Hospitality and the power of recognition – Reflections from volunteering in Oz

As part of the program at Australia Studies Centre, students are required to complete 35 hours of volunteering at a local organization in Brisbane. This is both challenging and rewarding and helps shape their experience in Australia.

The following are some excerpts from Kyle Hoffman’s service placement reflections, submitted this semester for one of our core units The View from Australia (AS200). Kyle is a Fall 2016 ASC student from Olivet Nazarene University. Reproduced with permission.

What activities will you be doing this semester at your service placement?

This semester I will be serving at Brisbane Common Grounds and helping to serve community meals for the residents. This project is run by Micah Projects and the purpose is to enable chronically homeless and low-income individuals to become independent by offer stability and support with their living conditions. The community meal is a once a week occurrence that is designed to build community among the apartments through a time of fellowship. Along with preparation and serving of the meals, I will also be talking with and engaging with the people that live there in a meaningful way.

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Why do you think we include the service placement as a requirement at the ASC?

This service placement allows us to grow and learn by being placed in positions of responsibility, love, and unity. These experiences are designed to be challenging and to be a microcosm for what God is going to call us to for the rest of our lives. We will better understand Gods vision for us as we give of ourselves to this community.

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Define these terms and discuss how they connect to you and others at your service placement:

Hospitality:       

Hospitality is a genuine and active practice that people take to show others kindness and their worth. Hospitality resists social boundaries that exist and place de-humanizing restraints on individuals who are “the least” or having less. I believe that hospitality is recognition that we as people are all equal and contribute something to each other and society and are therefore worth being recognized. It is easy to be hospitable to those who are similar and established, but serving those with real needs becomes an act of defiance. I have had the opportunity to provide hospitality to those I meet with on Wednesdays with Micah Projects. It is through my practice of intentionally lowering myself and viewing these people at the same level that I can fully appreciate how they encourage me as I serve. It is humbling to know that the recognition I give them is influential because most of the time the people I have dinner with are overlooked and ignored in society.

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Power of recognition:

Recognition and respect are powerful things because it is what brings hope for those who see no purpose. We are all made by the creator God to be image bearers of him, so each person is deserved the respect and identity that is deserved to god. Recognition for the people I serve at the community meal every week is one of the primary highlights that these people have. They look forward to having a conversation with us from week to week and this shows the importance of recognition and seeing them as image bearers of Christ.

The Mathew 25 passage offers an incredible perspective. It reveals that we have the opportunity to serve God through the way we serve others and especially the “least of these”. Thinking about this passage is important for me because I have been shaped by the experiences and people I have met so far, but this provides me with a new telos and perspective when I volunteer in the future. I thought the idea that treating others as though they were Jesus will shift our focus back to how God can shape us through our relationship with them while also showing the love of God to whom we are serving.

Education and dislocation:

Education fosters dislocation because of the theme of upward mobility. I have to be honest that I myself have this feeling or desire to be transient, on the move, and dislocated to an extent and it may have been implanted in me somehow through education, but I don’t think dislocation is all that bad. I think that there is a time to be dislocated and experience different places and that some people may be called to a transient life. Being on the move doesn’t mean that you don’t get involved in community, but your relations with various communities are just more short-lived. I do agree that the education system can foster a negative consumer driven pursuit of dislocation, economic status, and career advancement, but this does not have to be so.

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Do you see any “micropractices” forming from your time at your service placement? If not, what practice do you hope to pick up? What could the macro effect be?

I am discovering is the ability to slow down and focus on having real conversations with people. I am gaining a respect for the practice of humble service and the ability to listen. The macro effect of these practices will be that it shifts my perspective of the world and how people should interact as well as what my purpose is and that is very important.

What have you learned about place and “digging in” through your Service Placement?

I have learned that “digging in” can actually mean two things. Either it means to lay down roots in a long-term more permanent way or to really intentionally invest in the community and relationships that God has placed in your life. I think that the latter is far more important because when I look at the supervisors that I worked with this semester, I could see that they did have a good intention in their heart, but they have become a bit cynical with the work that they are doing and may not understand the weight of their impact. They have the long-term relationship thing down, but the deepness of their relationship sand their understanding of really what the people at Micah need was lacking. They treated the tenant with dignity, but there was a bit of disregard for empowering the people at Micah at times.

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How has your Service Placement shaped your goals for returning home?

My service placement this semester has been something that has opened my eyes about new perspectives and how I approach the things that I do. I went into my service placement without expectations or goals the first few weeks and this led me to go through the motions and virtually waste my time. It wasn’t until I decided to be intentional with how I would be involved and interact that I was able to set goals for myself and allow the experience to shape me through the interactions that I would have with the tenants and other workers. It is a goal of mine to be understanding and knowledgeable of the different backgrounds, experiences, and preferences of others. I have also learned that intentionality is the best way to build a relationship and that it is very enriching for community. These are all things I plan to take with me as I enter my career as a teacher where I will inevitably encounter a diverse amount of people.

