Cultural immersion can be simply defined by placing yourself out of your comfort zone and becoming surrounded by an unfamiliar environment and culture. Through cultural immersion a person can gain insights and characteristics into a community far different than their own. These experiences can truly open a person’s mind and views to others that are different than themselves. Through this experience I placed myself in an environment I knew that I would transform from a majority to a minority. I became an outside looking in on an unfamiliar culture.
For this experience I chose to visit the Monastery Of The Holy Spirit, which is located in Conyers, Ga. I chose this location because it offered me the opportunity to experience a new culture and way of living far different than my own. Upon my visit I did research to get a brief summary of what to expect and what I might see just to have a better understanding of when I am actually visiting. Prior to my visit, I had no knowledge of what a monastery was and I was under the impression that monks were silent and could never speak. My knowledge of what exactly took place at a Monastery was very little.
I was able set up a date and time to meet with Father Methodius Telnack at the Monastery and he also offered to provide me with a tour of the grounds and answer a few of my interview questions. As | arrived to the location, I was extremely nervous and unsure of what my day would consist of. My first impressions of the Monastery were the beauty of the buildings and how well manicured the grounds were, including all the vibrant flowers. I began my day at the visitor center where I met, Father Telnack. I first noticed his long white robe with a brown article of clothing on top of it.
He first informed me that there are forty monks living at this Monastery and he has resided there since 1949. We began by touring a few of the main locations on the campus. One significant location we walked through was an indoor greenhouse that was filled with bonsai trees. I knew I had seen these trees before, but I had no idea what they were or the purpose they held. Father Telnack explained to me the importance of these trees as they serve as a work of art and commitment to God for the monks. He expressed the passion and commitment they have for God and how all his creations including nature are beautiful and sacred.
Father Telnack conveyed how trimming these trees is therapeutic, and when trimming these it is done in silence. There were a mass variety of bonsai trees, and each one was spectacular. I could see all the dedication that went into each one, and something about being in this room was so peaceful and serene. We then made our way into the historic barn that held many artifacts and information regarding the history of monastic lifestyle and their culture. As we made our way through this building Father Telnack explained to me their monastic values of prayer, work, silence, solitude, and community.
Not only did he say these were monastic values, but he said they were human needs. This comment really struck me and showed me the devotion the monastic lifestyle has to God. As we walked back outside of the barn we stood in front of it he said this was the barn where this monastery’s founders lived when they first arrived in Georgia. The upstairs was where they slept, which also had a small chapel where the monks could pray, and the bottom was for farm equipment and animals. I asked what life was like for them all living in one barn, Father Telnack responded by saying their Lord was born in a barn, therefore they didn’t mind it.
The barn was beautiful, and it had a massive stained glass window that lit up the room with beautiful colors as the sun shined through it. We then went to an area known as the prayer walk, this was a time for reflection and Father Telnack explained this was one of the many times he would pray throughout the day. Monks pray at least five times a day ranging from the hours of 4:00a. m. which is called Vigils until 7:30 p. m. Compline. They also have multiple worship times throughout the day, with the church bells ringing to announce prayer.
As we were going through the prayer walk, I noticed how silent the whole grounds of the Monastery was. Once we were finished at this site, we found a bench by a pond to talk more about the monastic lifestyle. One of my first questions was to clarify why people commonly believe all monks are silent when I witnessed multiple monks talking through out my visit? Father Telnack described the different types of monks and their vows of silence. He said monks take three vows, stability, obedience to an abbot, and a vow of conversions, which consist of fasting, manual labor, separation from the world, and silence.
The reason for silence as he explained, is that continual prayer and faithfulness to God is easier done when all surroundings are silent and peaceful. He also said they don’t speak in the common buildings and none during the times after the 7:30 p. m. worship until 4:00 a. m. I asked Father Telnack if he believed others thought of him differently once they found out how he lives his life, he responded by saying, “Yes, most are shocked but they find it interesting and commemorable to be fully committed to God and live this isolated lifestyle because not all people could live this way. I proceeded to tell Father Telnack I was in school to become an elementary school teacher and if he had any traditions or rituals he would recommend me to implement into my classroom. He answered by saying, “Time for reflection, regardless of religions or beliefs, allow the students times of silence and reflection. This will truly help them find their inner peace and gather their thoughts, because those are human needs. ” He also talked about creating a positive community in my classroom, and the benefits it would prevail amongst the relationship with the students and how the student’s would act towards one another.
Another area of the monastic life I was very curious about was their family life. I asked Father Telnack if he had family and how does living at a Monastery affect that? He informed me that Trappist monks vow to live celibate lives therefore they are unmarried. Father Telnack is unmarried and has no children; he lives with all his brothers of Christ at the Monastery. He did say that families such as siblings could visit; living at the Monastery didn’t mean you could never see your family again.
I began discussing my beliefs on the importance of schools embracing cultural awareness and community diversity in the classroom, I also wanted his opinion or thoughts of school doing so. Father Telnack showed great interest in this question, one thing specific he said was, “Each student comes from a different background, and you need to make each student feel like his or her beliefs or culture is important and respected. This will create a positive community and respect from the other students. Father Telnack agreed strongly with acknowledging each student’s culture and background and modeling to my class that regardless of what you believe in or your family’s culture, that it should be respected. We also discussed how bringing students on a field trip to this location would help them gain insights on a culture and community probably very different than their own lives and possibly take the experience learned from the trip and help them become interested in and respectful of other cultures. This experience was way more impactful than I could have ever imagined.
The serenity and peacefulness I felt while being at this Monastery was something I have never felt. I was able to step back from my very fast paced life to enjoy time of quietness, reflection, and turned it into a life changing experience. As soon as I arrived I was warmly welcomed to their community and was able to step inside of their daily lives. Discussing religion and cultures are commonly avoided due to the fact of a person being offended or not open minded to how others live. I did the complete opposite, although I may have different beliefs, I gained so much respect for Father Telnack long with all the other monks living there. Committing their lives 100% to God and his word, living in silence to constantly reflect and pray, appreciating all of God’s creation, and vowing to live a life for God and not yourself is something most individuals could never fathom. Although I was an outside looking in, I felt so welcomed here, and me being a minority had no affect on how they treated me. However, this is not always the case, there are many instances that a minority will feel hate or isolation due to their culture.
If every culture could be as welcoming to one another as my experience was and respectful to one another minorities would feel less intimidated or unappreciated. This is definitely something I am taking away and will apply into my own classroom. I know I will have students from cultures that I am unfamiliar with and I want them to feel as welcomed and appreciated as I felt at the Monastery. Therefore I would love to do a gallery walk or something similar and allow each student to create or bring in objects to explain and teach our whole class about their culture.
This way each student knows his or her beliefs or culture is welcomed and respected. I also related to this culture’s goals of working hard and daily prayers. My religion is similar in ways, and I believe in prayer every single day. Although in my classroom I know not all students will pray, some may have another form of worship and some may believe in nothing, therefore as Father Telnack and I discussed I plan to allow for a few minutes of reflection every day in my classroom. This is a way to allow all students from different backgrounds to take a deep breath and spend the few minutes in whichever way best fits their lifestyle.
This experience has definitely shown me the importance of taking time out of your life to learn about other cultures, not only does this help you grow as a human being but also as an effective teacher. I will face students from many different cultural backgrounds and I know I have to be comfortable and open to learn more about their lives. Accommodations will also have to be made for certain students cultures rituals and holidays, but being able to relate and adjust to make your students most comfortable will make you an effective and respected teacher.