I with the Aboriginal poles in the background at the Art Gallery

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On Thursday we met with Richard, who also works at ACU, and is an Aboriginal Australian. He does a lot of work to promote indigenous culture at the university. He was talking to us about the film and photography he is involved with as well as some of the ACU students. He showed us a fascinating poster that shows all the different Aboriginal tribes and languages in Australia. I found it on google to post it here.

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All the different colors represent a different Aboriginal tribe! The history of the Aboriginals has been described to me as Australia’s greatest shame. It was similar to how America treated the indigenous when they first arrived on the land. Australia passed laws where they would go into villages and pick out the “half-castes,” those that looked lighter, to put them in institutions to teach them to live like a white person. With this mindset, Australia would be able to slowly extinguish the aboriginal population.

We also went to the Australian National Museum on Thursday. We explored an exhibit called the “Old Masters” which was filled with special Aboriginal artwork that normally isn’t for public viewing. Photography was not allowed so I don’t have any photos to post, but it was very interesting!!

On Friday, we were taken to see all the sites by Josh, who works at CatholicLife, and then the finance of Greg, also a CatholicLife employee (who was away in Darwin that week). Since it was the 4th of July we had to make a stop at the U.S Embassy! Elizabeth asked if we could go inside for a tour but unfortunately the man at the gate said no :(

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We then went to the Parliament House and walked around the building to see the main foyer, great hall, where the house of representatives sit and where the senate sits. Here are photos in that order

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We also saw a few sections of the War Memorial. We walked through the main area which was a tribute to Australian soldiers who have died in war. And then walked through the WWII section and the aircraft section.

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In the evening, Elizabeth and I joined “Pizza and Prayer” with the Marist community. Every month the students who graduated from the Marist high school (an all boys school) get together to catch up and have a nice meal. They have a speaker each time, so this time it was Elizabeth and I. Luckily, we had been informed of this prior to the event so had an idea of what we wanted to say. It ended up being an exchange of information between us and the boys. We shared what we have been doing here and also shared what it means to be at a Dominican Catholic university. In return, they shared a little about being a Marist Catholic. Marist’s place a great emphasis on education, whereas Dominicans place a great emphasis on service. Yet, they do go hand in hand and are definitely interrelated.

Here we are with the boys and Fr. Chris.

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On Saturday, Elizabeth and I joined Josh’s youth ministry “Bush Walk” which is basically what Americans would consider a hike. Josh leads a youth ministry team in Yass, a town about an hour away from Canberra, so he organized this event to get everyone together and enjoy a nice walk. It was a great day outside for one, not too cold (thankfully) and it didn’t rain! We walked 10 kilometers which is about 6miles, and it took us about 2.5 hours. It was a perfect length to walk. Many of the kids came for the walk which was a great turnout for the event.

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On Sunday, we went to morning mass with our home stay mom, Sandy. Afterwards we packed up belongings and headed to the bus stop to come back to Sydney! It was wonderful getting to know Sandy and Wayne and spending time with them. Elizabeth and I both said to each how we are so lucky to have been offered such great living arrangements throughout our fellowship. So thank you Sandy and Wayne for making our stay in Canberra a terrific one!

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En Route to Canberra!

We left Tuesday morning for Canberra with Jane and Sister Rose Mary! We had to say goodbye to Elizabeth and John because when we return on Sunday they will have already left for their holiday in the Caribbean. We also had to say goodbye to Louise, their youngest daughter, because she leaves Saturday to backpack around Europe! It was really sad to say goodbye, I will really miss them! It has been so nice getting to know Elizabeth, John and Louise. I really felt so welcome and at home with them. I’m trying to convince Louise and Sarah to come visit PC next year, so we’ll see!

On Monday night Elizabeth had a final farewell dinner at her house with her family, Jane, Sister Rose Mary and Anne. We took a picture which I will post once I have Sister Rose Mary email it to me. Elizabeth gave Elizabeth Nako and I a farewell present including various aboriginal made items like a boomerang (so excited about that), a wallet, mug and it all came in an aboriginal designed bag. I also had gotten her and her family a nice gift, with the help of Louise, which consisted of different oils and spreads for cooking!

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Louise and I went to a place called the The Grounds in the suburb of Alexandria on Monday. We had lunch and then shopped for the present for her parents.

Here we are!

