Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Here I am, writing again, but from good old Rhode Island, and not from Sydney. I have arrived home safely!
Last Saturday, I packed up a few last things, had my last bowl of Just Right (a delicious Australian cereal with dried fruit in it) and went to the international airport, where I cleared security and did a little shopping until my flight at 1:05pm. A long flight followed, in which I watched Valentine's Day (which, besides Taylor Swift's performance, left something to be desired), a few episodes of MASH, and played Tetris on the sweet in-flight entertainment console. Once again, I was very impressed by the Qantas food offerings. I also did some reading and writing about my experiences.
At 9:45am on Saturday (yup, Saturday) I arrived at LAX, where I spent a great deal of time in the Customs Hall, had to go through security again, and got a quick glimpse of California palm trees. I was quite pleased to be back in the United States, tasked only with following the trail I had left 6 weeks before to make it back across the country before I was home. Just before getting on my plane, I had a frustrating encounter with a Burger King employee that went something like this (this is included mostly for my sister's benefit, becuase she really enjoys it):
Me: Do you have milkshakes?
BK employee: No.
Me: You don't have milkshakes?
BK employee: No.
Me: Do you have any ice cream-type products?
BK employee: Milk?
Me: Ok. I'll have a garden salad.
BK employee: Um, just that?
I flew to Boston, where I arrived around 8:30pm (still Saturday) and my parents and sister were waiting! We drove back to Rhode Island, my heart soared as we drove through Providence, and then, suddenly, I was home.
Strangely enough, it didn't feel as weird as I thought it might, just a little surreal. I suppose that was to be expect though, because living in Sydney didn't feel as weird as I thought it might, either. Since then, I have been trying to kick the jetlag, visiting friends and family members and Dunkin' Donuts, and trying to make the most of the time I have before school starts. More than a few people have commented that I brought a lot of rain back to RI with me from down under, but hopefully the sun will come out soon.
During my copious number of hours in flight on Saturday, I had a good deal of time to think about everywhere I had been an everything I had done over the past six weeks in Australia. This was certainly the experience of a lifetime for me, and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to do it. I gained many insights about the nature of the benefits offered to young adults by a university chaplaincy, some of which far less expected than others! Furthermore, I learned a seemingly paradoxical pair (although, ultimately, I think this is not the case) of personal lessons: greater self-reliance and to trust in God's providence and the hospitality of others.
Therefore, I have only the greatest gratitude to all those who helped to make this fellowship possible for me, especially Fr. Guido and Fr. Robb, the Murrays (whose generosity made my trip possible), and all of my relatives and friends whose prayers and support made journeying half-way around the world infinitely easier.
For those of you who are in the Providence area and would like to hear a slightly more detailed wrap-up of my fellowship experiences and/or about the experiences of some of my fellow Fellows, I will be giving a public presentation on my time in Sydney on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 7:00pm. I am not positive yet where it will be, but I am relatively sure that it will be in the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies at PC. I'll post an update about this when I find out for sure. If you can't make it, I would be happy to send you a written version of my talk (once it is written). Just let me know!
Thanks for reading these last weeks. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I did!
P.S. A note on pictures. I've not yet finished updating my Picasa site with the rest of my pictures and some captions. I'll put a note here once its done
Friday, August 20, 2010
As I sit here writing this tonight, my suitcases are open on the floor in the front left room of 23 Thompson Street, Drummoyne, New South Wales, and I will be leaving for the airport in just a little over twelve hours. Isn't that strange? This trip was so many months in the making that it is strange to think that it finally came at all, let alone come to an end. Still, the journey is not over. I know that on my plane ride tomorrow (an adventure in itself) I will have a chance to sit back and reflect even more than I already have on the experiences I have had in Sydney and try to put together a coherent, cohesive account of what I have done and experienced for myself and others. Even once that is done, I don't think that I will fully understand the impact of this six week adventure of mine to Oz. When I was visiting the CYS team in Flemington last Saturday, Box told me that he finds all the time that he is only now starting to understand the significance of/how God was working in the experiences he had during his first year with CYS five years ago. I would not be surprised if it is the same for me.
