The only Carmelite Secondary College in the whole of Australia, Whitefriars is uniquely set in 19 acres of bushland in Melbourne. Established in 1961, the school provides a catholic education for boys where, in addition to the general curriculum, it places great emphasis on human qualities such as integrity and sensitivity to justice. Pupils at the school also learn that as global citizen it is their duty to tolerate and respect other values and cultures, and to do this by embracing diversity.
As part of the recognition of an international community, Whitefriars runs a very active – and successful – International Student Program. Director of the programme is Emilia Fields; it’s a role she has been revelling in for the past 13 years. And there couldn’t have been a more fitting individual for the role as she herself notes: “My passion in life is in the integration and globalisation of students.”
Whitefriars provides a more flexible learning environment
Part of Emilia’s job is to co-ordinate the Whitefriars Homestay program. This means promoting the scheme and recruiting international students, as well as finding Homestay families for the overseas boys – many of whom are from Asia, where certain cultural mores are often already well embedded by the time they arrive at school.
“In Australia we encourage students to be responsible for their own learning with an emphasis on a total education involving intellectual, physical and emotional development,” said Emilia.
“This is not the educational model used in some of the birth countries of our international students, especially those more used to rote learning. Our educational model can provide a significant challenge for many of these students.
Of course, they can be challenged in other ways too; their Homestay and food, for instance, or even the weather and with interactions with friends. However as well as problems, there are solutions there too.”
Cultural differences for both school and students to understand
Emilia says that she has also noted a difference between the ways in which teachers and students relate to each both overseas and in Australia.
“In Asian countries a teacher has high prestige and respect. Any communication between the two tends to be mostly of an instructional nature where the teacher directs the student. Not so at Whitefriars. Here we actively encourage our students to have a flexible and communicative relationship with teachers.
“Understandably an international student can find this culturally very confusing at first. In fact, we have often found that when a teacher in class asks an international student if he understands something, he will usually reply in the affirmative – even if he has not understood. This is so that he can avoid any further communication.
“Questioning and reflection are not usually encouraged in Asian countries. If a student asks a question or says they need help they will often feel a sense a failure through having to admit a lack of knowledge. Here at Whitefriars our teachers encourage students to take those ‘risks’ and ask questions.”
Prior to entering mainstream classes, international students who enrol at Whitefriars are asked to spend their first 20 weeks at the College in its Bridging Program. During this orientation period international students learn – amongst other initiatives – about Australian life and culture, embark on a course of intensive English language coaching, and meet other students of a similar age to themselves.
Introducing Asian students to Australian Homestay families
Students also stay in the home of a supportive family – one that has been especially vetted by Whitefriars College and Emilia in particular.
“The students will meet their Homestay family more or less the minute they touch down and enter the airport,” explained Emilia. “It’s important, we feel, to help the students to settle in well and as soon as possible. The Homestay parents love sharing their homes and time with the international students they are asked to accommodate. The whole idea is to provide a very supportive and caring environment for study and from my experience at Whitefriars this is certainly the case.
Emilia certainly has plenty of experience in the education sector to inform her opinions. Previously Transition Coordinator, House System Coordinator and Student Representative Council Coordinator at Whitefriars, she has also worked as a Foundation Head of School at a Co-educational College and Head of School at a Girls College, as well as having been a university lecturer.
And, in case anyone were to doubt her commitment to education for one minute, they will also find that Emilia is currently President of Vision International (An Association of Victorian Secondary schools), a representative of Victorian Non-Government Schools at the Ministerial Round table (a Victorian State Government initiative) and a member of the Victorian Student Interest Group (A Victorian Education Department project).
Emilia sees a difference between the sexes when it comes to education.
She said: “Boys learn differently and that’s why our curriculum features exciting and challenging programs aimed at making learning fun, inspiring and engaging. This is all achieved in a safe, nurturing, educational environment.
“Our committed staff really do inspire students to strive for high personal achievement and to do their very best. We want to develop our pupils’ confidence and encourage them to have a strong sense of direction. It all comes down to continuous improvement in learning and personal development.”
Regarding Emilia’s own passion of globalisation, that looks set to continue for the near future.
“To me it’s clear that the International sector is going from strength to strength in Australia with more and more institutions highlighting global citizenship and multiculturalism,” she said.
“For my own part I’ll continue to promote and carry out the integration of students within school communities, as well as the transition of international students into tertiary education.
“I firmly believe that we must first listen extensively to students’ needs and then, upon reflection, adopt new programs that enhance the students’ positive experience in a new country”
“In my opinion there is no greater gift a parent can give to a child than a good education. I truly believe this is the greatest investment in a child’s life and in fact, it can empower an individual in terms of lifetime skills and intellectual curiosity. At the same time it can help to build knowledge and skills for that child’s future life journey.”
Fittingly, Whitefriars’ school motto is ‘Almae In Fide Parentis’ (In the Care of a Loving Mother).
More information on Whitefriars College’s philosophy and educational principles can be found at the website www.whitefriars.vic.edu.au.