Ethan Westwood: ACU program offers opportunity for school leavers

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Students participating in the ACU School Leavers Program take a break in front of Wesminster Abbey in London. Photo: courtesy ethan westwood
Students participating in the ACU School Leavers Program take a break in front of Wesminster Abbey in London. Photo: courtesy ethan westwood

Late last year a group of 20 students from Sydney Catholic Schools had the opportunity to take part in the ACU School Leavers Program, a study trip in Rome and London.

The trip was organised by both the PM Glynn Institute of Australian Catholic University and Sydney Catholic Schools, so that students would have the chance to immerse themselves in the Catholic tradition and Western civilisation.

The object of the program was to deepen our understanding of how powerfully Christianity, politics and culture have shaped both the Western world and the diverse, complex, and secular society of today, informing our leadership and service in the future.

The program included a series of structured readings from key historical texts, lectures from staff and student-led discussions.

Readings and lectures were paired with guided visits to sites in and around Rome and London which are significant to the story of the Catholic faith and the development of Western culture and society.

It gave those on the trip the remarkable experience of being able to physically witness the sites and the artefacts of whose significance, hours prior, they had been discussing.

It was a wholly unique learning experience, something which many of our group noted. Some of the sites included the Roman Forum, early Christian churches and abbeys, the Vatican, Oxford and the Tower of London.

As a bright-eyed school leaver I found the whole experience a blessing.

Students participating in the ACU School Leavers Program walk alongside the infamous Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Photo: courtesy ethan westwood
Students participating in the ACU School Leavers Program walk alongside the infamous Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Photo: courtesy ethan westwood

After graduating from high school the uncertainty of my future was weighing on me, to the point that I could become idle.

The structure to which you have become so accustomed, having spent the majority of your life in the education system, is gone.

You lose a predetermined path in which advancement simply occurs as a new year begins.

No longer are you provided with a sequence of consecutive numbers, that make progression seem as simple as counting.

This trip offered an opportunity to overcome these changes. It helped participants to realise that we could take our future in our own hands and surmount the anxiety that can arise from not knowing where we are meant to be going.

It didn’t matter if you had every step of your future detailed or no idea what was going to be happening tomorrow, each participant was able to better understand some aspect of what directions they might pursue.

Molly Hayes, who is currently undertaking a degree studying Primary Education specialising in Religious Education at Notre Dame, had already decided to study primary education before joning the ACU Program.

Participating in the program clarified some things for her.

“Since going on the trip I have also decided to further my studies after my bachelor’s degree in religion, hopefully undertaking a degree in theology as I have really become so much more interested in it than I was before,” she said.

Students participate in the ACU School Leavers Program.. Photo: courtesy ethan westwood
Students participate in the ACU School Leavers Program.. Photo: courtesy ethan westwood

“Having such in-depth discussions on the trip with other students and teachers really helped me come to this conclusion.”

Another student, Domenico Ferreri, who is currently studying a Bachelor of Teaching/ Bachelor of Arts majoring in Visual Arts and minoring in Religion at ACU, said that “this trip allowed me to reflect on my experiences of the HSC and make peace with any anxieties I was still holding.”

“This trip proved to me that I am a strong, confident individual who is capable of leadership and communicating my opinions with others,” he said.

“I was able to bond quickly with the other students and take these social skills into the ‘real world’ after high school … and also overcome the feeling of disorientation that can come after completing the HSC and leaving your studies behind.”

For myself, the program was an opportunity to figure out exactly how I wanted to spend my future. I had no goal in mind but the experiences on the program allowed me to overcome this.

Discussions of the great works of Western Civilisation with other like-minded peers gave me a renewed love for the liberal arts and, as such, I would pursue that avenue with a burning passion, eventually coming to study a Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation and a Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Wollongong to facilitate this desire.

Although the current circumstances we find ourselves in will make it more difficult to recreate the previous experiences, I am sure that both the PM Glynn Institute and Sydney Catholic Schools will continue to find ways to prepare and support future leaders.

Faced with the all-important question of “What do you want to do after school?”, I hope to see this program continue on for many years to enable other school leavers like myself to change their answer from “I don’t know” to “I’m thinking of exploring (insert interest here) – I’m really passionate about it!”

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