ASC Students Are Treated Like Family During New Trip to Booderee National Park

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An Aboriginal dancer performs during a traditional ceremony.
An Aboriginal dancer performs during a traditional ceremony.
Fall 2012 ASC students learn about traditional uses for bush plants from Bernie while visiting Booderee National Park.
Fall 2012 ASC students learn about traditional uses for bush plants from Bernie while visiting Booderee National Park.

By Rose Creasman Welcome

At first glance, Australia's Booderee National Park is just one of many pristinely beautiful South Coast destinations on tourists' must-see lists. Visitors can camp at three different beaches, explore the exotic flora of the botanic gardens, and even go whale-watching.

But for last fall's BestSemester Australia Studies Centre students, who spent three days living with the aboriginal tribe that has called this land home for centuries, the park's lush beaches and rainforests became the backdrop to a cultural immersion experience unlike any other.

"A lot of foreign cultures, like Australia, make some sense to Western eyes," said ASC Director Kimberly Spragg, who accompanied the group of 20 students on the program's new three-day trip to Booderee National Park. "But aboriginal culture is totally different."

Booderee is considered one of the most beautiful national parks in the state and is home to the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community. In a joint agreement that became effective in 1995 between the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community and Environment Australia, the park's management rights were handed back to the descendants of the Yuin Nation that had inhabited the area before the British arrived in Australia. As the only aboriginal community located in a non-self-governing territory, the Yuin descendents are highly unique.

Organized by ASC lecturer Jennifer Newman as part of her Indigenous Cultures course, the students' visit to the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community allowed them the rare opportunity to participate in traditional ceremonies and in guided bush walks through the country - all while treated as "family" by their hosts, the Yuin people.

Students were particularly struck by the Yuin community's willingness to include them in intimate cultural activities, said Spragg - a trust made possible through Newman, who is Wiradjuri, another indigenous group of Australia from the New South Wales region.

"Other indigenous cultures are eager to say, ‘let us tell you about our culture.' Aboriginal culture is very different - they don't give away their culture," Spragg said. "You have to earn the right to experience it. They are very private; they trust us because of our connection with Jennifer."

Feeling respected by this vastly different culture helps students learn to respect other cultures, she added.

"I absolutely loved our trip to Booderee because it gave us a chance to get out of the classroom and learn about the aboriginal people of Australia by spending time with them," said fall 2012 student Bethany Sangl, a senior at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. "The members of the Yuin tribe that we spent time with welcomed us as family and were very open with us about their lives."

Students also heard stories from the Yuin people about their generations-long relationship to the land that now makes up Booderee National Park and their holistic connection to Country that serves as a primary foundation to their culture.

"The aboriginals who call Booderee home were especially focused on educating their community on the importance of land, environment, and our responsibility to take care of it," said fellow fall 2012 student Sabrina Johnson, who's a senior at William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif. "We were able to experience a ceremony where the natives welcomed us to the land, and from that point forward they referred to us as family."

Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community consists of around 315 people, according to 2011 data. Community members generally belong to one of several main family groups that have lived in the village for generations.

Being able to experience firsthand the values, lifestyle, and traditions of aboriginal people is an invaluable complement to the Cultural Emphasis portion of ASC's curriculum, said Spragg.  And students agree. 
 
"We arrived at Booderee as guests and left as family, which is more than most visitors to the park can say," noted Sangl.

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About BestSemester: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 12 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.); Contemporary Music Center (Nashville); Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles); and Washington Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre; China Studies Program; India Studies Program; Latin American Studies Program; Middle East Studies Program; Programmes in Oxford; and Uganda Studies Program. Visit www.bestsemester.com for program details.

About the CCCU:  The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 171 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 118 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 53 affiliate campuses from 19 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council's mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.