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When students opt for an immersion experience, it’s tempting to focus solely on the benefits for those on tour. Yet, as Year 11 student, Kate C discovered on a St Peters tour to the indigenous Docker River community, the benefits of immersion can and should be a two-way street.

The experience was an opportunity for Kate and students from the Docker River, located 670km west south west of Alice Springs, to better understand each other; to form unexpected friendships; and for Kate to reach a decision that will impact her career.

As she set off with 14 other St Peters students, Chaplain Thomas Böhmert and teachers, Bronwyn Jamieson and Ingrid Rucinski in late June, Kate didn’t know quite what to expect. Like many Australians, she had never been to a remote community but she embarked on the tour, determined to have an open mind.

‘We often only hear about the negative side of indigenous communities on the news so I thought I would go and see what it’s actually like without prejudice,’ Kate explained.

Tour Coordinator, Ingrid Rucinski, said giving students a firsthand appreciation of indigenous and remote communities is at the heart of the immersion experience.

‘We want our students to see what it’s really like - not necessarily what the media portrays - and be able to have informed discussions,’ Ingrid said.

For Kate, the opportunity to be in a classroom and connect with some of the indigenous youth in an educational setting brought a change of heart in terms of her career options.

‘I was planning to be an occupational therapist but since I went on the trip and I got to know the kids, I realise I really want to be a primary school teacher in a remote community,’ Kate explained.

Kate spent time at the Senior School but it was her time at Docker River Primary School that touched her heart.

‘We did some colouring with some of the boys,’ she explained. ‘One boy traced around his hand and did a very detailed drawing. They were so artistically amazing,’ Kate said.

‘I’ve always liked being with children and I really enjoyed being able to help the students at Docker River Primary School. It was a great experience and I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life,’ Kate said sincerely.

Ingrid said she couldn’t be happier for Kate and her decision is a testament to the value of an immersion experience.

‘When Kate told me she wanted to change her vocational path and become a teacher and not just that, but a remote teacher in a place like Docker River, I was so proud!’ Ingrid said.

Kate said she learned a lot about Indigenous culture, what’s it’s like to live in a remote community and the challenges Indigenous communities face on a daily basis.

‘When we first came to the community, we noticed it was a bit messy. But then we actually learned the reasons why. Rubbish is only burned occasionally and not collected in bins every week,’ Kate explained.

As a first time visitor to central Australia, Kate was also struck by the unique landscape and how the red earth becomes a part of everyday existence.

‘I kept finding red dirt everywhere – in my swag, in my sleeping bag, in my blankets, in my suitcase… I probably took a whole heap of red dirt home accidentally!’ Kate laughed.

One of Kate’s most memorable moments came out of an unexpected encounter with a 15 years old student from Docker River Senior School, who embraced her and opened up to her about her life as they watched the sun set over Uluru.

‘She came up to me - we hadn’t talked before - and she gave me a hug and she was incredibly open and explained her life to me. We just talked and became instant friends,’ Kate explained.

‘Her friendship and instant kindness is something I will remember for ages. Her openness allowed us to have a friendship and I will probably never forget it.’

‘It taught me something… that if I am able to be more open, I too can make more true friendships,’ Kate said, her self-reflection a poignant reminder of how immersion has the potential to bring positive outcomes, no matter who you are.

Ingrid hopes more St Peters students will join future indigenous immersion tours.

‘I hope to share this journey of a lifetime with more students,’ Ingrid said. ‘Kate’s experience embodies the ripple effect immersion can have on the lives and futures of all those who are involved.’