From the Goldfields
The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith AM, Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields
The young men and women come from Mongolia, Indonesia, and every corner of India. They come from China, the Philippines, and half a dozen African countries. They come speaking Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean. They may be Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or atheist. From their home countries, they bring high achievements in IT, engineering, geology, metallurgy.
More than 100 of them are in Kalgoorlie this year to do a Masters degree in one of the mining disciplines at the WA School of Mines campus of Curtin University.
These international students add millions of dollars to the Australian economy through the $80,000 or so per year that each one pays up front in fees. When they graduate, they and their skills will be snapped up by Australian mining companies. Meanwhile, their families, and sometimes their governments, are supporting them. To pay their living expenses, the students work many hours a week at fast-food outlets or stacking supermarket shelves. In university holidays, they will try to get jobs in local mining companies to gain experience in their chosen field.
I hold a visiting chaplain pass that gets me onto the WASM campus. I gravitate to the international students who are so far from home, and who are wading through such complex and demanding cultural and linguistic challenges. I ask about their languages, their families back home, their dreams for the future as well as their looming deadlines for assignments and exams.
I am in awe of the courage of these students. Australia is a long way from home, and Kalgoorlie is a long way, culturally as well as geographically, from mainstream Australia. They are studying in a foreign language, and in an education system very different to the one in which they have excelled in their home country. Like the many other Goldfields residents of non-European background, they face casual racism and entrenched discrimination every day.
At Pentecost, we tell the story of a day when everyone from the known world who had converged on Jerusalem heard, in their own languages, the great things that God was doing. I’m committed to telling those stories, in my own Aussie accent, to audiences ranging from elite to bogan.
But listening, as well as speech, is a gift of the Spirit that I want to cultivate. I make the effort to listen carefully to these students, who need extra time to put their thoughts and feelings into words in their second, third or fourth language. I will listen patiently and speak slowly, so that relationships can grow.
I also do the international students the simple courtesy of learning how to pronounce their names correctly. Many of them adopt nicknames that are easier for lazy Aussie tongues to get around. But God knows their true name, and so should I.
I can’t speak Mongolian or read Hindi. I do have an app for Mandarin. But perhaps my listening may open a channel for the Spirit to speak directly to another person’s heart.