“A life unlike your own can be your teacher” is how St Columban encouraged his fellow missionaries way back in the 6th century. Members and friends of Driffield CWL appreciated the truth of this statement at their September meeting, thanks to a talk given by 20yr old Tom Burke, a ‘home-grown parishioner’ and history undergraduate at Sheffield University. This summer, on completing a year’s study exchange at Hong Kong University, Tom availed himself of the opportunity to explore other parts of South East Asia as well as undertaking a voluntary stint teaching British Culture in seven community schools in Shanghai. His itinerary is impressive: China (as far as the Great Wall), Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and India. The transformative impact of such visits – some lasting up to 6 weeks and none fewer than 4 days – was almost tangible. He shared memories of contrasting places of beauty and significance as well as his excitement at engaging with people of all ages from different cultures and extending his circle of friends across many nationalities.
Tom’s selection of photographs and memorabilia of Hong Kong gave his audience vicarious experience of that amazing city’s incredible skyline, its international ethos and busy-ness, its hard-working and vivacious people and its ingenuity at celebrating and combining the sacred and the secular.
There were many ‘Aaah…’ moments in his talk: e.g. his efforts to learn Mandarin; teaching the locals to sing What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?; + his pictures of sea-walking in the Philippines wearing special heavy oxygen helmets; gibbon-flying from tree-to-tree at great height in Shanghai (terrifying – but a once in a lifetime risk!); washing and feeding elephants in Thailand with a chance to ride them too; and a visit to the beautiful Taj Mahal in Agra.
Likewise, there were some poignant moments: while travelling to Bangkok, he arrived in time for the military coup there; in Myanmar his wooden long-boat was rammed and capsized and he had to be rescued; in Cambodia his visit to the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh evoked chilling thoughts of war as did his visit to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Tom admitted to being keen to use his travels to explicate and challenge common stereotypes. (St Columban would have been impressed!) To this end he was determined to talk to people and to listen to them. He was proud of having been ready to try everything on his travels! Everything, that is, except ….eating dog in Vietnam!’ As he returns to complete his final degree year, Tom has undertaken the role of Study Abroad Ambassador for Sheffield University. We are quite certain he is the right person for that task.