Monday, August 16, 2010
On Thursday, I made my first visit to UTS (University of Technology, Sydney – the comma is part of the official name) for 1:15 Mass and 2:00 Mere Catholicism with Sr. Mary Barbara since this was the first week of events for them. Mere Catholicism and a forum like the Veritas Seminar Series they have at USyd alternate each Thursday. The chaplaincy offerings at UTS also include bible studies on Tuesday and Thursday mornings with Sr. Mary Barbara that are affectionately (thought not officially) known as “Nuns and Roses.” The Sydney chaplaincy only recently became responsible for UTS, so the offerings there are significantly more limited than they are at USyd. What they really need is another staff member to devote him/herself to UTS. This is sort of the capacity that Sr. Mary Barbara is filling this semester, but as she does not work at the chaplaincy full time (both sisters only work 2 days per week because they are also full time Masters students at Notre Dame), she can only do so much. As usual, Fr. Dom was able to create an amazingly prayerful atmosphere in “Multi-Faith Room I” at the UTS student centre. Sr. Mary Barbara’s inaugural session of Mere Catholicism also went quite well. We had a talkative group and started out lightly with a discussion of the meaning of life. I think the sessions will prove quite fruitful. Before we walked back to the chaplaincy, Sr. Mary Barbara and I took a field trip to the UTS school supply store, which is located dangerously close to Multi-Faith Room I. For those of you who have encountered me in such environments, add another person who is just as fascinated by pens, notebooks, etc. as I am, put us in a foreign country to add the luster of unfamiliarity, and you will have an idea of what this was like. One thing they have in Australia that they don’t have in America (to my knowledge) are notebooks with staple binding rather than spirals. I think they are pretty neat. I found some at UTS made out of recycled paper with Australian animals on the covers. Did I buy them? Yup. Another project of mine was using the chaplaincy Facebook account to friend-request all of the people who have provided their information at various events so that they can be exposed to publicity for other events, etc. This was one of those not very glorious tasks that neither Rita or Beth have time to do that needed to get done. The chaplaincy Facebook person’s number of “friends” is growing rapidly now!
Friday was another day of sightseeing for me. In the morning, I went to the Hyde Park barracks museum and learned about Australia’s origins as a convict colony. Some of the conditions that convicts (and later female Irish orphans!!) were subjected to were not good at all. Luckily, the country has gotten past this. One thing I didn’t know was that Great Britain employed huge prison ships called hulks in many of its colonies and at home, where prisoners were subjected to disgusting on board living conditions that were sometimes worse than the labor they were made to do during the daytime. Then, I explored Macquarie Street, where a lot of important buildings are located: the old Mint, the first hospital (still in operation), the New South Wales Parliament House, and the State Library. Macquarie street is named for Governor Macquarie, who was the governor of Australia in the early 19th century and effected a lot of reform and rebuilding. I went a delightful (and free) exhibit about his life in the State Library, which was quite informative. I had been wondering what his story was since half the things in this city seem to be named after him. After that, I spent some time at the cathedral and went to 1:10 Mass. After that, I got some lunch and walked to Darling Harbour where I did some shopping and paid a visit to Sydney Wildlife World, a rather touristy indoor zoo. Despite my usual distaste for such places, it was a great opportunity to see allll of Australia’s unique animals. I saw koalas, kangaroos, pythons, bull ants, wombats, crocodiles, various possum, these pointy nosed hedgehogs whose names I can’t remember, giant cockroaches and spiders, and so much more. In the end, I was absolutely fascinated by the kangaroos. Sure, they can hop on their hind legs with their front legs up in the air, but they can also walk on all fours. And when they walk on all fours, they lean mostly on their front legs and sort of swing the back ones behind them – the opposite of hopping. I spent quite a while just watching them move. I had a nice conversation with their keeper, who told me that there are actually three times as many kangaroos in Australia as people!
