By Nigel Tapp
Eleven teenage girls from Tonga sang their way into the hearts of Synod staff last month at a special luncheon for visiting students and staff from the Queen Salote College, in Tongatapu. The students were in Melbourne for an exchange with Methodist Ladies College’s Middle School. They sang for attendees in the Synod chapel to celebrate their visit.
Experiencing a different culture is a hallmark of the exchange for students from both schools. It is the longest-running exchange MLC is involved in having been forged over the last two decades.
The strong links have not been built simply because they share a history in the Methodist faith. Tongan Queen Nanasipau’u Tuku‘aho is a former student of MLC and considers Melbourne her second home.
The all-girls college’s vice principal-administration, Mele Pakileata Taulanga, said she hoped her students, aged between 14 and 17, would take away a rich cultural experience and an understanding of what it was like to be educated in a more developed country.
“It is a whole new world for them,” she said.
“They are staying with host families and adapting to a very different way of life and food.”
The students agreed that the schooling at MLC was very different to their home school.
“Everything is very electronic here,” student Selaona Niumeitolu said.
“It is much more manual at our school.”
MLC chaplains Rev Janet Munro, Megan Paul and Anneliese Hallam have all been associated with the visiting group. Rev Munro has particularly been a driving force behind the exchange and has participated in several reciprocal visits to Tonga.
Ms Hallam said it was an important long-standing relationship and honouring that was an aspect impressed upon the host students.
“Geographically Tonga is one of our near neighbours and learning about them and from them is important,” she said.
The Tongan students were due to visit Australia last year but the trip had to be postponed following the death of King George Tupou V.
Ms Taulanga said because of the school’s standing within the Tongan community, students were required to participate in many activities associated with the king’s passing. Students from MLC will visit Tonga next year.