Discovering the Meaning of Community

By: Sarah Winning

Ann Schulte Dr. Schulte at a presentation of her experience in Australia.
Photo by Oscar Aquino.

Sitting in a small office, Ann Schulte points out the art pieces she received on her recent trip abroad. A professor in the School of Education, Schulte was invited by Deakin University in Australia to be a visiting scholar at its Warrnambool campus.

Deakin University has four main campuses, one in Melbourne, two in Geelong, and one rural campus in Warrnambool. As a visiting scholar, Schulte’s main focus was no longer teaching but rather learning about rural education. This was easy to do because Australia’s landscape is mostly desert, so rural communities are common.

Warrnambool has a population of roughly 32,000 people. It’s located a few hours’ drive west of the metropolitan city of Melbourne. The indigenous group, the Gunditjmara, are a part of the Warrnambool community.

Schulte recollects the story of an Aborigine art teacher, Tracy, who she met while volunteering in the local school. It was her story that brought to light for Schulte what community really means.

“She taught kids about indigenous culture―Gunditjmara specifically is her tribe,” Schulte said. “She taught them about art and the importance of art, and how it connects us to our culture. So I learned a lot from her about the importance of place and how our place shapes our identity.”

Schulte feels that her time abroad has heightened her awareness of her surroundings and forced her to notice new things, even in a place she thought she knew best. Coming home after 11 months in Australia, she now has a new wonder and admiration for her home.

This would not have been possible if she had not forced herself to leave home to begin with. Schulte says going on sabbatical abroad has changed her life forever. The opportunity to go abroad is something she recommends everyone at Chico State take advantage of. Kendall Ross and Brooke Magnotta Artwork by David JaKamara Rodgers, indigenous artist from the Northern Territory. Photo by jihyun Shin.

It is challenging to move from the comforts of home and place yourself thousands of miles away, somewhere completely different, she said. You are forcing yourself to accept the diversity of your environment. Facing diversity is something everyone deals with on a daily basis, but by going abroad, this is taken to a completely different level.

“I don’t know if it’s so much the place, because maybe this would have happened anywhere, but having time to live mindfully was really important,” Schulte said.

Schulte’s last bit of advice about going abroad came from a South Sudanese man she met in Warrnambool named Otha. His family are refugees that have been living in the town for 10 years. Displaced by war, they were forced to leave home and change their environment.

His outlook of this change is powerful and one to greatly be admired, Schulte said. Otha taught Schulte about how adapting and accepting this change is not a one-way street. You must actively be a part of the process, he said.

Schulte recollects part of the story Otha told her about his own experience:

“The place that you are, you belong to that place. So now we are here, and now we need to be here. We are raising our children here, we need to be present and a part of our community. And we have to, it’s not just about the community welcoming us, but it is also us making ourselves belong.”

This is seen in the process of deciding to go abroad. You cannot just decide to go because you want to see the sights, Schulte said. To fully benefit from the experience, you must be an active and willing participant, and someone that is ready for change.

To learn more about Schulte’s trip visit her blog: http://annandytravel.blogspot.com/

For more information on the indigenous people of Australia, visit:
http://www.shareourpride.org.au/sections/beyond-the-myths/
http://australianmuseum.net.au/Indigenous-Australia-Social-Justice