It’s 5am on a Wednesday morning and I am standing in the middle of Adelaide Airport, surrounded by 17 teenagers being embraced by their families as they say one last “goodbye, stay safe and good luck”, before embarking on the trip of a lifetime to Japan. As we walk through the customs gate, I catch the eyes of my two colleagues, and I know they are thinking what I am thinking - what do the next 13 days have in store for our group? Adventure, challenges and a wealth of self-discovery.
Landing in Osaka, it was with great excitement the group took our first steps out of the terminal, and to quote Helen Steele, the realisation hit, “We are in Japan!” For some, this was their first experience of travelling overseas, and for most, without their parents. The opportunity to travel fosters independence and this was certainly evident throughout our tour. Slowly but surely, as their confidence grew in being immersed in the unfamiliar, so did their ability to learn quickly and take responsibility for their luggage and budget. Moving through shoulder-to-shoulder train stations, reading maps, ordering food and hand washing in hotel sinks, coupled with the realisation that if they didn’t do it, no one else would, meant that life skills were soon adopted and became second nature.
In Hiroshima, our eyes were opened, our hearts were warmed, and our minds were enlightened, with an opportunity to reflect and gain perspective on our own lives and home. Visiting Peace Memorial Park and learning of the tragic devastation caused by the Atomic Bomb, in particular the effects on the people of Hiroshima, gave way to a deep gratitude for our health, safety and hope for peace on earth.
Our appreciation of Japanese culture and perspective on lifestyle was also developed in Kyoto, through our stay in a traditional Ryokan. We were welcomed by a family into their tatami floored home, complete with sliding screen doors, futon beds, and a banquet of traditional Japanese cuisine for breakfast each morning. This proved to be one of the most confronting experiences in our immersion of Japanese culture, however to ‘live it’ meant that the attachment to the familiar comforts of home were both challenged and appreciated.
Visiting St Capitanio, our sister school in the city of Seto, provided the opportunity for self-awareness to flourish. Language, uniform and nationality knew no boundary, as I watched students scurry up and down corridors, ducking in and out of classrooms, singing, playing and learning, all while embracing the thrill and energy of the moment. Profound experiences are said to give people a sense of place and purpose, and it was evident to me that this was a life changing experience, to be carried in the hearts and memories of each individual, and a defining moment for them in character, beliefs and values.
Arriving in Tokyo, the opportunity was given to reflect on all we had experienced so far, including the change it had made in each of us. Maturity, confidence, respect and gratitude were just some of the expressions used to describe their growth throughout the tour. For those who had started the tour as shy, quiet followers, they now lead the group and spoke their thoughts freely. This was evident perhaps most, during our visit to Disneyland, where leading the way around the park was shared, and to experience this together was half the fun. The courage each student had shown throughout the tour was admirable, choosing to spend 13 days away from family, friends and home comforts, to instead embrace the challenge of immersing themselves in the foreign and unfamiliar, in return gaining new friends, a lifetime of memories, and confidence.
Before I knew it, I found myself standing once again in Adelaide Airport at 5am, surrounded by 17 students and their families. However this time, they were embraces of, “Welcome, we missed you, and tell us all about it” - the adventure, the challenges and the wealth of self-discovery.
Year 11 Pastoral Care Coordinator