Name: Andrew Harris
Years at Trinity: 2009-2014 (Yr 7-12)
OTG involvement: I got pretty involved straight after I finished. I kept in touch with certain teachers and ended up coaching the 7C’s soccer team. Through that I realised I really loved helping out – going back and doing the stuff I did as a kid. From there I went and helped out on Learning Journeys and Somers Camp and all through that I made a lot of connections. Then later, with Jenny Herbst, I helped start up the Mentoring program which is still running now. So I’ve had quite a lot of involvement, and it wasn’t really until early this year that I really stepped away for the first time.
What drove you to start the Mentoring program?
I guess I saw that there were a lot of boys at the school who had the potential to slip through the cracks. And being the kind of school Trinity is, obviously we want to be able to support all the kids, but sometimes perhaps that’s not a role a teacher can play. Sometimes, just for the nature of the boy, they need something else. So I thought there was a market in looking to pair up students with old boys and looking to form a relationship like that. When it started, I started to see some results and I started to see kids improving and enjoying school. So I thought, “Well, this is something we can keep doing and keep building,” and luckily its grown and lot of kids have benefitted off it, so I think it’s a really worthwhile thing.
Did you have any experiences where you felt you would’ve benefitted from having an OTG mentor?
Yeah, I guess everyone in their time experiences some kind of hiccups. I was lucky in that I kind of went through school fairly comfortably, but I definitely know of boys who would have benefitted from it, and now I know boys who have benefitted from it. I was very lucky that I had good friends around me, and I always felt like I was able to approach teachers and talk to them, but not everyone feels that comfortable in school.
What was your pathway out of school?
The aim was always to do Arts at Melbourne. That was the degree I always wanted to do. And I got there, but for me personally, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I mean, it was good, and I just finished it, but I left feeling a bit unfulfilled. I struggled a bit the first year out – away from the structure of Trinity and the support. The sense of community is a bit lost at Uni. Otherwise, I just finished my degree and I’m off travelling now, and I’m learning a lot more from being away than I did at Uni. I think some of the things I learnt at Trinity are now really piquing my interest, being away and learning about different people and cultures.
What sorts of lessons have you learnt from your experiences overseas?
I think mainly a growing perspective, to fully appreciate what we have in Australia and at Trinity. To fully appreciate the part of the world you live in, you have to see how other people do it. I’ve seen a lot of countries that have been affected by war, and by oppressive governments and political systems, which obviously makes me very grateful for where I’ve come from. I think I’ve come back to Australia with more of an open mind. I really want to give back some of the hospitality I’ve been shown, and just to really embrace different cultures, because we can learn from them. And to always be hungry to learn more, and not just from a book - I’ve learnt so much from just travelling and talking to cab drivers and staff in cafes – you just meet people and you learn.
So where have you actually been?
It’s a bit all over the shop. I started in Japan and then Morocco, then the rest has been in Europe. I’ve pretty much done half the countries in Europe, starting in Russia, then working through Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, Central Europe and now coming into Western Europe. So I’ve been very, very lucky to do that, I’ve met a lot of people, learnt a lot of things, had some things go well and some things go not so well. But that’s all part of it – travelling’s one of the best things you can do because it actively bridges cultures and brings people together. That’s what you’re taught at Trinity, to be a person who can go out into the world, share your culture and learn about other people.
Was there any lesson in particular you learnt at Trinity which may have helped you in your travels, and becoming the person you are today?
Oh, there were lots. But if I were to pin it to something specifically, I guess it would have been Ed Plant. He was one of my earlier school captains, and one his mottos that he’d say at assemblies would be ‘Just give it a crack.” Some of the things I’ve done while overseas have really been outside my comfort zone. I’ve hitch-hiked, I’ve couch-surfed – I stayed on the couch of someone I don’t know. I’ve been prepared to put myself out there and give it a crack, and I think the times I’ve done that have created the best memories.
You mentioned earlier that you helped out on Learning Journeys and the Somers program. Why? What was it about those programs that drew you back?
Mainly the impact they had on me. With Learning Journeys, especially in this day and age, promoting emotional wellbeing in young males is really important. As young men, there are obviously a lot of things we struggle with – mental health and social dynamics for example – and we’re not always given the opportunity to express that. So I think a program like Learning Journeys is really good to help teach kids at a very young age that it’s alright to be open emotionally and be able to ask for and give support. I think Somers grows on that – it focusses more on leadership, but leadership is not always about the kids up the front who have official roles, it’s about the everyday Trinity boys who can practice being a leader. That was kind of the category I fell into, and you can really have an influence over a lot of people. I think teaching leadership skills to everyone is really important – it doesn’t matter about the title on the pocket or the badge, it’s about how you form relationships with other people.
What’s the plan now?
The next few years, what I’d like to do is more of what I’m doing. Working and travelling around the world. I believe that in youth, especially coming from a place that gives me the ability to go out and help people, I’d like to do that. I’d like to go work in Africa, Asia, South America… I’d love to meet people and whilst we’re young we have the most potential to help people. Who knows, maybe in a couple years I’ll settle down and get cracking in that sense, but at the moment, I’m happy cruising and meeting people, learning, helping. That’s the plan. Not much of a plan, but that’s the plan.
Bit of a curveball. What’s the worst piece of advice you got?
Ooh. That’s a good question, actually. I think there’s a lot of dialogue about finishing school and starting Uni – about finishing school as being kind of a means to an end. It’s kind of like, “You finish school, so that you get a score, so that you can go to Uni.” I think the worst bit of advice is just that the next step after school is Uni. And that is what I did, but I think that better advice would just be to do what you want to do. Really bad advice is when you just get told to go down a certain path. To contrast, I think the best bit of advice I’ve been given is just a little mantra, which is: “You don’t have to know what you want to do, you just have to know what you want to do next.” And that’s a little mantra I try to live by. It shows that I don’t have to worry about what I’m doing in 10 years. If what I want to do next is travel, I’m going to travel; if I want to work, I’ll work. And I think forcing kids down a path, like Uni, that they don’t want to go down is the worst bit of advice you can give someone.
I’ll let you go soon, but one final question, what’s something we don’t know about you?
Hmmm. Maybe one thing people don’t know about me is that I’ve had some pretty big mental health struggles since finishing school. I think it’s something that perhaps can be taboo, but a reason why I’m happy sharing it is because I think that we all should be comfortable sharing, and good at learning to ask for help. I guess now I also I want to help let people know that it is something that a lot of people face, and it’s part of life. I guess that’s something I may have chosen to hide from certain people because I didn’t want them to view me differently. But it is part of me and it’s part of my journey – I guess that’s something people might not know about me.
Sorry, one more question. Do you think that also be a reason as to why you see so much value in Learning Journeys and Somers?
Yeah, of course. I mean, when I was doing Learning Journeys in Yr 8 I didn’t have those sorts of struggles, but a program like Learning Journeys that teaches those skills of expression and openly sharing have probably helped me down the line, because I think those are skills that, as guys, we’re not usually promoted to learn. But seeing the amount of people who are struggling with mental health issues, we really need to be pushing to teach kids at a young age that it’s alright not to be alright.