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Currents: off to australia

An Adventure in the Land Down Under

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of rugged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding plains.

-from “Core of My Heart,” an Australian poem taught to schoolchildren

When travelling in Oz, take care not to spit the dummy, throw a wobbly or otherwise act like a wowser. Kate Dunlop Seamans, writer and editor for College Communications at Colby-Sawyer, is learning about the slang, geography, history and culture Down Under before heading off for a five-week professional and personal adventure in Australia (aka Oz).

Seamans will represent the college as part of a five-person team of young professionals from New Hampshire and Vermont selected by Rotary International to participate in this Group Study Exchange (GSE) program. From March 7 through April 10, 2007, the team will travel in the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales, learning about the country's culture and institutions and observing how their own vocations are practiced there. In sponsoring trips such as this one, Rotary International seeks to build the kinds of personal and professional relationships that lead to meaningful exchanges of ideas between nations.

Seamans, who grew up in New London, N.H., will travel with team leader and Rotarian Steve Puderbaugh, a veterinarian from Candia, N.H.; Amy Beth Kessinger, an educator from North Pownal, Vt.; Pete Peck, a pharmacist from Springfield, Vt., and Mina Connor, a veterinarian from Londonderry, N.H. Each team member will stay with eight different host Rotarian families, who will take them on visits with professional organizations in their fields.

To learn about the Australian approach to communications and journalism, Seamans will meet with writers and editors at various media outlets and organizations. In between vocational visits, the team will tour educational and cultural sites, spend time on farms and a winery, in parks and in the mountains, and pursue adventures such as white water-rafting and touring the bush country with an Aboriginal elder.

The opportunity “fell completely out of the sky” says Seamans, who learned about the GSE program through a campus-wide e-mail in September 2007 from her Colby-Sawyer colleagues Jan McElroy and Kathy Carroll, both Rotary members.

“I'd only been at Colby-Sawyer about seven weeks and didn't think it was remotely feasible at that point,” she says, but with encouragement from staff members and President Tom Galligan, she submitted the required essay, interviewed with Rotary officials, and was eventually selected as a participant.

In her essay, Seamans responded to Rotary's question about how the program would benefit her professionally and enhance her long-term career goals: “I have worked as a writer and editor for nearly a decade, but my new role in college communications includes public relations, which means serving as a positive and knowledgeable representative of the college and engaging in significant outreach to our constituents,” she wrote. “These constituents include not only students, parents and alumni, but also prospective students and their families, and more generally, other people and cultures. Taking part in the Group Study Exchange program would enhance my skills in outreach and service as a representative of the college, the Rotary Foundation and my country.”

The Universe is Made Up of Stories

Born to parents interested in history and who like to travel, Seamans developed a passion for learning about other people and their history and culture. In addition to extensive travel in the United States, she has visited our neighbors north and south (Canada and Mexico), studied in London, travelled throughout Europe, and joined a church-sponsored humanitarian mission to Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch. She led a writing program for teens in London for four summers, and has also visited Ireland, the Caribbean and China.

“I adhere to writer Muriel Rukseyer's lovely theory that the universe is made up of stories and not atoms. Travel always seems to sharpen the senses and open us to others' stories,” Seamans wrote in her essay. “As a writer and editor at Colby-Sawyer, listening, writing and sharing stories is what I do.

“The college is reaching out to international students and encouraging a global perspective among its students by the very nature of its liberal arts program, as well as study abroad options. A month in Australia would not only connect me with my team members and with the professionals of the local Rotary Club, but with every Australian I met, ate with and stayed with as a guest. These connections, large and small, accumulate to form a network across oceans that unite—and expand—people and ideas, actions and results.”

Seamans likes to prepare herself as well as she can for her destination, yet remain open to new experiences. “I'd like to think I'm going without too many expectations, leaving myself open to the experience and not trying to fit things into preconceived notions,” she says. “I can't help but be aware of the similarities and differences between the U.K., the U.S. and Australia; in some ways I feel like we're going to a sister nation that stayed with the mother country longer and still plays by some of the old house rules while mixing it up a bit. I thoroughly expect to love the place.”

