Alumnus Ricky Willi '12 Missionary to the Solomon Islands

The opportunity to come teach in the Solomon Islands was one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. In just three quick months, I have been positively impacted in a way that will undoubtedly continue to shape the rest of my life.

Like many others, I discovered a passion for travel while in college. I was fascinated by the unique cultures and all things exotic.

For a year after graduation I had been working in a job that provided great experience and strong compensation, but also a very toxic environment. Repeatedly, I was told by friends and family to stick with it.

When I saw the email sent out from Kellenberg, I knew that this was something I absolutely needed to pursue. Luckily, I was selected by Fr. Tom to go to the Solomon Islands to teach English and computer skills for three months along with a fellow member of the KMHS class of 2012, Kiran Swamy. Here we were placed under the guidance of Fr. Tom’s brother, Archbishop Christopher Cardone.

The Solomon Islands is one the most pure but undeveloped nations in the world. Located in the South Pacific, roughly 350 miles off the eastern coast of Australia, the Solomon’s retains strong cultural traditions. Most villages have their own language, dances, and set of customs.

Kiran and I were placed at adjacent schools to teach both seminarian and pre-seminarian students. Having majored in business, my only teaching experience came from P.R.E.P. while attending Kellenberg. I really had no idea what to expect.

The students were more wonderful than I could have ever dreamed. Hospitality is deeply ingrained in the Solomon culture and we were welcomed with open arms wherever we went. Both Kiran and I had previously traveled to nations considered to be “third world.” We both agreed that our experiences their were nothing like here in the Solomon’s. I truly felt more safe here than in many parts of Long Island.

As a teacher, I tried to tailor my classes around what would be the most impactful for them. Given that I, a native English speaker, still have trouble with participles and gerunds and things of that nature, I decided to omit them from our lecturers. Instead, I worked on skills more likely to be used by the future priests and sisters. We worked on writing reflections, public presentations, and pronunciation. The latter was something  completely new to them.

The culmination of their studies was a big presentation before the Archbishop and the school rectors. I was amazed at the transformation and for the first time, realized that I had made a difference.

Modest housing, limited electricity, and elementary plumbing were constant challenges but ones that taught me patience and ingenuity as well as appreciation for things I have been afforded in my own life. I am wholeheartedly sincere as I say, it was easy sacrifice all of the modern conveniences of home for my experience here.

I met the Prime Minister and Governor General of the Solomon’s, I traveled to Kennedy Island where JFK was famously marooned during WW2, I celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal (one of the turning points in the war in the Pacific), attended a World Cup Qualifying soccer match, and did so much more in less than 90 days.

Admittedly, this experience is not for everyone. However, if you are someone who has considered teaching abroad or are interested by the opportunity, just do it. The hardest part by far is not actually overcoming the difficulties but rather convincing yourself to go.

Personally, I was worried about finding a new job once I returned. However, I have been shocked at the feedback from recent applications and connections that had no interest in me prior to this trip. I understand now that they recognize the value in this experience and the personal development that inevitably comes with it.

In conclusion, I would just like to thank Fr. Tom, Archbishop Chris and the Marianist community for everything they given me. Please feel free to reach out to my email, [email protected] with any questions you may have.