On Saturday, I spent the day in a town called Flemington (about half an hour outside the city) visiting with the team from Catholic Youth Services (CYS), which is the official youth ministry service for the diocese. Members of the CYS team do one year of service during which they live in community at St. Dominic’s parish in Flemington and do retreats for diocesan parishes and generally support/staff other youth events in the diocese. Without extra events, they generally do about 3 full day retreats per week, so it’s a very busy life. Unlike other programs like this that I have seen, they all both live and work together as a team, which is a good support system/source of stability. This has its upsides and downsides, as it makes for high highs and low lows. My host was the team leader, Box (no idea what his real name is), and he was a lovely person; I’m so glad I got to meet him. He takes his duties as team leader very seriously, works hard to provide an example to the other team members, and is really committed to serving the youth of this diocese. One of the first things he said to me was, “Right now, I have no plans. I am doing whatever God wants.” I hung out at their house for a while, experienced the tense construction of the community grocery list (they don’t always agree on how best to spend their money/some people do not have good shopping/budgeting skills). Then we went to a shopping center/mall, where two of the girls did the grocery shopping, and I explored with Box and another team member named Tony who was really nice. We went to lots of stores, including my first visit to an Australian Target! I LOVE Target, so this was vary exciting for me. It was pretty great, of course, but not as great as American Targets, unfortunately. Tony and Box decided to indulge in some pretty intense Nerf guns (they’ve been working pretty flat out lately and needed to unwind). When we got back to the house, I encountered a pretty hilarious battle with said Nerf guns and a few pillows along the way. Later, we went to a sale (which I have literally been hearing anticipatory talk about for weeks), at the big Catholic bookstore in the diocese, the Mustard Seed. They had a lot of good prices on good books. This was such a fun and unexpected day, as Box only called to invite me on Friday afternoon (while I was visiting the kangaroos, actually). The CYS team is wonderful, and they are doing a lot of good work. I learned that the lovely Beth from the chaplaincy did a year with CYS a few years ago, and, naturally, they all love her. I was pretty tired when I came home, and I spent much of the evening planning my Sunday trip to the Blue Mountains.
On Sunday, I left the house at 7:15 to catch a 7:30 bus into the city to catch an 8:18am train at central station to a town in the Blue Mountains called Katoomba, which is about 2 hours outside of the city. I did some much needed dozing on the train and still managed to see a fair bit of scenery. The man across the aisle from on the way there was reading Tacitus's Annals. Before that, he looked like he was reading a math solutions manual. He intrigued me. One of the many stops on the way out to Katoomba was called Emu Plains. Only in Australia, right?
So what are the Blue Mountains, and why Katoomba? Well, ever since I got to Australia, people have been asking me if I’ve been to the Blue Mountains, so I decided I should go before I left. Basically, once the huge metropolis surrounding Sydney ends on the western side, this mountain range begins. They are called the Blue Mountains because they are covered most heavily with eucalyptus trees, which supposedly look blue, although I did not share this opinion today. Perhaps it is a lighting thing. Katoomba is the town closest to the biggest tourist-y area of the Blue Mountains. It happens to be in this town because the town is basically on some cliffs that overlook a huge river valley with great views of all the mountains, and especially a rock formation known as the Three Sisters. There’s a little legend associated with the Three Sisters, but I don't have a good handle on it at the moment. The internet is being annoying, so I haven't been able to look it up properly.
When I got to the station in Katoomba, I snatched a map from one of the sightseeing trolley stores and walked out (about 3km) to Echo Point, which is the most popular place for viewing the Three Sisters. Just as I arrived at the visitor's center, it started to rain, so I waited out the rain there and then went and took in the view for a while. I did a little walking down a couple of nearby paths to other observation points as the weather cleared off. Then, there was a rainbow! A perfect one, with the whole arch! That rain could have totally spoiled my day, but as it turned out, it, if anything, made it better. The whole area reminded me a lot of New England, which was lovely, except that I had to keep remembering all those trees were eucalyptus and not spruce! It was great to get out of the city atmosphere for a while.
Next, I walked on the roads parallel to the cliffs to another big observation point where they have some of the other touristy things, like a railroad down the cliffs or a cable car ride across the valley. I walked on a few more paths to see other lookout points and down a steep set of earth stairs to see the cascades at the bottom of Katoomba falls. After this, I explored some more of the surrounding area and the town center. I stopped at a random corner store and got a delicious rum raisin milkshake, which is a flavor I’d never had before. I took a different way back to town which unfortunately turned out to include walking up an enormous hill. I attempted to visit the Catholic Church in Katoomba, but in the morning, I had gone past it during Mass, and it was looked in the afternoon. Alas. Once I got back to the town centre, I checked out a bunch of shops, including some used book shops (isn't Mr. Pickwick's just the perfect name for a used book store?), which was quite enjoyable. I’m sorry to say I didn’t get anything (sorry, Erik).