To learn more about Brisbane Common Ground see: http://www.commongroundqld.org.au/about-us/vision-mission-and-our-core-business/

To learn more about Micah Projects see: http://micahprojects.org.au/

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Learning to be a Monk – Reflections of a Pilgrim

Excerpt from Chris Krebsbach’s blog chriskrebsbach.com. Chris is joining us this semester visiting from the Los Angeles Film Studies Centre.

Students at the Australian Studies Centre (where I’m spending much of my time lately) start the semester by reading a thought-provoking essay by William T. Cavanaugh titled Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk: Mobility and Identity in the Global Age.

Cavanaugh looks at the ramifications of globalization and what it means to live in a world less divided by borders…though he would argue that the idea that we’re not still divided by national identity is silly.  (My word, not his…this guy doesn’t use words like “silly”.) My interpretation of how he defines the terms is this:

Migrant – Refugees, workers and others who have “spilled across borders in all parts of the globe.”  People in this category often (but not always) end up falling under the umbrella of those who are a “readily exploitable source of cheap labor.”

Tourist – One (likely a Westerner with means) who travels for business or pleasure, generally seeking escape, whose presence does more to affect the culture which they enter than the culture does to change them.  Someone who views another culture as something to be observed or consumed but not necessarily engaged.

Pilgrim – Someone who enters a new culture with humility and is willing to embrace differences in others while moving towards a transformed self, more grounded in God.  (In the essay, he explores the idea of Christian pilgrimage but points out that other traditions have elements of pilgrimage as well.)  One who “sees all as potential brothers and sisters on a common journey” and chooses to rely on others and God.

Monk – “Those on whom the pilgrim [and migrant] depend….those who remain in place in order to offer hospitality to those who journey.”

Not quite what I mean.
               Not quite what I mean.

Our students (and therefore I) have been challenged through these last almost three months (and in the weeks left on our journey) to see our time Down Under as Pilgrimage, to operate in such a way that we enter into the land and the culture, trying to understand the whole of the national story, rather than viewing it as a removed third party.  We want them to grow in their understanding of others and themselves rather than operate in a typical Tourist mindset.  And now we’re challenging them to take what they’re learning about cultural difference and apply it back to parts of their own country’s way of seeing the world…in essence, to become Monks for others.

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This is no easy task!  It requires self-reflection and admission of issues within one’s own country, state and city.  It requires sometimes saying the wrong things or asking the wrong questions and the humility to accept correction.  It can be an emotional journey that leaves a person asking “Great.  But what do I do now?”

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Part of Pilgrimage is fitting into a culture rather than imposing your own ideas of culture upon the place where you’re standing.  One might think that to culture cross from the United States to Australia isn’t that big of a deal.  The language is the same, the culture is western, there are McDonald’s (aka Macca’s) everywhere.

But even in our “similar” countries, there are differences.  The Australians I’ve met have been generally more physically active and more laid back.  They typically ask less questions and have a bit of a different way of conversing.  They aren’t into individualism and being the best…and they’re happy to dissuade others from being so.

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And yes, there is a small language gap. I can mostly understand the words of my house mate, but I often have to stop her to ask what a word means…and when I have to do that, it can be uncomfortable…especially in the moments she looks at me like I have two heads for not knowing what she’s talking about.  (I generally do know but different words for similar things.)

One of our students, in the first week of the program, was told she could help herself to the “bikkies” on the “bench” and almost ended up missing out on having one of the cookies that had been sitting out on the kitchen counter because she had no idea what she had been offered.

Don’t believe me?  Click here to see what Australians have to say about that.

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Elder lessons on Aboriginal land, culture and history

There are differences in our cultures, but there are also similarities, some of which are not pretty.  I’ve learned about darker things like Australia’s convict history, and treatment of Aboriginal people, and Australian current refugee practices.  And I can’t come away from that without reflecting on the dark parts of my own cultural past and present.

I feel like I can see things a little more clearly because I am watching the US from afar instead of being in the middle of what’s going on now with the election cycle and #BlackLivesMatter and various other issues of race and national identity that are bubbling up in my own country.  I’m seeing us through an Aussie filter that is bewildered by our current political theatre and literally assuming that Donald Trump reflects true American values.

Being here has reinforced what I already knew… The world is watching and they’re not necessarily liking what they see.

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So how do we get to Monk-hood…those of us who want to be a welcoming presence to the outsider?

One of the concluding ideas in Cavanaugh’s essay is that if we are willing to enter the world as Pilgrims, we can earn the right and the ability…and the centeredness…to be Monks to others.  How can we become Monks who help others to feel at home without first understanding what it is like to be a Pilgrim or listening to the stories of the Migrant?