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Farewell Elizabeth, John and Louise, and thank you for everything!

You Are So Welcome

This post will include the major parts of my past week in Newcastle. I couldn’t post while I was there because I didn’t have any wifi but I want to share all the exciting things Elizabeth and I did. The two major aspects of our trip was working at Penola House and then at Corpus Christi primary school. We were at Penola House on Tuesday and Thursday of this week with Sr. Diana (Dominican Sister) and Sr. Betty (Josephite Sister). Penola House is a safe place for refugees to come where they can seek guidance and assistance throughout their transition into Australia. It’s a difficult time for people who can barely speak or read English, and who have no friends and family, to feel safe and comfortable in a new country. Therefore, Penola offers english lessons, assistance filling out paperwork, a place to bring their children, exercise classes, skills for employment seeking, driving classes, sewing classes and much more. Pretty much anything a refugee needs help with Penola House will either help, or send them to someplace else that can help. So on Tuesday we had a very introductory day where we just learned about the organization and what they do. We met many of the volunteers involved in the organization as well as met Sr. Diana and Sr. Betty and Kiri, the three key components who keep the organization running smoothly. It was also Catholic Relief Services of the Diocese day, where members of different Catholic organizations spend some time at another organization to learn about what they do, etc. We met many different people involved in CatholicCare and also who work directly with the Ministry of the Diocese.

On Thursday, Elizabeth and I assisted Sr. Diana with various tasks throughout the day. We went with her to deliver brand new bicycles to a family who has recently arrived from Afghanistan. The Penola House was given many new bicycles and Sr. Diana was willing to give them to any refugees who had first purchased a helmet. Afterwards we went back to Penola and interacted with more of the refugees. I was in the child care center with a few of the volunteers playing with the children whose mothers had brought them in for the day. Elizabeth and I met many of the refugees, but spoke with a woman from Cameroon who had a 7 month old daughter named Ariel. She came to Australia on a university scholarship to get her masters degree in social change, what a brilliant young lady she is. Upon arrival she learned that she was pregnant with Ariel, so she had to get her degree and raise a child in Australia without the help of any friends and family. She has completed her masters degree and is planning to go back to Cameroon to introduce her daughter to all her friends and family there. We then went to the home of a man who came from Sudan. His name is Muriel and he lives in government housing in Newcastle. He wasn’t there when we arrived but Sr. Diana had a key so we could measure and plan for what materials we needed to make him curtains. We went to get the supplies down the road and then quickly dropped them so we could make lunch at 1pm. Elizabeth and I were both very lucky to get the opportunity to accompany Sr. Diana to the home of family from Afghanistan, whom we dropped the bikes to earlier in the day, for a delicious traditional Afghan lunch. We learned about their family and how they came to Australia. We then ate delicious food cooked by the wife. I didn’t even know what I was eating but I just ate everything there. After lunch we went back to Muriel’s home to put up the rest of the curtains, and luckily he was there so we could meet him. Muriel has had a very difficult life. He went back to Africa to visit and take a break from Australia, and unfortunately suffered a stroke while there. He didn’t receive proper medical treatment after the stroke and thus is no longer able to speak or use the right side of his body. Even though he couldn’t speak, I found him to be so kind and upbeat. It was evident that he was so thankful for us being there to give him curtains for his home, he even gave me a high five as we put the last one up! Sr. Diana explained to us that Muriel doesn’t know the basic things about cooking or living in a house, not because he had a stroke, but because he previously never lived alone (his wife and children is a sad story). She suggested that he would benefit from occupational therapy to help him learn how to cook and take care of himself, it is even more necessary for him to have this therapy since he can only use one arm and cannot walk well.

Afghan Lunch!

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Penola House & Sr. Diana’s Car

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After a long day working with Sr. Diana, Elizabeth and I were dropped at the community to have a meal with all the sisters. I had such a wonderful time at dinner talking with the sisters and enjoying a delicious meal. They all just made me feel so welcome and so at home. Having the opportunity to live in the community was such a great experience because I really was able to see first hand the life of the Dominican Sisters. They all look after and rely on each other each day and regularly meet for afternoon prayer and catch up on any news. Elizabeth and I went to two of the afternoon prayers and it was great to be a part of it. They live a very simple and happy life filled with a wonderful relationship to God. The common misconception is that people in poor countries live different lives than a typical American does, but in reality, there are so many groups of people who live different lives than us. And I saw this firsthand while living with the Dominican Sisters. Overall, it was such an amazing, yet peaceful experience.

