You gave me welcome
By Fr John Baptist Dang Nhat Truong C.Ss.R.
I am a foreign student but among foreign students I am not a foreigner.
I grew up in Vietnam where, at the age of 28, I was professed into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Three years later, in 2007, I transferred to the Australian Redemptorists. As I continue my studies as a foreign student in Melbourne, I rub shoulders with fellow foreign students at the TAFE where I study English.
I notice their struggle to adapt to their new circumstances as temporary residents or permanent citizens. I have a feel for that struggle because it is also mine. Starting-over in a new culture has stretched my imagination, my perseverance, my life-skills, even my faith.
In Vietnam I had seen considerable poverty. I’ve become aware that in Australia poverty is more veiled. When I see foreign students I recognise their disorientation and I feel for them. They are away from family, culture, religion and familiar things. The relationships and gestures that gave them identity are missing. They are deprived. This is their poverty. I partly share it.
Perhaps to relieve their loneliness, or to fit in, a few foreign students get involved in drug-taking and binge-drinking. Without meaning to, they can quickly slip into the seedier side of life. A few again resort to criminality. It is their effort to belong, even if it is belonging to a gang.
As I settle into this new culture it is my desire to find ways of accompanying foreign students. Redemptorists seek out those on society’s edges, and I’m feeling called to make life-giving connections with foreign students who are at the edges.
While they get on their feet, I hope they may find in me and my community a second family. I would like them to find among us a place for spontaneous fun, a place to share music and meals, and a place that acknowledges their religion, culture and true worth.
I was a stranger and you gave me welcome- Matthew 25:35b