Episode 11 - Antipodeans Abroad
Episode Eleven: Antipodeans Abroad – Vietnam 2016
With Tim Ricketts
13th June 2017
Every two years Caloundra City Private School offers its Senior students the opportunity to participate in an Antipodeans Abroad expedition. The program aims to empower students to take ownership, learn vital life skills and develop a better understanding of themselves, the world and their place in it. In November last year eighteen CCPS students and three members of staff completed a twenty-two day student led expedition to Vietnam. Beginning in Ho Chi Minh City our students travelled by boat, train, bus and taxi as they trekked the jungles, walked the busy city streets and built infrastructure for an impoverished Primary school ending their journey in the country’s capital Hanoi. In this episode we hear from three CCPS students who completed the expedition as well as one of Senior Teachers, Mr Tim Ricketts who helped facilitate this rich learning experience.
Tracy: Tim Ricketts thanks for joining me today.
Tim: My pleasure to be here.
Tracy: Can you tell us about your time in Vietnam. It must have been an incredible experience for all involved?
Tim: It was the most wonderful immersive experience for students and Teachers alike. We travelled from south of Vietnam Saigon up to the north Hanoi using all manner of transport imaginable, trains, planes and automobiles. We immersed ourselves in the Vietnamese culture for three weeks. We spent time in busy cities, wonderful remote country side and met lots of fascinating people along the way.
Tracy: It sounds like an incredible experience. What impressed you the most about our young people as you travelled through the country?
Tim: It’s worth mentioning here, our approach to technology on the trip. Students were asked to leave mobile phones and that type of thing at home and so as such, it was a technology free experience for them. My observation of that is that they really immersed themselves in the culture and in their relationships with each other as we travelled from Saigon to Hanoi. They enjoyed the experiences first hand and they were living in the moment rather than recording the moment. There was no pressure to capture that moment so what I observed were young people enjoying their adventure and journey together. There was this wonderful sense of fun and enjoyment, interest in their surroundings and also the dealing of issues as they went through this adventure. So it was a remarkable experience to observe these young people stepping outside of technology and really immersing themselves in a different culture.
Tracy: You mentioned culture there, what do you think a country like Vietnam in particular offered our students in terms of a cultural education?
Tim: The feedback that we got back directly from the students which reflects their learning from their experience is, happiness need not be based solely on financial wealth. They saw people who were very happy with their lives, who walked around with smiles on their faces and with time for all of the people that they met, but to have very little in terms of financial wealth and certainly how we would measure wealth in our society in Australia. So they were shown a very different way of life, that they could see, that people gained happiness through non-financial, non materialistic things and it really made them value and appreciate what they have back home in Pelican Waters in terms of the lifestyle that they have, the opportunities that they have and the family and friends that they have around them.
Tracy: For those of us who didn’t go, it is difficult to imagine the country. Can you paint us a picture of one of your most memorable experiences over there?
Tim: I am going to relate to a Friday night that we spent in Hoi An which is in the north of Vietnam. We had spent the day looking around the market places and getting to visit some of the local businesses and that type of thing and in the evening we visited their Friday night market where the whole city became lit up with this vibrant mix of colour and noise and culture. The students by this time had been in the country for about two weeks and were really immersed in the discussions with the market holders, discussions with the people around them, they were chatting to the locals, they weren’t afraid of drawing a bit of a crowd because they were new to the area and obviously looked a bit different. So I was really taken with their ability to confidently deal with a very different cultural experience but at the same time acted very respectfully to local traditions and local customs. I think in such a short period of time within those two weeks our students showed a remarkable ability to deal with their immersion very sensibly. I just loved watching them walk around the markets eating the freshly produced donuts, bartering with stall holders over what, in our terms was a very small amount of money but which in terms of life in Vietnam, the bartering system is a very important practice. Our students were able to grab that opportunity and run with it in a wonderful way.
