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A Christmas story – Irish Facebook friends fall in love in Sydney

by Pete

What are the people of Open Colleges doing for Christmas? Stephanie Holt, a Quality Manager, has a unique Christmas story to tell and a long holiday journey to make. She’s heading back home for a very special reason.

Stephanie and Stuart found love in a quite way. After attending the same school in Belfast, Northern Ireland, they travelled separately to the other side of the world before meeting and falling in love. Now Stephanie and Stuart will return to Belfast to spend Christmas together and meet each other’s parents.

Stephanie now lives in Sydney where she is employed as Quality Manager at Open Colleges. She connected with Stuart on Facebook, but it wasn’t until both were in Sydney that they met in person.

It seems a long way to go to meet. How did it all come about?

“It’s a bit of a long story, but yes,” enthuses Stephanie, “as children Stuart and I attended the same school. When a mutual friend realised we were both heading for Australia he set us up. We became Facebook friends. Stuart left a month before me and was heading for Queensland. My destination was Sydney. We kept in touch by Facebook. When we met in person we instantly hit it off.”

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“I love Australia and wanted to stay longer so I needed to do regional work to get my second year visa. That’s when Stuart and I decided to do our regional work together in Tasmania. We lived in a caravan with two other people for two months – no electricity, no running water – that was an experience!”

“I left in March to return to Sydney. That’s when we realised we really missed each other. Stuart then decided to return to Sydney also. And this year we made plans to go home to Ireland and visit each other’s families for Christmas.”

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Sounds serious. Any expectations of what your family will think of Stuart?

“My not so better half is just a male version of me. And he’s very funny so I think they’ll love him.”

Asked about family Christmas traditions in Belfast, Stephanie responds, “Well, my Mum and Dad are not together. So for years now my Christmas has been waking up in Mum’s house. We start Christmas Day opening presents then watching Christmas movies.”

In a family-oriented tradition, “Mum visits the graveyard and leaves flowers for family members,” Stephanie explains. “When she gets back she and her partner, Norman, start cooking an absolute feast.”

“Throughout the day I get totally spoiled. Come dinner the table is piled high with all sorts of goodies. Norman makes the most amazing turkey stuffing from scratch. What’s actually in the stuffing I have no idea. It’s a secret recipe and I think not knowing makes it taste even better!”

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“Stuart has Christmas dinner with his family but then he’d usually go out for drinks with his friends. I think I’ve been a good influence on him so his Mum is very pleased. We’ll be spending a lot of time with his family when we get back…catching up on the quality family time he’s missed out on.”

By the way, how did you become a Quality Manager at Open Colleges?

“I’d been living in England for around 10 years and had just finished my Master’s. I was in a job that I wasn’t really happy with and figured it was now or never so I packed up everything to come away on a year’s work visa.”

“Australia is fantastic so after deciding to stay I looked around for companies where there might be potential sponsorship opportunities. I came across Open Colleges and this role of Quality Manager came up. I had a lot of the key attributes from a role I had when working at a TAFE College. Based on that experience I applied for the job and here I am.”

Open Colleges has many team members whose job is to ensure the quality of education that Open Colleges aims to deliver. Stephanie explains a bit about her role, “Essentially I assist Enrolment Consultants by monitoring calls to them so we can improve our consultations with potential students…ensuring the student and the course are the perfect match. Like Stuart and I!”

We wish Stephanie all the best for Christmas and hope to welcome her and Stuart back in Sydney in the New Year.

Photos by Adán Sánchez de PedroRobert Moore and The Irish Mirror

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