On Thursday, March 29th, 15 students and two teachers left Invercargill on the fifth biennial Ratcliffe Exchange. Excitement mixed with parental anxiety was the mood in the terminal as farewells were made.
First stop – seven hours in Singapore airport (more precisely, two hours in the rooftop swimming pool) before touching down in Rome, Italy – about 30 hours after leaving New Zealand. Three action packed days followed as sights were ‘ticked off’: the Colosseum, Santa Maria Church, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Vatican Museum and many more wonderful sights.
Unfortunately, with Easter we were unable to get an audience with the Pope, however when we did ‘pop into’ St Peter’s Square we managed to be there at the right time for the Papal blessing on Easter Monday. Though being some distance away we still managed to see the Pope.
From Rome we made our way to Domodossola via Milan. Arriving in Domodossola to a cool and showery evening, high in the Italian Alps. This unfortunately was typical of weather for the next few days. For many students, having the opportunity to stay at Calvario was one of the highlights of the trip. Here we walked past Antonio Rosmini’s room every day on the way to the dining room. A day in Stresa, beside Lake Maggiore, was filled with learning more of the history of this humble and forward thinking man. We toured the first Rosmini College and inside its beautiful chapel viewed the tomb of Rosmini. Along the foreshore, we toured Villa Bolongaro where Rosmini spent his final years and where many of his writings are stored. His writings were so extensive that they are still being translated. We also went into the room where he worked and eventually died.
From Domodossola we travelled by train to the Milam Malpensa airport where we stayed the night before making our way to Dublin, Ireland. The next day was a long days travel to Ireland via Luton, but finally arriving at the Hostel round 11pm.
Ireland was an added addition to this trip compared to previous exchanges, as we wanted to include the Mercy Sisters as part of this exchange. After visiting McAuley House and getting a comprehensive history of Catherine McAuley’s life and an understanding of what the Sisters of Mercy do around the world, this was definitely a worthy inclusion. The delicious tea and scones did help. We also managed to fit in quite a few sights in our time in Dublin. These included, Natural History Museum, a walking tour chronicling the fables and folklore of Dublin, Epic Museum – the migration story of the Irish ancestors.
On Monday 9th April we travelled to London for the rest of the week. This allowed us a good snapshot of such a large city. During this time we were able to visit the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the London Zoo, Kensington Palace, some of St James’ and Hyde Parks and see the “Lion King’ stage show. The visit to Windsor Castle will be remembered for our meeting up with past teacher Susan Winters. Riding the underground and counting the stations before getting off became the norm for the students.
Come Friday 13th, it was off to the long anticipated reunion at Ratcliffe College with the host families and the students who had visited SPC in 2017. During the 14 day stay here, besides attending classes, students visited Warwick Castle and the theme park, Alton Towers, along with other activities organised by the individual host families. Tears flowed as farewells were said – some of these ‘connections’ will continue for years to come, I am sure.
Returning to London for the last few days meant a few more sights were ‘ticked off’; visiting the New Zealand War Memorial, the Imperial War Museum, Buckingham Palace, London Eye, Madam Tussauds, the Natural History Museum as well as the all-important shopping.
Finally it was time to board the plane for home – the complete spectrum of emotions from the group were felt, with some students ready to return to family while others wanted longer!! However, there was definitely an air of excitement as parents greeted their children back in Invercargill on April 30.
What an action packed four weeks. Thousands of kilometres travelled, hundreds of photos taken and many, many stories to be told.
Written by Ronnie Kotkamp