Tracy: One of the main goals of the trip was to build an external toilet block for the local Primary school. Selfless service can teach a person a great deal can’t it?
Tim: This is another one of those values that we as a School encourage our students to reflect upon on a regular basis. And certainly messages come from our Principal and our Head of Senior School about the fact that community service is a way to promote achievement in both academic and social situations. The opportunities given to the students in Vietnam were that they went to a remote country primary school where at that point in time, before we arrived, the primary students didn’t have any access to a toilet at all. They had to go home to use the toilet or they simply were not able go at all which had a knock on affect to their education. Our students built a toilet block for those primary school students and the look of happiness on the faces of the Vietnamese children, the appreciation demonstrated first hand to our students, showed how community service can have a very direct worthwhile effect on you. Our students certainly appreciated the feedback. They felt really positive about the contribution that they had made to other people’s lives.
Tracy: And I can imagine during that process that independence and leadership were important skills learned. Would you agree?
Tim: Very much so. Each day our group of students was assigned tasks whether it be, find accommodation for the night to come, or whether it was getting together all of the provisions that we needed for our long journeys, whether it was arranging places to eat, visiting local sights. The Teachers very much took a back seat during these three weeks. We were there to supervise and to assist where needed but really we took a step back, as I said, and let the students manage their own adventure. And they did this very well. They completed all of the tasks that I mentioned and went beyond that and watching them manage their own situations was a wonderful experience as well. And all of them stepped up to that task really well.
Tracy: Now Tim you are currently completing your Masters in Education and Research and one of your focused areas is student/Teacher relationships. How did the Antipodeans Trip enhance the positive Teacher/student relationship that we value here at CCPS?
Tim: For me personally it was a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with students outside of the classroom. The research that I have done suggests that Teachers need to find ways of building relationships with students that supports the learning within the classroom. This was a wonderful way of being able to watch how they interact with each other, how they approached life’s problems and challenges on a day to day basis, to get to know what makes them tick, to see the humour that they find in things, see how they approach different cultures. All of these things build a bigger picture of the individual and I think by seeing the picture you are then able to use that to better teach them which ever subject that you happen to teach.
Tracy: Famous German educator Kurt Hahn the founder of Outward Bound and the Duke of Edinborough Awards stated that the Antidotes to the declines of modern youth may involve projects, fitness, training and particularly expeditions where students engage in long challenging endurance tasks. In your opinion why are such trips so beneficial in today’s youth?
Tim: My view on this is that our young people can sometimes get too comfortable in their lives. We tend to provide everything for them as parents and I include myself as a parent in this comment, we tend to want to clear obstacles out of our children’s way so that their onward path through life is one without too many hurdles. This tends to mean that they don’t develop resilience when hurdles do come in their way. I think that the importance of trips such as the one that we took to Vietnam is that students are presented with problems and issues on a daily basis that, within a relatively safe environment they have to meet face on themselves. So they have to demonstrate leadership qualities, they have to demonstrate the ability to make difficult decisions; they have to get on with people that they may not always choose to spend some time with. I think by immersing them in a different culture for an extended period of time, with support but without telling them what to do on a day by day, hour by hour basis we enabled students to build a sense of worth, a sense of confidence and this gives them the resilience that they can take back into the classroom. I have certainly noticed, with the students that we have at CCPS who went on the Vietnamese trip, they have certainly brought that confidence and resilience back to school with them.
Tracy: You talk there a lot about the students learning but what did you personally gain as an adult from the experience? What did you learn about yourself?
Tim: I enjoyed meeting the challenges of being away with that number of students for a long period of time. I enjoyed the whole adventure of not always knowing where we were heading. I quite like to plan things when I go away on my trips and this trip required a certain amount of flexibility of letting other people make decisions for me on many occasions. So it was that sense of unknown that I may have found challenging but at the same time it was a valuable learning experience for me to trust other people to make decisions for me and to go along with the decisions that they had made. I enjoyed immensely the opportunity to spend time with our students, I didn’t think that it would be a challenging experience but I would have to say that I didn’t think that I would enjoy it quite as much as it did.
