A Remarkable Family From Western Australia Comes to Pacific
It’s hard enough to be an international student at an American university. But the challenges are multiplied when a couple, with three young children in tow, decides to move for a semester halfway across the world.
So it was in the spring of 2018, that Pacific’s exchange program with the University of Western Australia brought to Forest Grove a memorable fivesome in Aaron and Quintilla Sutton and their three rambunctious young children, Brooklyn, Harlem and Queens. (Yes, you read that correctly, with those New York City names reflecting Aaron and Quin’s deep fascination with the United States, and the Big Apple.)
What followed for them during the semester was several months of excitement, a new intercultural and academic experience, and the invariable hassles of managing family life and complex child-related arrangements in a place that would exert a deep emotional impact on them. For those of us in the International Programs Office it was an opportunity to get out of our own comfort zone by assisting with the less familiar tasks of assisting the Sutton crew with locating childcare, schooling, and off-campus housing. But predominantly it was a memorable experience for us all, bringing this joyful family into our offices many times during the semester, and giving rise to such entertainments as the director unwisely allowing himself to be drawn into a soccer game with Brooklyn in our reception space. Being with them was always fun, and a reminder of how our exchange programs bring diversity, excitement and joy to our campus in many unexpected ways.
Aaron and Quintilla also brought something else unusual to Pacific: an encounter with the cultures of Indigenous Australia and of Burma, since Aaron is of the Waramungu & Jarwoyn people of Central Australia and Quintilla’s family immigrated from Burma to Boorloo (Perth, Western Australia). Aaron and Quin have focused enormous amount of their energies toward building cultural bridges both within and outside of Australia’s borders, creating opportunities for intercultural engagement, and increased social mobility for Indigenous youth. When they returned to Australia, in fact, they launched a nonprofit called Self Made Indigenous, which supports and helps develop Indigenous youth.
Their ethos of community engagement made them such a perfect fit for Pacific. During their stay here, Aaron and Quin found multiple ways to share their perspectives within and outside of the classroom, ensuring that their presence on campus extended in its reach and impact far beyond the personal growth experience for their family. Being nontraditional students they were able to provide a broader perspective on Australia’s firearm laws after the Port Arthur shooting, the country’s voting practices and the functioning of its medical system. Off campus they made many friends at Deadstock Coffee & Index PDX, who introduced them to the sneaker community and service to the homeless.
“Being at Pacific was important for our growth individually and as a family. If we had gone anywhere else we definitely know that we wouldn’t have had the support of the team at the International Programs Office,” Quintilla said. “Studying at Pacific I made amazing friends, gained a different perspective by exchanging cultural experiences, experienced the Annual Lūàu and Hōìke, watched The Perfectionist being filmed, and discovered that going back to pen and paper helped me study more effectively rather than using electronics. Exposure to different cultures, experiences and history allows us be grateful for what we have and challenges us to think outside the box and the change we want to see.”
Added Aaron: “The International Programs team we considered as our extended family as they had such an impact on us and supported us throughout our stay.”
For a time, it seemed as if our exchange program with the University of Western Australia might spin off into an intriguing direction, with development of a partnership with UWA’s School for Indigenous Studies. As a result of Aaron’s unofficial recruitment work in the school, we subsequently welcomed Tyson McEwan of the Bardi and Ngarluma peoples, and previous Chair of WASAC (Western Australia Students Aboriginal Corporation), the Indigenous student body on the UWA campus. Tyson, who is now nearing completion of his Juris Doctor degree, writes of his experience at Pacific: “It was a huge step for me as a country boy going across to the other side of the world, away from my family and traditional country. My study abroad program exposed me to new challenges that I had to overcome with my new American friends while persevering through cultural and social differences.”
During his time in Forest Grove, Tyson’s many campus activities included participation on a panel sponsored by the Center for a Sustainable Society entitled Decolonizing Nature: Indigenous Knowledge and Human Ecological Relationships.
The agreement with the University of Western Australia, one of Australia’s elite higher education institutions, was signed in 2014, and so far Pacific has sent out 20 students, and welcomed 13 from Perth. With a combined graduate and undergraduate enrollment of 25,000, UWA provides superb academic opportunities for Pacific students and has been especially attractive for students majoring in the sciences due the wealth of STEM options available.
Stephen Prag was director of Pacific University's Office of International Programs from 2004-2022.