Rachel Meets Rachael

October 14, 2013

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You could say the way I ended up volunteering for IOE is a bit … abnormal.

It all started with a case of mistaken identity. Well, mistaken email identity.

It was late 2011. I was at home, in Canada, planning my long-anticipated working holiday to Australia when I began receiving the odd inbox message from an organisation called Interchange Outer East…based in Melbourne. Such a curious coincidence, I thought, but concluded I’d somehow landed on a junk mailing list and therefore, naturally, ignored them. A few months and four emails later – all from different people at Interchange, so I thought I’d look into it further…

The last email was from a guy named Fred, asking me if I was available to play soccer that Tuesday, and promising a free t-shirt if I did.
Realizing I had definitely been confused with another Rachel, whose e-mail address must be extremely similar to mine, I responded explaining that although my name is in fact the same, I do play soccer and would love a free t-shirt, I was currently in Canada and would not be able to make it there by Tuesday.
Questioning my sporting conviction, Fred joked back and got the whole mistaken email thing sorted out.
It seems the Rachael who works for Interchange has the same e-mail address as I do, with the addition of an ‘a’ in her name, which had accidentally been left out of their database. Confusing??? I wondered if people had thought the other Rachael was rude for not replying to them…

Unable to ignore the oddity of the situation, I explained that I would be traveling to Australia and inquired about possibly doing some volunteering for Interchange while I was there. Fred responded, saying they’d be happy to have me.

Half a year went by before I got all my stuff together for my big trip Down Under, but eventually I made it. I traveled for three and a half months all over the country, from Sydney to Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and many places in between, but Interchange was always in the back of my mind.

I ended up needing to take a job in Darwin, and unexpectedly stayed there for 6 months. (The life of a backpacker is oftentimes unpredictable.) I had been in contact with Jess (one of the awesome volunteer coordinators) and knowing that my year was almost up, I became determined to make it back down to Melbourne and meet the wonderful people who had accidentally corresponded with me.

After arriving in Melbourne, being somewhat travel-weary, and spending a week and a half trying to figure out the logistics of volunteering 45 minutes out of the CBD where there are no hostels and no feasible short-term accommodation, I started to get disheartened and wondered if I should just forget the whole thing.

The day before I was set to book my train ticket out, I got a call back from Jess, who’d been away. I explained my situation to her and she immediately sent out a message to everyone. Within a few minutes, I had a call from Carly (an amazing adult services coordinator) letting me know she had a spare room available.

Before I knew it, I was heading out to IOE in Ferntree Gully to meet the staff and “The Other RD” – as I had nicknamed her in my phone.

Rachael and I had arranged to meet at Interchange and then go for lunch. While I was walking from Ferntree Gully Station there were lots of thoughts going through my mind and I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I arrived.

Thanks to Google maps leading me in the wrong direction, (okay, I could be partially to blame), I ended up down the highway at a petrol station, fifteen minutes late for my meeting … and then it started pouring rain. A quick phone call and Rachael came to my rescue. Not exactly the first impression I’d hoped for.

Embarrassment aside, we went for lunch, and although strangely surreal at first, it was a comfort to find out the Australian version of me is a really awesome person.
And although we have some obvious differences (she’s blond, I’m brunette, she’s married, I’m single), we have some things in common too.
It turns out we both went to film school, we both enjoy photography, and our middle initial is the same – her middle name is Jean, mine is Jane!

As expected, everyone else at IOE turned out to be pretty wonderful too. The organisation as a whole is so hospitable and welcoming! It is clearly built on solid character and values, and does such extraordinary work in the community. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m here, that I’ve been able to hang out with the staff and participants, and do a bit of volunteering, if only for a short time. I consider myself so fortunate to have this experience.

Now, it’s nearly the end of 2013, and since it all began, the other Rachael has married and changed her surname, so there shouldn’t be any more confusion between the two of us. I have, however, received the occasional email meant for Rachel Dewhursts in other parts of Australia and the UK. Apparently we’re everywhere.
But, as my journey to Interchange suggests, everything happens for a reason. And sometimes, something that seems like a mistake … isn’t a mistake at all.

Unfortunately, I won’t get to meet Fred who, I’ve since found out, is the CEO and is currently overseas with an IOE group. It will have to be next time, I guess. I’ll bring my soccer cleats…and be expecting my t-shirt.

by Canadian Rachel Dewhurst

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