Here I am with all the Sisters! From Left to Right: Sr. Pat, Sr. Geraldine, Sr. Ann, Sr. Jenny, Sr. Ann

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Selfie with the sisters.. Had to be inventive to get everyone in one photo!

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I should add, that the Sisters in Newcastle are passionate not only about the refugees but also about the environment. Both Sr. Diana and Sr. Jenny are very green. Sr. Diana’s house has solar panels, a water recycling system and a wonderful garden with vegetables, fruits, herbs and even a couple chickens. She says she wanted to make her house very self-sustaining and I think she is achieving that goal. She was very proud of her house and told us how much she loves it. Though Sr. Diana is very environmental friendly, she learned that her ecological footprint is still so large. If everyone was to live like her, we would need 2 earths! (I think when I took the test it said 8…) She told us the reason being is she takes an airplane once a year, and that airplanes are a huge contributor to pollution.

On Wednesday, Sr. Jenny took Elizabeth and I to the school she works at called Corpus Christi. It is a co-ed, primary school in very close proximity to the community. The day we came was a fundraising day for Sr. Jenny’s trip to the Solomon Islands next week. She is going on a team with some of the other Dominican Sisters to meet with the Dominican Sisters who live in the Solomons. Sr. Jenny gave a short presentation about the Solomon Islands to each class, and then some of the students donated a dollar, more or less. Meanwhile, some of the girls started a hair braiding fundraiser as well as a loom banding fundraiser. During recess time, there was a FIFA World Cup and junior World Cup for the students to participate in. Each student who wanted to play paid one dollar and then could compete against others classes. The students absolutely loved this tournament. They were chanting and yelling and supporting their teammates to no end. I couldn’t stop smiling at their excitement for the entire duration of the tournament. By the end of the day, Sr. Jenny raised around $550 dollars in total! It was such a great outcome for Corpus Christi being just a small primary school. Sr. Jenny was so thankful for all the support her students gave to her.

Here is a photo of Sr. Jenny giving a presentation on the Solomon Islands to one of the classes at Corpus Christi

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On Friday, Sr. Jenny took Elizabeth and I to take cruise out of Nelson Bay to go whale watching. It was an impromptu excursion Sr. Jenny decided we would really enjoy and I am so glad we did it. We ended up seeing between 8-10 whales, as well as some dolphins and seals! The ocean here in Australia is picturesque. The water is a beautiful, clear, blue color and the sand is a bright white color (I’m getting so excited for our excursion to Cairns). I don’t know what it is about the ocean but it has such a calming and relaxing effect. When there weren’t any whales to snap a photo of, I looked out at the ocean and felt very content and relaxed throughout the cruise.

Here are some photos from the excursion!

Me, Elizabeth and Sr. Jenny on the cruise

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Me and Sr. Jenny

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Harbor at Nelson Bay

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Whales!
(Too bad they didn’t hop out of the water!!)

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Dolphins and Seals

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Find The Things You Can Change

My apologies as I am posting about the previous weekend a week late, however I just wanted to mention some of the things that Elizabeth and I did. On Saturday morning, we met Sister Rose Mary for morning tea/breakfast to catch up on our past 3 weeks in Sydney. I told her all about St. Lucy’s and how much I enjoyed it, and Elizabeth told Sister Rose Mary about the year 11 retreat she attended the previous week. I enjoyed discussing topics like healthcare, refugees etc, and hearing both the current state of the issues in Australia and then in America. The Dominican Sisters of Sydney are extremely passionate and involved on what is happening with the refugees in Australia currently. The refugees coming over on boats are being captured and detained, and treated as criminals. Innocent women, children and men are being held captive and the Dominican Sisters have been speaking out on this issue. One thing Sister Rose Mary said at breakfast will stay with me forever, “You can’t change everything, you just have to find the things you can change.” This really resonated with me because sometimes when I think about everything I want to change in the world I become completely overwhelmed. There are so many things that should be changed but realistically may never. I have started to rethink my role in the world in terms of what I am actually capable of doing. With my passion in health and healthcare, I think this is an area where I could be successful.