I took the train back at 3:35, napped and read, and arrived back in the city at 5:35. I then proceeded to get lost in the train station - the city stations all have underground parts and multiple exits - but finally found my way to St. Benedict’s on Broadway (the parish at Notre Dame) just in time for Mass to start and celebrated the Feast of the Assumption with some beautiful music. After Mass, I made a mad dash to the bus stop, thankfully didn’t miss my bus, and made it home tired but in one piece.
All in all, a great day of exploring and encountering the beauty of this country, and for just the price of a round trip bus ticket!
A programming note for those lovers of my Australian photos – there are currently some quite annoying internet issues plaguing the House of Langrell. My e-mail and a few websites like this one work with only a bit of annoyance, but uploading pictures is basically impossible. So unless something changes, the rest of my pictures will have to wait until I return to American’s beautiful shores. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
As I’ve mentioned before, each Wednesday at 1pm (right after Mass), the chaplaincy sponsors a talk on some interesting topic to encourage students to “think outside the textbook.” It’s called the Veritas Seminar Series. It gets about 30-40 people per week, and always ends with a question and answer session. When I first made contact with the chaplaincy staff back in June, Daniel Hill asked me to give one of these talks, booked me in for today (the second one of the semester), and so “The Pursuit of Happiness: A Lost Art?” was born. I spoke about finding lasting happiness in a world increasingly concerned with material success with a little help from Aristotle and St. Thomas. Since this is not exactly an area of expertise for me, writing the talk was a good challenge for me. I got a good response from the audience (probably closer to 30 today), so I count it as a success overall. It certainly does feel good to have that little obstacle behind me!
Let’s see, what else has been going on?
On Sunday night, I had the privilege of having dinner with Cardinal Pell, the archbishop of Sydney and the highest ranking Church official in Australia. He is a family friend of the Langrells and a frequent dinner guest. Dinner was a low key affair with a lot of discussion about rugby, but there was naturally also some discussion about various things going on in the Sydney church. I was impressed with the intimate knowledge of the things going on in his diocese – not just about events and the goings on at parishes, but he also seemed to know well many of the young adults involved in the Sydney Catholic scene. This gave me some insight into the success of young adult programming in the diocese – when the cardinal is interested in and encouraging what you do, it’s certainly gives you the motivation and support you need to succeed!
On Monday, I worked at our weekly “evangelization stall” on one of the main walkways on campus, did postering (You’d be amazed at how many posters get put up on this campus, and you don’t need approval to put anything up! So foreign to my SAIL-trained sensibilities!), went to Mass, prepared for a 2pm bible study but then did not have the bible study because the two girls signed up for it currently couldn’t come.
Tuesday was a bit of an annoying day at the chaplaincy because we lost power for a lot of the day, precluding a lot of office work, and it rained, so we had to cancel our barbecue. I did have a fun adventure making iced coffee with Sr. Maria Cecelia, did a bit more postering on campus (so strange seeing my own name plastered all over the place), went to Mass, and ran a bible study with Beth at 2. I think I’ve said that we are studying Luke this semester; this week we did chapter 1, which contains accounts of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Annunciation to Zechariah, and the birth of John the Baptist –its absolutely beautiful and led to some great discussion. I spent much of the evening putting finishing touches on my talk and practicing it with Lauren, who was a very attentive audience of one!
This morning, I made a combined calendar for all of the chaplaincies activities at the JPII Center, at Sydney, and at UTS, a long saught-after dream of Dan Hill and prepared for my talk. Then we had Mass, I gave my talk, answered questions, had a makeshift reception outside the lecture hall with potato chips and soda (this is what usually happens; one of the types of potato chips Rita bought for today was CHICKEN flavored – it really tasted like chicken, so weird!), had lunch, and had a lovely D&M (Australian term for deep and meaningful conversation) with a girl named Katie who goes to the music conservatory. I then helped Beth design wallet sized cards with information about chaplaincy events at UTS and headed down to Notre Dame for Christology. Tonight’s lecture was on heresies in the early church, which I just find so interesting. Although heresies are certainly not a good thing, they have challenged the Church over the years to better define what it believes, making it stronger. My professor was particularly enthusiastic in his descriptions of St. Athanasius, who was chiefly responsible for combating the Arian heresy (essentially, that Chirst was not fully divine), which made me chuckle.