Tracy: Thank you for joining me today Tim.
Tim: my pleasure.
Tracy: I am here today with three of our intrepid travellers who completed the Vietnam Antipodeans Trip, Keely Redding, Lachlan Lawler and Jordan Muir. Thanks for joining me guys.
Keely, Lachlan, Jordan: Thank you, Thank you, Thanks Miss
Tracy: Lachlan we will start with you. How would you describe your trip to Vietnam? What were the highlights?
Lachlan: I think it was very different to the way that we live here in Australia. The cities were very different. Everything was more compact, like the way people lived, they were very cramped up. So that was very different and I enjoyed seeing that side of things. Probably my favourite part was the trek and seeing the landscape of the country. It was very beautiful.
Tracy: Jordan, what about you. What did you learn about yourself on the trip? I can imagine that it was pretty challenging at times?
Jordan: Yes, at times. The thing that I learned most about myself and my life was that we actually have it pretty easy here in Australia. Most people in Vietnam don’t, as they live in poverty and pretty horrible conditions. I learned to respect the cultures and other people a bit more, and their lifestyle.
Tracy: Keely, What skills did you need to succeed in this environment? It was a tropical environment, you were trekking, I imagine it was hot. How did you cope with that?
Keely: A lot of water. We definitely had to have a lot of water with us but we couldn’t take it from taps as it was dirty water. So we had to fill up with water bottles that we got from shops. It was so hot especially along the trek in the countries.
Tracy: Did you ever feel like you weren’t coping? And if you did how did you mentally overcome that challenge?
Keely: There were a few times on the trek that I thought, oh my god, I can’t reach this hill, I just can’t do it, but then I saw other people do it, but they were like, oh my god I hate this! I can’t do it. So I thought why don’t I just cheer them up and distract myself from everything. So I said ‘let’s go’. Rhianna couldn’t make it up the hill so I said ‘ok let’s go we only have a few more steps’ and that just distracted me from the hill.
Tracy: you must have felt a great sense of achievement when you got to the top?
Keely: Yes, I was so distracted I didn’t realise that the top of the hill was only a few steps away. Then we all stopped and I thought, holy moly we actually did it.
Tracy: I suppose it one of those things overcoming those challenges and achieving success. Lachlan did you have a similar experience where you were proud of yourself and what you achieved?
Lachlan: Yes,one of the things that we had to do was to work in small leadership groups to help organise activities for the next few days. Sometimes people in our groups had clashing ideas where one person wanted to do one thing and another person wanted to do another thing. People from outside of the group wanted to share their input as well. It was difficult to get everyone’s ideas together to make one idea or go do one thing rather than ten different things. That was a bit difficult.
Tracy: Did the group become better at that over time?
Lachlan: Over time we got a lot better at that and communicated a lot better as we got to know each other. We didn’t really assign each other roles but sort of developed into certain roles, I guess, to like what we were better at, that sort of thing.
Tracy: I imagine that the Vietnamese culture, and Lachlan you mentioned it earlier, was very different. What did you admire about the people and what in fact did you learn about the culture?
Jordan: I admired greatly that despite the conditions that they were living in they appeared to be quite happy all of the time. I didn’t actually meet one person that seemed to be upset or angry with anyone. They were just welcoming and gracious to have us there.
Tracy: So Jordan what can we, as westerners, learn from the Vietnamese culture?
Jordan: Perhaps maybe we can learn to rely on technology a little bit less. Very few people over there were addicted to their phones or had their face down in a screen. I think they are probably a lot happier because of that.
Tracy: How did you guys cope without having access to technology and your phone Keely?