After breakfast, Elizabeth and I took a trip to Manly Beach which is in Sydney. We took a ferry from Circular Quay (where the Sydney Opera House is located) across the harbor to Manly. It was a great little island filled with lots of awesome eateries and shops. We sat on the beach for a while because it was such a nice day (I would take Australia’s winters over ours anytime) and then afterwards walked around and found some nice places to eat and socialize. Unfortunately we missed the 3pm ferry and couldn’t get another till 4pm so we decided to try beer at a popular brewery called “4 Pines” right near the docks (since we’re legal here and all). We both agreed that the beer was awesome and if possible we’d like to go back.

On Sunday night Elizabeth and I were able to volunteer for Night Patrol which is run through St. Vincent de Paul Church with Jane and some of the girls from Santa Sabina College. Night Patrol is a program where people make and donate food to be passed along to the homeless in the city at night. We made 6 loaves of sandwiches and brought little chocolates to pass out and others also made food to pass out. We had plenty of sandwiches and snacks when we began the night. First, all the volunteers arrange the food in the truck in a organized manner and then we hop in and arrive at our first of three stops in the city. I was amazed to see how many people were already lining up at the stop anticipating our arrival. Once we got out we pulled up the door and offered whatever we had to the people. There was no limit or rules, they could choose whatever they liked. We then went to the next two stops, that didn’t have nearly as many people as the first, and offered the rest of our food. The whole idea of night patrol is to use food as a link to people in the community. After we finish passing food out we then chat with them about whatever comes up and really get to know them and establish a connection. I really chatting about different movies, answering questions about America and whatever else happened to come up in conversation. I realized that the homeless are just like any other person, deserving of respect and empathy just as anyone else, and that I shouldn’t look upon them with pity or feel scared of them. Just as God loved each and every one us, we need to love one another.

Final Goodbyes

Today was my last day at St. Lucy’s, and it was such a bittersweet moment. I was so happy that my experience was so positive there, but so sad that I wasn’t going back next week. I really enjoyed spending the last three weeks there because I was able to get into a comfortable routine and familiarize myself with the school as a whole. However, just as I was getting into a routine, it came to an end.

Our class had a huge party that pretty much lasted all afternoon. We first made cookies with the kids in the kitchen and let them pour the ingredients into the mixing bowl, mix it all together and then roll it into cookies. Mr. Hayes also cooked some little hotdogs for the kids to also enjoy. Once the cookies went into the oven we went back to the classroom and the kids ate the hotdogs along with chips and a wonderful chocolate cake that Mr. Hayes brought into school for todays party. I had also brought in plenty of treats like gummies, chocolates, chips and popcorn. Safe to say the kids had quite a sugar rush all afternoon.

I gave thank you cards to Mr. Hayes as well as the teacher’s aides who I met. I also thanked Susan Jones, the deputy principal and gave her a card for organizing my stay at St. Lucy’s. I don’t think there are enough words to express how much gratitude I have for being able to work at the school. I learned, from both the teachers and the students, things I am capable of, that I never knew prior. I learned so much about autism and down syndrome, and I was able to see first hand what it looks like when children with these disabilities interact. Mr. Hayes said an autistic child and a Down’s syndrome child interacting is like ying and yang. They do not mix and have trouble understanding each other. One of the kids in our class has down’s and wants to be friends so badly with one of the autistic boys named Ben, but Ben unfortunately wants nothing to do with Lucas. It breaks my hard to see Lucas try so hard to make a friend, but he simply doesn’t mix well with Ben.

Being a teacher can be tiresome and repetitive and I can see how it would be so easy to stick to a routine and go with it because it’s easier, especially with children with disabilities. But, I was so impressed with how lively and energetic Mr. Hayes was with his class. He always kept the kids laughing and smiling and ALWAYS did something new each day with them. He also said to me, I don’t plan lessons, I just follow the kid’s lead. Some days we would cook food, other days we would have silly competitions like who can be the best at making the “th” sound, or who can run to the red gate and back the quickest, and the kid’s favorite, who can answer the questions to get rewarded with candy or chocolate. I know Mr. Hayes will continue to be a positive role model and motivator for his students in the future and I hope for all the other teachers at St. Lucy’s, and around the world to maintain the passion and energy they had for teaching when they first entered the profession.

