At the heart of all learning is the way we process our experiences. Knowledge is a consequence of experience and it is precisely the types and varied experiences that provide us all an intangible value that is perhaps most readily apparent when acclimating to a new place. Integrating into a community, interacting with local people, learning a new language and understanding the way others live, no matter how briefly, enables a cultural immersion grounded in deep learning and rich memories.
Immersion programs like our Fulfilling Lives in Year ten, encourage self-reflection on attitudes towards cultural difference, provide opportunities to build relationships, to serve and work with community members and invite the application of knowledge and skills as outlined in the Contributing dimension of our Vision for Learning.
Having just returned from the depths of the Borneo jungle, working in a remote indigenous Village called Tuba, it reminds me again that some of the best learning that takes place in school is actually outside of the classroom. Having the opportunity to travel into a remote place, you get to take a step back from all the running around you do; whether it’s ticking one more thing off your to-do list, completing an overdue homework task, answering a never ending stream of email or taking your kids to their next sporting event. Going into a remote place the world necessarily slows down, the busyness of life takes a back seat and the things that you once thought were important fade slowly into obscurity. Your mind gets a chance to relax. To slow down. You focus on the present instead of what’s next. You reconnect with the world around you. You have an opportunity to be truly present. In the moment. Free of distraction. It enables you to pay attention to the small details in everything.
For all the benefits of travelling, I think that this is the most far reaching and the most important. But equally is our connection with the people we encounter. Our students had the most incredible opportunity to connect on a deep level with the people of Tuba by living with them for an extended period, experiencing their way of life and helping construct a new shelter for collecting rain water.
The people inhabiting the Village of Tuba are from the Iban tribe. The Iban are an intriguing people. Historically they were the most formidable head hunters on the island of Borneo, but today the Iban are generous, hospitable and placid. They grow rice, pepper and fruit, and hunt and fish. They have a strong spiritual connection to the rainforest. The Ibans, whilst no longer practising the head hunting tradition have nevertheless succeeded in preserving many tribal customs, rituals and traditional beliefs. However, the ancient crafts of making boats, building longhouses, weaving, dancing, tattooing, and native art are now disappearing as the younger generations migrate to urban centres in search of a modern way of life.
Whilst the Iban people live a simple life by any standards, indeed there are examples of extreme poverty within this small Village, I wonder about what is lost in the search for a modern way of life. There were moments in the Village where I felt a crushing sadness for the less fortunate, but the sadness quickly lifted when you saw how such a simple life necessitates a contentment and an appreciation for the life that they have. From their perspective, they have most of what they need. They are living a happy life. Free from busyness. Free from the self-imposed stresses we place on ourselves. Free from materialism. Free from the illusory concept of time; a manifestation of our own minds.
People are our most treasured gifts. Taking a step back from our busy lives is important. By listening to the stories of others, helping them where appropriate and developing an appreciation for their culture, religion, values and lifestyles, we can be filled with empathy and realize that we can all live fulfilling lives by treating each other with compassion and kindness.
Without the passion of our teaching staff who give up so much of their own time and energy, experiences like these could not be offered.