An Introduction to Leslie Boonekamp
and my journey that brought me to this point of life
I was born in semi-rural Mount Gambier in South Australia. My parents were both immigrants from Northern Europe. Mother was from Belgium and father from the Netherlands. After twelve years they decided that Australia was not the place for them and so we ended up in Pretoria, South Africa.
This was life a twelve year from rural Australia who could only experience the outside world in a documentary viewed at the local cinema because we didn’t have a TV in those days. A booster to get the signal to our city was still in planning phase.
When we arrived and settled in Pretoria, African culture was all around me and my new found best friend was as unique as the country because Solomon was part of the local tribe.
My highlight in South Africa was when he invited me to this big festivity his family members were hosting. His cousin was getting married.
After a period of time, my parents couldn't really adjust very well to South Africa's culture and general opportunities this country had to offer, so they decided to pack up again and move on to my parent's homeland.
My grandmother's house was too small to house my parents, my little brother and myself, so it was decided that since I was the oldest I should go and stay with my great-aunt Sophie in Belgium. I found it a bit awkward since she only spoke French, but she was absolutely adorable and we became great friends.
She had enrolled me at a local convent school which was co-ed, and the nuns who taught there were mostly ex-missionary nuns who had come back from foreign destinations. I had attended Marist Brothers College back home in Mt. Gambier. My new school's means of instruction was in French and German.
As children grasp language quickly, it wasn't long before I was making friends with the local children and was happily chatting away in French mainly, because that was the dominant language.
My "OH NO" moment..
So here I was at our new home in a tiny hamlet called Eperheide. It was very rural and it was alive with dairy cows, bless their lovely souls. The house was a truly ancient farmhouse poised on top of a large hill.
This place was where I would live until I had finished art school - De Akademie van Toegepaste Kunsten in Maastricht, the capital of Limburg. It wasn’t all that BAD. I got to learn a new language from scratch. I just had to stop adding Afrikaans into the mix and French and English.
Okay let’s be honest, It was really terrible and the natives weren’t very welcoming, since they were Limburgians and not really Dutch, not really. Well, they didn’t even speak Dutch; it was something called ‘Plat kalle’ and it was different in every city, town, village and hamlet... But they could tell where it was from.People would refer to me as 'de australier'.
The Arctic regions of the North Sea
When I finished art school I wanted to see the world. (Funny isn’t it, just when you think you’ve seen it all). So off I took and got a job on an oil rig somewhere in the North Sea. I made two new friends – Dave and Jamie. Dave used to be a trawler man and Jamie did a bit of everything. By the way, I got the job, because I spoke French at the interview in Brussels. This was handy because the rig was from a French company. It just seems such a long time ago.
I occasionally came back to the Netherlands to see the folks, but as always I liked to travel hither and thither mostly across the border to Aachen, in Germany, where once again culture was unique and for me totally different.
In those days, before the Euro was the currency, one would have Dutch Gulden in one pocket, Belgische Franken in another and German Demark in the last. There were a lot of attractions across the border, and the people there were always very accommodating; one could make great friendships with the locals.
I found it was the easiest way to learn German. All the grammar learnt at school came back and was put to good use. After all these years I still have friends there.
Back in Oz
I really had forgotten how empty Australia was, and I questioned myself why I had come back. Opportunities in business became the answer and for the next decades, I worked as a site-specific artist. I occasionally travelled back and forth to Europe to visit and to exhibit some paintings and sculptures over there.
As life takes its toll - it certainly went for me, and I just couldn't keep up the pace of keeping up with the physical demands of being a contractor in an extremely demanding industry. On the advice of my doctor, it was time to think about a new career path. It was very difficult for me to decide since this was all I had ever wanted to do. Even now, to grasp my sanity, I go to my downsized studio to carve some basalt, just to find my balance in life. I found it terribly difficult to think about giving up what I had built up over the years and having to decline my customers. It was very difficult indeed.
A new career
I went back to school to finish a Bachelor of Arts; I found out that many things had changed in education. For instance, I could do it online which I enjoyed very much. I decided to find out whether teaching was a fun career path and completed a Certificate IV in TESOL, and guess what? It was...
It was hard to find a job because I was already considered over the hill by quite a few agencies. But hey, who's a give up? I'm certainly not. After over 500 applications I finally got to go to the Korean embassy in Sydney. That was one of those 'Woo-Hoo' moments. I got a post in Daegu, South Korea, and I taught there for a whole 12 months teaching primary school children.
I would have stayed there longer, but wife and daughter wanted me back in Melbourne. Such is life. While I was there, I taught myself to read and write the Han-Gul characters and started to learn to speak the very interesting language. I find Korean very pleasant to listen to and not that difficult to pronounce.
Again I made some very good friends among the locals since this was the way I wanted to expose myself to learning to speak the language. I even took up traditional Korean archery, and this was very interesting since my instructor didn't speak English, so I did my best to learn Korean.
Alas, time was too short and my new found love of the Korean language stopped short to basics, such as instructing a taxi driver where to go and when to turn; ordering food in restaurants and street kiosks and negotiating prices when buying goods in shops and at markets.
Since Korea, I've been teaching at a community centre teaching asylum seekers and refugees from many parts of the world and see how it benefits the people who come to my classes.
So as far as my teacher identity is concerned, I can safely say that I bring in an extensive cultural capital to the classroom when it comes to language learning. My world vision is very accommodating and I feel no real effort in connecting with all kinds of cultures and languages.
My curiosity about each student's background and cultural heritage allows me to get closer to understanding how I can arrange their learning in an appropriate social context and how other students in the class can effectively collaborate as well.
I believe as a polyglot that my understanding of language learning can be of benefit to those who are learning a new language using various methodologies. I have a real love for language learning and I am passionate about teaching English as a second language.
As an Australian from a multicultural background, I feel that it puts me in an excellent position to relate to migrant students and guide them, who are still adjusting to living in this country.
When I walk into a classroom with new students, I mindfully bear no prejudices and keep an open mind to what may be...