University experience proves to be the tie that binds

It took 19 years and thousands of miles traversed across the globe before alumna Robyn Schilling (BEd '92) and Gloria Irani-Patterson (BA '93) again crossed paths. And while the stories of their post University of Lethbridge lives took divergent routes, the former roommates shared a sense of discovery and willingness for adventure that eventually led them back together – in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Schilling's story began with a move away from Lethbridge shortly after graduating with a bachelor of education degree in spring 1992. Quickly finding work as a teacher, she spent the next 11 years of her life teaching high school business education, English and computer science in Dawson Creek, Courtenay and Vancouver, B.C. schools.

"In 2003, I was somewhat disillusioned with how things were with George Bush Jr. and the leadership of the United States and truly disillusioned with how little money I could use to travel on a B.C. teacher's salary that I decided to give international education a try," says Schilling.

Alumni South Africa
Gloria Irani-Patterson, left, and Robyn Schilling reconnected in South Africa, 19 years after being roommates while studying at the U of L.

After attending a job fair for international educational opportunities, she accepted a position at the American School of Bombay in Mumbai, India. For the next five years, Schilling taught computer science and implemented a one-to-one program for middle school students. She also worked towards her master's degree in educational leadership, attending The College of New Jersey's global graduate program for three summers in Mallorca, Spain.

Having worked her way up to become associate principal of the middle and high school, Schilling, with her master's degree in hand, was ready for another challenge and turned her gaze to South Africa.

In the meantime, Irani-Patterson had completed her bachelor's degree in English and entered the world of journalism. She finished a Cinema, Television, Stage and Radio Arts diploma at Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute for Technology and took up a position with CBC Newsworld-Calgary.

"After that, I worked for a couple flagship live television shows on ACCESS-The Education Station in Edmonton before I decided to go overseas for a year and tour Asia and the Caribbean," says Irani-Patterson.

In 1998, she returned to Canada and tackled a new challenge, finding work at a diamond mine in Canada's north. It was there she met here future husband and six years later, with a family started, the couple moved to Suriname, South America.

Two moves later (including a stint in Houston, Tex.), Irani-Patterson found herself walking down the tiled hallway of the American International School of Johannesburg (AISJ), wondering if South Africa was the right fit for her family.

"I was unsure of so many things," she says. "Are the kids going to be OK here? Am I going to be OK here? And then a thunderbolt of certainty hit me straight between the eyes. From behind me I heard a voice that I will never forget – Robyn Schilling – my roommate from the University of Lethbridge, now the middle school principal of AISJ."

It wasn't long before Irani-Patterson was ending her 10-year role as a stay-at-home mom and back in the workforce, alongside Schilling as the school's assistant to the activities coordinator.

Their relationship picked up virtually where it left off some 19 years previous, the shared experiences of their University of Lethbridge education having inspired the duo to boldly branch out and find their respective paths, all the while bringing them back together with an unbroken bond.

"Although it is still unclear to me why our paths have crossed again," says Irani-Patterson, "reuniting with Robyn has taught me that even though the world around me changes, and I embrace that change, the relationship I began with Robyn at the U of L is a familiar and comfortable beacon in my changing world."

This story first appeared in the June 2013 edition of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.