Last week Wednesday, the morning of my final full day in Tasmania was bright and crisp. The sunrise over the Derwent River was sparkling peach and pink. We had planned for a relatively quiet day, but even quiet days can be filled with unexpected surprises.
Before I went to Tasmania, I made a list of “people I want to see.” By the time I got to Wednesday, the only person left on my list was Phil. Every Rotary exchange student has a Rotarian counselor. The counselor is available as a mentor and serves to help the student as they navigate life in a foreign country. Phil was my counselor twenty five years ago. I have fond memories of having dinner at his house with his kind family, laughing with his sons and daughter.
Wednesday morning we joined Phil for coffee and a mid-morning snack at a local restaurant. He had recently returned from a holiday with his children and grandchildren. I enjoyed hearing about his travels, learning about his grandchildren and sharing my Tasmanian stories with him.
I have heard other former exchange students talk about how strange it is to return to the places they once called home for a year. We have images and pictures in our heads which are frozen in time. Of course, nothing stays the same. I have changed. The people who were my peers have now grown up and become adults with families and lives of their own. I suppose growing up has happened to me too. Even though I am aware change occurs, it is still strange to witness it because in the pictures I’ve carried in my head, everything is just the same as it was years ago.
Kelly and I enjoyed fresh tomato sandwiches again for lunch before heading into Hobart. Rae had an appointment so Malcolm, Kelly and I spent time walking outside around Parliament House and shopping along Salamanca Place. Salamanca used to be the port of Hobart and now the rows of sandstone buildings contain shops, restaurants and boutiques. I had been secretly looking for some yarn spun from Tasmanian fiber over the past week, hoping to find a lovely color to make myself something special. I bought every ball of a beautiful cranberry color yarn from one of the shops. It will make a great memory I can wrap around me whenever I am “Tassie-sick,” missing my Australian friends back in New York.
We walked in front of Parliament House, where we saw Malcolm’s son, Simon, and Bryan Green, MP, leader of the opposition. I know very little about Tasmanian politics. But I do know enough to compliment an elected official about the beauty of their state, and share how much access for people with disabilities has improved in twenty five years. Mr. Green took a few minutes to pose for a photo before heading back inside.
That was not the only interesting encounter of the afternoon. As we sat in the sunshine, enjoying a coffee outside a shop in Salamanca, Malcolm smiled and exchanged greetings with a man who approached our table and dropped a parcel in the mailbox behind us. I did a double-take, recognizing the face. I turned to Malcolm in astonishment, saying, “You know him?!” Malcolm smiled and nodded, asking me if I knew who it was.
Did I know who it was?! It was none other than Richard Flanagan, at Salamanca! Richard Flanagan – winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. He is a Tasmanian and while I knew that, I never expected to see him on the street in the brief time I was visiting. Before you ask – no, I haven’t read the book yet. But it is on my list, and Malcolm’s review (“I reckon it’s one of his better works.”) made it move up a notch or two.
Malcolm and Rae prepared a lovely dinner for us on Wednesday night. We were joined by Kingston Rotarian Paul and his lovely wife Cheryl (who happen to live on the same road as Malcolm and Rae), as well as my former host mother, Audrey. I sat eating and drinking with my friends and “family,” surrounded by love and friendship, and was reminded once again how enriched my life is because I took a chance to explore the world as a young person.
If you have young adults in your life, please encourage them to consider the possibility of an exchange program. Living in another country, in another culture, changes you. I am not the only former exchange student to make this claim. Travel opens your eyes to wider possibilities, and helps increase understanding of those we may consider different. Although I am biased because of my experiences with Rotary, it is not the only program option.
**Today’s post is brought to you by Kathi. Twenty five years ago, Kathi was the school nurse at my high school and encouraged me to explore the world and take advantage of every opportunity to come my way. I appreciate your support Kathi, and I am still finding ways to cause a bit of trouble on my travels! Thank you for making this trip a reality.