Mercy Hospitality at the Heart of Cultural Exchange
MERCY LIGHT: CONNECTING
St Aloysius College has an enduring history of welcoming international students. Over the last 30 years, thousands of young people from foreign shores have spent time learning, growing and sharing their culture with SAC’s staff and students. A highlight of 2023 has been welcoming the return of international students and staff who participate in Study Tours through SAC’s English Language School of Adelaide (ELSA) program.
Creating a supportive environment for students from different countries and cultures takes special empathy, time and effort, and having a dedicated team of staff on the ground to support international students when they get to SAC ensures a mutually beneficial experience for all. Ms Michelle Barratt has been the International Student Coordinator at SAC for seven years, and she says that the role has taught her a great deal about, “building intercultural understanding and appreciation.”
“The best part about my role is working with many kinds of people. I’ve learnt that even if we come from different backgrounds, people are generally similar in their wants and needs. Our SAC students also come to appreciate this when they spend time with international students,” Ms Barratt explains.
Together with the team of dedicated ELSA staff, Michelle cultivates relationships with international students and staff and tailors immersive experiences during their time at the College to suit each visiting group. An important part of her role is to work alongside SAC students who volunteer to be buddied with international students for the duration of their stay, guiding them through day-to-day classroom activities while building friendships.
Veronica, Celeste, and Adeline have been supportive buddies for Japanese students who have visited SAC as participants in four different Study Tours this year. When asked what they enjoyed most about welcoming students from abroad, their response was unanimous: “the sharing of cultures and friendships that last, even when international students have returned to their home country.”
Adeleine, in Year 8, said it was also a great way to teach friends and family members about the importance of cultural exchange: “I showed my little sister a video of the traditional Japanese dance that was performed for us on the students’ last day at SAC, and she really enjoyed seeing something new.”
Year 10 student, Veronica, who is a member of the Student Representative Council, believes that being a buddy gives students a chance to offer support to others in a practical way.
“Some of my Year 10 classmates are preparing to go on international exchange, and I can’t imagine going to a country where you don’t speak the language well. That’s a scary process. I think it is so important for us to go beyond our comfort zones to help others who are showing such courage in visiting a school overseas.”
Veronica reiterates that, “it is a personal choice to say, ‘I’m going to support those students.’ In doing so, you can help yourself.’”
Both Celeste and Adeline agree, describing how they are impacted their experience as buddies.
“You have to learn to choose your words carefully, which helps build on our communication skills.”
Celeste believes that participating in classes with international students also enables them to grasp the English language in a relaxed environment.
“There is a lot of conversation had in a school setting that you perhaps wouldn’t learn otherwise, so the international students enjoy talking to us about our favourite songs, TV shows, things that we enjoy.”
Another aspect that Veronica, Celeste and Adeline find rewarding as buddies is the responsibility and independence that they are entrusted with by Ms Barratt and ELSA staff.
Celeste shares, “When we first took on the role as buddies, we took part in a training lesson to help us learn to communicate, and to find out more about our roles as buddies… tasks like meeting the students before school, then taking them to their planned activities. Ms Barratt gave us booklets to guide us and was there to offer support if needed. It was really a student-led responsibility though, and the good thing about the SAC buddies is that we come from different classes and friendship groups, so we get to meet new people within the school too.”
Although parting ways with their newfound friends from abroad is challenging, students are not sad – rather, grateful for their experiences together at SAC, bonds formed, and with hopes of reconnecting in the future.
“We have a no phone rule while at school, but we have exchanged details with our Japanese buddies so that we can keep in touch.”
The spirit of Mercy Hospitality is at the heart of a welcoming and caring SAC community that sees, in visitors and newcomers, the potential for lasting friendships.
Ms Maddie Kelly