She's reading In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson, which she says reveals some of the humor, the attitudes and the history of Australia, as well as its distinction as a vast and separate land. “One aspect of Australia that Bryson mentions often is the sheer magnitude of the country, the vast spaces within it and between its cities,” she says. At one point Bryson realizes that the country reminds him of his home state, Iowa, in the 1950s of his childhood. “I'll look for the old bits poking out from behind the shiny tourist places we're taken,” Seamans notes. “I like the possibility that time travel is possible in Australia.”

An Old House, a Husband and a Horse

Though Seamans grew up in New London and graduated from Kearsarge Regional High School, she only returned to her hometown area three years ago, when she and her husband, Michael Seamans, bought an old farmhouse in Sutton. In between she studied English at Colby College in Maine, where she worked for the student newspaper, The Colby Echo, and interned at the Boston Herald, where she met her future husband, then a staff photographer for the newspaper.

She then became editor of Teen Ink, a magazine published by the Newton, Mass. based Young Authors Foundation, that features writing by teens from around the world. She worked at the magazine for close to nine years, three of which involved commuting from her current home in New Hampshire. Although she loved the job, the commute became difficult, especially with the challenges of restoring an old farmhouse and finding time to ride her horse, Fredd.

“When the perfect position opened up at Colby-Sawyer, the decision was easy, and I am ecstatic to finally live and work in a community I have loved for decades,” she says.

As a teenager, Seamans volunteered at New London Hospital, ushered for the Barn Playhouse, played tennis competitively and was involved with other community activities. Her new job and recent introduction to the Rotary have served to re-connect her to local people and organizations.

In preparation for the GSE trip, the team members have met several times to get acquainted and prepare for their group presentations in Australia. The team also attended a regional meeting in Sturbridge, Mass., with other GSE teams, student ambassadors and Rotary officials.

Seamans likes her fellow team members, whom she describes as excited about the opportunity and determined to get along. “We've worked well together in putting together our presentation and planning for the trip, and I look forward to getting to know everyone better. We've been told to expect long, busy days, but our group will have an advantage because of the common language,” Seamans says. “Most of the problems I've heard about that past groups encountered were to due to very restricted communications just because language was an issue. It shouldn't be for us, and the Rotarians of District 9690 have been in close touch every step of the way. In fact, they just sent a wonderfully detailed itinerary that clearly shows the phenomenal thought and attention they're putting into our visit.”

The GSE team will travel within Rotary's District 9690, located in New South Wales on Australia's southeastern coast. The area extends from Sydney, Australia's first and largest city, and nearby Parramatta, home to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, to the magnificent Blue Mountains, gateway to the Western Plains.

Rotary District 9690, with 36 member clubs, is part of Rotary International, the world's first service club organization. Today the organization has more than 1.2 million members who volunteer their time and talent to promote its motto of “Service above Self.” Through the Rotary Foundation, the organization funds programs such as the Group Study Exchange, which are part of its mission to promote good will and peace through the improvement of health, support for education and the alleviation of poverty around the world.

Emily Jones, president of New London's Rotary Club, says Seamans was selected by a district-wide committee who were impressed with her career achievements and strong interest in international outreach. The New London club hosted a GSE team from Poland last year, and in April will host another group of five Australians. [The New London First Baptist Church will host a potluck supper for the Australian GSE team on April 13, which community members are invited to attend. For more information, contact Polly Kulow at 526-9345.]

When she returns in mid-April, Seamans will be asked to make several presentations about her trip to Rotary clubs and local groups, including one at a staff development meeting at Colby-Sawyer College. She promises to tell some good stories, perhaps sprinkled with colorful Australian slang. For example, “to spit the dummy” means to throw a fit, and “throw a wobbly” translates into “to totally lose control.” A “wowser” is the slang term for a killjoy, something that Seamans, who sports a perennially sunny personality and whose favorite word is “amazing,” will never be.

“I feel extreme gratitude to Colby-Sawyer and the Rotary Club for this incredible opportunity,” she says. “The fact that I have the freedom to pursue my interests and travel for five weeks is amazing.”

Follow the team's adventure on its blog.

-Kimberly Swick Slover