In my current Pilgrimage, I’ve been “Monked” by colleagues who have taught me about the nuances of culture – both white Australian and Indigenous and the people like our students’ host families (and my house mate) who invite Americans into their homes to live as Aussies do.

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   Aboriginal sand art – recovering the old ways

I’ve been “Monked” by Aboriginal elders and teachers and artists who have kindly explained to “Whitefellas” the wounding and long-lasting effects of institutional racism and unconscious bias and who have taught us how dance and story and art connects them to the land and to each other…and how those things are also bringing healing to hurting people.  Their stories have illuminated not only their own culture but have given me a deeper understanding of the wounds to people within my own.

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                A “green” Outback experience

I’ve been “Monked” by a sweet cattle rancher named Grace who welcomed into the Outback so we could experience a land that is harsh, difficult to manage and often drought stricken (though it’s quite green this season because of unusual rain).  I understand better now the plight of farmers and ranchers who often know what’s best for the land but have to deal with government officials and policies that go against their better instincts, and I’ve heard more stories of Divine intervention in times of greatest need.

Grace (back. L) shows us around the property.
           Grace (back. L) shows us around the property.

And I’ve heard the stories of some Migrants, so I understand better now the difference between coming to a country as a welcome guest who is deemed acceptable vs. coming to a country as a person seeking asylum.  And how important Monk-types were in shaping the Migrant experience into a more positive one in spite of what they might be feeling from the culture at large.

I hold all of these people and their stories now.  They have helped me to understand the culture I am standing in and in turn have made me more keen to provide that sense of welcome to others when I’m standing in my own country.

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I believe that at least 50% of the travel I’ve done has majorly shaped who I am as a human…how I see myself and how I see the world.  I love to journey.  I probably always will.

I have also always been someone who deeply about welcoming others even though I’ve not always been good at it.  I’m very grateful that my current Pilgrimage in a new country has given me a larger framework of welcome; that my experience Down Under has left me more equipped to be a Monk for others.

We need more Monks than Tourists in our world of Migrants and Refugees.  We need more Monks in our world of people who have not been offered an equal seat at the table. And that is a need I want to meet in whatever ways I can.

You said what?!

In the following blog Wendi Jo Vande Voort explains some notable differences between Australian and American English. Jo is a Fall 2016 ASC student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.

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The English language is the most tripped on barrier between Australia and the United States (and Great Britain, but they are not a part of this discussion for the most part). How can that be possible if they both speak the same language one may ask? Simple. Words and phrases have very different meanings.

So be warned before you go on your study abroad experience to any country, but especially Australia in this case…

  1.     In the United States, the lovely little bag one straps around their waist is called a fanny pack because it tends to be associated with the older generations of people and they use the word fanny, at least that is what I was always lead to believe. Be warned if you go to Australia (or Great Britain) that lovely little pack is a bum bag. A fanny is a lady’s butt, like it ought to be, so fanny pack is not a thing to be said.
  2.     In the wonderful beach country of Australia, they call the footwear that has the fabric/plastic that goes between the big toe and your next “big toe”, thongs. Now thongs in the United States, these days, are primarily associated with a type of women’s undies that are not full coverage. If you are interested in fun facts, thongs started out as a thing for dancers and has turned into a normal style of undies a woman can buy. So what Australians call thongs, Americans call flip flops. Thongs simply sounds like a “dirty word” to an American.
  3.     Now we are off to our favorite sporting event and everything is in our team’s favor, the Americans are rooting for their team and the Australians are cheering. All of the sudden like the Australians are a bit shocked by the Americans use of the word root because the word ‘root’ is offensive Australian slang for sex.
  4.     In the United States, a period has a dual meaning, either another name for a menstrual cycle or the grammar element used to end a sentence. Australians use the word period only in association with a menstrual cycle. The grammar element of the United States is called a full stop in Australia. Do not mix them up in Australia.
  5.     So now for my favorite mental argument, the word napkin. If one would walk into your typical store and ask “where are the napkins?” in both Australia and the United States, you would get two very different responses. Walking into a Wal-mart in the United States, one would get directed to the aisle with disposable food serving products such as paper plates and plastic forks, but if you walk into a Reject Shop in Australia you would be directed to the feminine hygiene products. In Australia, a serviette is what Americans call a napkin, and what Australians call napkin is what Americans call a pad or panty liner. See the crucial difference?

If anything I hope this humored you, as either a born-sarcastic Australian or an American who is very confused in Australia.

And if you were wondering where this blog idea came from, a family dinner with my host family when I was speaking of grammar punctuation. Inspiration comes from such odd places. It’s also a good thing I handle most awkward situations well. Story for another time.