We took many pictures throughout my weeks at the school, as well as group pictures today. Though I am uncomfortable with posting them, I am more then willing to share with anyone who is interested in seeing them. If I ever decide to pursue a career working with children with disabilities or start my own organization for them, I attribute St. Lucy’s for helping me to discover this new passion of mine.

The moment today that made me appreciate not just today but all three weeks at St. Lucy’s was the connection I made with a young girl named Sarah. She really enjoyed playing with me at each playtime and introduced everyone she knew to me. Saying “this is Renee, she’s my friend!” She would smile the biggest smile anyone has ever given me and run up to me with her hands up ready for a high five. I could always count on her to keep me busy during play time. Today we took a photo together and she was so happy when I asked her if she would like to take one. I even printed it out and gave it to her at the end of the day so she could keep it.

Maybe some of the kids, like Sarah, will remember and maybe some will completely forget I was ever at the school. But what’s important is that the kids are interacting with all different people each and every day. New volunteers, teachers, fellow students, and that is helping them to continue growing and reaching their full potential. Who knows, maybe I’ll win the lottery and then be able to return to St. Lucy’s (that’s what I promised Mr. Hayes anyway)! Wishful thinking???

P.S. Mr. Hayes added me to the Beetles email list with teachers and parents of the class. Now I will be able to keep in touch with how the kids are doing each week!

Pure Joy

The last time someone was as happy to see me as some of the kids at St. Lucy’s are each morning, was when my parents picked me up at the airport, after spending 4 months abroad. I don’t think I can think of a better start to my morning then seeing the smiles on their faces when they’re dancing and playing. Today was an especially perfect day, despite my sleepiness, and at the end of the day Mr. Hayes said that may have been one of his best days in his teaching career. The kids behaved extremely well and learned a lot. They learned how to spell T’s words, what fairness and taking turns means and what a “group” is. Though transitioning from one exercise to another can be tough, the students were cooperative and manageable. In the middle period they had art class with Mr. Yap and made various objects out of clay. Though some decided it was more fun to eat little bits of clay (we tried to tell them it was yucky and comes from the ground) everyone was very engaged and excited to be using the clay.

Some of the students have multi-lit during the day for about 30 minutes which is a interactive reading activity where they work with special teachers who help them improve their reading and comprehension skills. Those who are unable to do this get to work with Mrs. Jordan who is St. Lucy’s speech pathologist. I worked with her last week when she came to our classroom and helped her with four of the girls. We did an activity with the Mr. Potato head figures. Each child gets a potato head and then uses the iPad to tell us what they want to put on their iPad. There is an app the school uses which has picture images with the writing below and when they click it, it says the word or small phrase out loud. It is very effective for the students who are unable to speak but can understand different pictures and signs.

I learned that at the end of last week Mrs. Jordan sent out a school-wide email to the teachers regarding how impressed she was with me during her sessions. Now, don’t be confused I wasn’t actually receiving the therapy, but she was impressed with how well I worked with the kids and how I was easily able to engage them in the activity to help facilitate her session. That was probably one of the biggest compliments I have ever received from anyone. Not only do I love going to St. Lucy’s each day, but I truly enjoy seeing each of the children succeed in their own special way. I wasn’t even aware that my passion for working with the kids was outwardly obvious, but I guess it is. I cannot believe I have only 3 more days at the school, it breaks my heart. But I am trying my hardest to appreciate each of my days, as I have mentioned before and I hope to make the most out of the last 3 days (this includes going to sleep earlier so I am not so tired throughout the day).

Working at St. Lucy’s has made me imagine what it might be like to work with children with disabilities either as a teacher/speech pathologist or even as an advocate for their behalf. When Mr. Hayes told me I would be a great special needs teacher or speech therapist I thought to myself, hmm, how can I finagle a third major into my undergraduate career within the next year? Just kidding! But it definitely is something to think about considering I am only 20 years old and am lucky enough to be afforded the luxury of choice in deciding my career path. In what ways will global studies fit into children with disabilities? That is the question I will take on as I continue my journey in Australia.

The moment for me today was at the end of the day when I thanked Mrs. Jordan for her nice words on my behalf and how much they meant to me. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated it and that it made me feel like I was really doing positive things for the children. Also when Mr. Hayes said that he had one of the best days in his teaching career, I was proud to be present for it and happy to see his success as a teacher continue to grow, he definitely deserves it.