‘Campion is one of the best things I have ever done’
Tom Galouzis, who was hired as a chef in 2017, ended up enrolling as a student.
Now that he is about to begin his third and final year at Campion, he sat down with the Catholic Weekly to discuss how he went from chef to student and how studying at a Catholic liberal arts college has changed his perspective on life and the world.
A chance encounter for Tom Galouzis became a life-changing event that sent him deep into the study of the academic tradition of the Western Civilisation. Tom is now completing his final year at Campion College majoring in Philosophy. He’s involved in the student life of the college as the Campion College Student Association Treasurer for 2020. And he’s also one of the college chefs. “Campion is one of the best things I have ever done,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
“It also encouraged me to consider pursuing academia as a career pathway – which is something I would have never have believed possible. If you told me a few years ago I would be going to a Catholic Liberal Arts College and not just enjoying the content but also excelling, I would have laughed. But here I am.”
Tom, a trained chef, never intended to pursue academia or study at all – let alone at Campion – and was originally sent to work in the campus kitchen in 2017.
“Coming across Campion was a stroke of luck. I was originally sent to fill in a casual job in the Campion kitchen for two days through my agency employer. I didn’t think much of it. But after two days, the resident chef at Campion quit so I was offered [a] full time position in the kitchen.”
Taking up his new role, Tom began to feel his new job was perhaps something more than accidental as he discovered the Liberal Arts by chatting to students in his spare time.
“I would talk to students and found topics of their discussion intriguing,” he said. “I gravitated towards philosophy and theology. The content of what they were learning aligned well with my own interests. Conversation was effortless.”
Tom said the encounter with Campion proved perfect for his own search for truth which stemmed from adolescent disenchantment with the wider political climate.
“I’ve always had a natural curiosity about the world. I would read widely on all sorts of things,” he said.
“My teenage years transpired in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and afterwards there occurred a lot of rapid changes, culturally and politically. I sensed a lot of misinformation going around and mass media hysteria dissatisfied me. I was frustrated and wanted to seek truth. So I became interested in world issues – history and geopolitics. I wanted to learn things on my own and get to the bottom of things truthfully.”
Perhaps like many disenchanted teenagers, Tom lacked any motivation to engage in his schooling. He settled on work as a chef in his 20s.
“I was not a studious person in high school – in retrospect I should have taken my studies seriously,” he said. Through his early 20s Tom spent his time cooking in kitchens in Melbourne, his hometown, as well as partying with friends and travelling the world in his spare time. It was during that period that a backpacking trip to India changed his life and lead him to Campion.
“My intention going to India, originally, was backpacking. That changed very quickly,” he said.“Soon I was travelling around reading ancient texts, visiting shrines, doing a whole bunch of spiritual practices such as bathing in the Ganges, practicing yoga and living without any real possessions – I was earnestly trying to detach myself from worldly things. The main focus of my quest in India, I guess, was pursuing truth.”
Returning from India, he realised there was a reality that had been neglected in the modern West and he wanted to search for it. “Coming back from India, I went from an unarticulated but nonetheless secular-agnostic view of the world, to an understanding that there was an objective reality and an unseen world – you can call it spiritual reality – it was a reality that I wasn’t aware of before.” Tom told The Catholic Weekly he experienced a new-found desire to explore such things through study.
“I wished to explore these thoughts in an academic setting and articulate them,” he said.
“I wanted to learn about these things in a community that discussed these ideas – metaphysics, politics, philosophy and traditional spiritual beliefs – but I struggled to find any academic setting that offered this.”
Tom’s search ultimately found its home at Campion. “After my conversations with students, I began to sit-in on classes between shifts in the kitchen. I discovered, to much surprise and from my experiences in India that I had a lot more in common with the traditional Western concepts of metaphysics and cosmology – and the Catholic view of metaphysics – than I did with the secular currents that pervade intellectual institutions in the modern West. The irony is I am not even a Catholic or a Christian, yet I see the importance in the Christian tradition.”
At the end of 2017, Tom decided to take the plunge and enrol in the Liberal Arts.
“What I learned in India hasn’t left me,” he told The Catholic Weekly, “but my focus is studying the Western tradition now. I am thoroughly enjoying it.”
Despite full time study at Campion, Tom still works part-time as college chef thereby occupying a unique space where he has made many good friends with both the students and the staff. “I feel like I am at the right place at the right time that is leading to somewhere better – a better place even within myself. Campion academia are so generous with their time. You’re not just a number – I don’t think you really get that at a major university,” he said. “And within the student body there are people that inspire me. I admire their courage, convictions and willingness to stand for what they believe is right – their determination to be virtuous people.”
Beside the new friends Tom has made among the student body are the intellectual friends he discovered in the Western tradition. “The more I have been studying the Liberal Arts, [the more] I have come to appreciate great thinkers from the Ancient Greeks – like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – to the early Church Fathers, like St Augustine and medieval Scholastics like Aquinas and Bonaventure, to modern thinkers such as Thomas Kuhn and Ludwig Wittgenstein.”
Meanwhile, he says, studying the Liberal Arts has helped give clarity to his political views.
“Politically, I am on the left but I do not treat those who are not differently. I know many young people pitch themselves on the left and the right nowadays, but they no longer know how to respect each other or communicate maturely. This is very dangerous. By learning about the history of political thought at Campion I learned the historical context of the right vs left dichotomy – especially in the early modern period – and this has given me an understanding of the ongoing dialectic between these two currents in the political sphere that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”
Tom encourages all young students to explore the Western tradition before rejecting it. Just to be exposed to some of the greatest ideas in the Western canon is a very good thing,” he said.
“One doesn’t need to adhere to everything, but certainly exposure and exploration of these concepts that have built what our society takes for granted today is crucial. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes it’s challenging. I am exposed to many ideas. Some I do not agree with, but that’s a part of learning. Patience is needed to consider many ideas without necessarily accepting them. Sometimes you are confronted with an idea and you have to ask ‘Where do I stand on this?’ And by reading different texts, speaking to my peers and lecturers as well as reflecting on my own experiences it can clarify where I stand. Often my worldview can improve as a result. Learning the Liberal Arts is like a gym for your own mind and it’s empowering”.
“Because learning about the Universe has helped me learn about myself in equal proportion.
There is a tremendous richness to explore in the Liberal Arts. I have discovered a lot of great ideas that are worth holding onto. This doesn’t mean we should hold fast to everything. But it’s the tradition of developing and engaging that is important. It would be a shame to snub an intellectual tradition in the West that has persisted and grown for over two and a half thousand years.”
“Of course, you learn there are problems, but there is also plenty of room for improvement and it’s important to learn about the context of where we have come from and where we are today so that we can improve where we are going.”
“And,” he added, “that’s what universities are for.”