Keely: I found it pretty easy as we had so much to do. I wasn’t really relying on my phone, thinking that I was bored and that I needed my phone. There wasn’t time like that as most of the times we were so tired from what we did before. When we did the community project we were so tired that when we got back to Ho Chi Minh we just crashed. I didn’t think about technology until about maybe the last two days when I realised that there was a phone in the room. Then Adrienne came to me and said that she called her mum. Then I thought that I wanted to do that.
Tracy: It is a different world isn’t it. Jordan one of the other most important components of this trip was the community project, the building project. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Jordan: Basically we went in to a very poor secluded Vietnamese community. We got there by a 20 minute boat ride every day and we constructed a small building for a one building school, because they didn’t have a bathroom so basically we got the bricks together and we mixed the cement and rendered the walls and basically interacted with the community. Lots of kids were there during their school day while we were in the construction of the building. So it was nice to see the children and interact with them.
Tracy: How did you feel when you were building that project? It must have been fairly hard work but rewarding as well?
Jordan: Yes definitely. There were times when it was really hard but seeing how happy the kids were to actually finally have a bathroom, really made it worth it.
Tracy: You also mentioned the trekking component can you tell us a little bit about the treks that you went on?
Jordan: Yes, in the north we went for a hike for four days and went to different Vietnamese Homestays and basically we did about 8km a day and just went from Homestay to Homestay and again interacted with the local communities everywhere that we went.
Tracy: Lachlan, what would you say that this experience did for you as a person personally. What did you take away from it?
Lachlan: I feel like I get out of the house a lot more now and I feel like I have to be doing something more. Whereas before I would be happy sometimes to just sit at home and do nothing really, like watching movies and lounging around whereas now I feel like I need to get out more and go to the beach, go to the movies or go hang out with friends. I feel that I need to be more active now.
Tracy: Keely, you are nodding your head, do you agree with Lachlan?
Keely: I do, yes because since we got back and since we were so busy overseas, when we got back it was like ‘what can I do now?’ I can’t go trekking or I can’t go to a different country and I can’t just catch a train to some other place and stay there. When we came back I wasn’t tired. The whole time I thought that when I was in the car I thought that I was going to sleep but I was just talking to my mum about the experience that we had. I got back home and I thought what can I do? I want to get out of the house more. I want to do things.
Tracy: So Lachlan how did you feel when it was all over?
Lachlan: When it was all over I kind of felt that it happened too quick and that I wanted to go back. I never really thought about it finishing until it was the other side of the third week and we were all a bit tired by then. Then I felt that I was ready to go home. But then as the last week went on and it got to the last day I guess that we all kind of wanted to stay for longer because we were having so much fun.
Tracy: Would you agree with that Keely?
Keely: Yes, I definitely agree because for the first four days I just wanted to go home because I really did not like the heat. I really liked the community project, I just hated the temperature. And so when it got to the end of the community project I didn’t really think about it as I was having so much fun. Oh my god it has been three weeks already and that we have been in a different country for three weeks. And that just blew my mind and what Lachlan just said when we got to the last week everyone was sick of each other in a good way. Like when you stay with people for too long and you get really sick of them. We have been with everyone for three weeks straight. On the train we had seen everyone’s bad side every day.
Tracy: And yet you are still friends. What about you Jordan how did you feel when it was all over?
Jordan: Well obviously I was really relieved to go home and see all of my family and friends in Australia again but I kind of regret that the trip didn’t go on for a bit longer. I was having so much fun during the trip that I didn’t really think of it ending. It was kind of a shame when it did.
Tracy: I thank you all today for your interview. Can I ask before you go, if you were to use one word to sum up your trip what would it be?
Keely: life changing
Jordan: Eye opening
Tracy: Thanks very much guys.
I hope you have enjoyed this episode on the Antipodeans Abroad Program here at Caloundra City Private School. If you would like to learn more about the Antipodeans Abroad program visit their website.
This podcast was produced by Tracy Burton featuring music by Paul Cusick. Thanks for listening.