You never know where life will take you!
April 18, 2017 - Jon Ducker
Here at the American Museum our volunteers come from many different towns around Bath but most travel just a few miles to spend time with us. With one exception! Meet Suzanne King, who has flown half way round the world to guide with us this season. So has the trip been worth it? We’ll let Suzanne tell the story.
You never know where life will take you!
Packing up and setting off for our new adventure at the start of 2017, involving a year’s sabbatical from our teaching positions in Australia, with six months in the UK and six months in Italy, conjured up a kaleidoscope of images from stately palaces, stone villages, Georgian townhouses, patchwork fields, medieval churches and wild moors, to palettes of burnt umber, raw sienna, cypress-lined gardens, terraced vineyards, baroque piazzas and the riches of the Renaissance.
Yet, several months into this wonderful year, I have found there are other unexpected images that now seem to characterise my days: 17th century Puritan keeping rooms, Folk Art portraits, Jazz Age glamour, cigar store figures, 18th century taverns from Massachusetts, Shaker furniture, Amish quilts, New Orleans bedrooms and the luminous, vibrant silks of Joyce Petschek needlework creations.
So how is it that an Australian, living in the UK for six months, is now a volunteer at the American Museum? Like so many things today, it began with some innocent browsing on the internet! Coming across the American Museum in Britain, right here in Bath, was an unexpected delight. Here, in a place that was new to me, surrounded by a culture, people and voices that were unfamiliar to me, was something familiar – a landscape I did know. My deep sense of affection for, and connection to American culture, people and places began many years ago when I was an exchange student in my final year of high school. In 1980 I spent a year with a wonderful family in Medfield, Massachusetts, a small community of 12,000, about 17 miles southwest of Boston, that was settled in 1649. It then took another 15 years before I returned to the States – this time, travelling with my husband (a history teacher) as exchange teachers for a year at Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut. Again, I found myself back in the part of the US that felt like home with the colonial homes, red barns, dry stonewalls, white steepled churches, dense woods, rolling scarlet flamed hills and small town Norman Rockwell charm of New England.
Acting on nostalgia, a desire to make the most of opportunities in my new ‘home’ of Bath, and a chance to become part of what I had already observed as a wonderful culture of volunteering in the UK, I sent an email to Sharon Blanchard (Volunteers Manager) asking about the volunteer programme. Her response? Positive, encouraging and supportive – what I now recognise as Sharon’s default position! The next month, along with other new volunteers, I was able to attend a range of presentations given by both staff and more experienced volunteers who shared their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm on a range of topics from the History of Claverton Manor, to The Rise of a Superpower, to Amish Quilts and Their History. Apart from the new understanding that emerged from these these engaging talks, it was a terrific opportunity to get to know others volunteering at the museum. Indeed it is the enthusiasm, guidance and friendliness of all who are involved in the museum that allows you to feel (even before you have begun!) that you could find a sense of belonging here. Similarly, additional induction days and a Period Room Tour for those of us who are still finding our way (both physically and intellectually!) around the museum has helped build a sense of confidence and excitement in the chance to be part of such a welcoming and worthwhile community. Already I am finding the joy that comes with sharing new knowledge with visitors to the museum, the pleasure of making authentic connections with people in my new community, the demands and rewards of developing a new body of knowledge, the contentment that participation brings, and the sense of achievement that we all feel when we challenge ourselves to do something different.
While many of my friends at home in Australia have chuckled over the notion of an Aussie, on sabbatical in Bath, being a volunteer at the American Museum, I know I have the best of all worlds: Australian flexibility when it comes to teacher leave, British warmth, passion for history and sense of inclusion in those around me, and the diversity, creativity and spirit of independence that characterises American culture and history. So from 1980 when I made my first trip to the States, to my marriage in 1989 to my English husband, it seems as if coming to volunteer here was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with a culture that was part of my past, and a wonderful opportunity to connect with a culture that is now part of my present.
Many thanks to all who have made, and are making, my brief time here as a volunteer so enjoyable. I certainly did not know that this was where life was going to take me when we flew out of Sydney at the start of this year, but I am so glad this is where I landed. Finally, to anyone who is thinking of volunteering, I hope you, too, find your way here.
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