Aussies Of The Bay – Dany Kelly

Name, job, part of the San Francisco Bay Area you live in

Dany Kelly, Retreat Director/Teacher, Brisbane (LOL) between South San Francisco and Daly City

When did you first come to the Bay and what’s the backstory there?

In 2010 while I was studying in Brisbane I decided that I should study abroad. At this point in my studies I had a yearning to travel (the traveling bug bit me and I’ve been doomed to a life of adventure ever since….).

As an Aussie you know that the idea of studying abroad during Uni is not as popular in Aus as it is here in the USA so it came as somewhat of a shock to my friends and family. I’ve never really been one to follow the crowd though so, low an behold 😱, I went on a year exchange in 2011 to the skateboard riding, palm tree swinging, #2 in the US of the most attractive students: Santa Clara University.

Whoa – this was cool. I got the opportunity to eat In ‘n’ Out burgers, go to a Shark’s ice hockey game, ride across the golden gate bridge and watch the sunrise in the Grand Canyon.

However, study abroad isn’t only about sight-seeing and I got the opportunity to learn from some amazing professors. One of these professors invited us to read the book Tattoos on the Heart by Fr Greg Boyle or G to his homies. Reflecting back this book had a profound impact on me. I started to really understand the value of creating community within a world that is digitally focused.

After a year abroad I arrived back to Australia and finalised my degree cross-institutionally at Charles Darwin University. Here I was at a Bible Study in my family’s home and one of the women who attended worked for the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

I asked about the project: this project is archiving the narratives from the 25 (of originally 250) remaining languages left in Australian indigenous culture. I was invited to partake in the research for this project and liken it to the Gutenberg Bible – albeit online and easily accessible through Google.

When I finished my degree, a local school, MacKillop Catholic College, invited me to teach Drama, English and Religious Studies. They were one of the newest Catholic schools in Australia and I had the privilege of developing and launching their Drama department.

The unit and lesson plans that I created for these students were often tailored towards incorporating community. For example I created a unit on the idea that Australia has on refugees and asylum seekers called ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’.

This was particularly relevant in Darwin as many people are resettled in Darwin from the processing centres. I took a study on the belief of students on whether they should allow refugees to be resettled into Australia before and then after the unit.

The results were amazing. Students gained a personal insight on the affects of having to flea a country. I used many different mediums to present this unit – we watched the SBS series called Go Back to Where you came from, had a client services liaison come and speak to the class from a refugee centre and encouraged relationships with people who worked at the school that had been through this process.

During this time at MacKillop Catholic College my passion for creating community holistically for the student developed further and I began to think about the next steps I should take to really make a difference.

I came to the realization that to make a difference and to harness the passion I have for incorporating spirituality within the curricula I would need the advice, education and networking from none other then the Jesuits – so I packed my bags and headed back to America.

(Ok, that sounds a little to easy – it was far more complicated than that. I had to decide where I wanted to do my Master’s and whether it was worth it. Then I had to apply and I decided that I loved the innovation and intelligence of the Bay Area so I applied for schools in the Bay Area only. The first school to get back to me was Santa Clara University and they also offered a scholarship – I took it as a sign and jumped at the opportunity.)

I commenced my Master’s in Pastoral Ministries: Spirituality at Santa Clara University in January of 2013. Through these studies I developed an understanding on how to create a positive future for the youth of tomorrow. I lived on campus as a Spiritual Facilitator for students in a Dorm Hall (the famous Dunne) while I studied.

I also began a program on campus where I took students to downtown San Jose (St. Jame’s Park) and we provided hospitality and kinship to those experiencing homelessness. (You can read more here) I believe the program still runs strong today!

At the same time I worked as a teaching assistant in the undergraduate course the Christian Tradition and Ignation Spirituality.

I had grand plans to lead teachers and students to incorporate Spirituality into the classroom. I knew that to do this successfully I needed the knowledge and contacts from pioneers in Universities that practice these methods. And so I did. My aim was and is to build on this knowledge to help me bridge the gap of Spirituality in Education that I have seen in Australia.

NB. Incoming soliloquy:
I believe that pastoral application for the implementation of spirituality is a need that has grown out of our Western Society’s de-spiritualisation of the individual. There are many reasons that have led to this ‘Wintry Season’ such as the rise of the internet, video games, ease of access to movies and social media, increased scientific and historical education and great improvement in lifestyle quality that has led to satisfied material needs, to name only a few.

However, the individual yearns for the need to belong to a community, to feel an authentic connection. These individuals have everything they need in a materialistic sense; however, there seems to be something missing.

Students that I have entered into conversations with have talked of a burning feeling inside them: where they have everything that they want but are still not happy. This is a growing trend. If society is not a garden of spirituality spoon feeding our youth, then we need to teach our youth to find their spirituality.

The great theologian Rahner states that currently the church is going through a wintry season. People from all walks of life are turning away from the church towards other spiritual means or values that fill the individual.

This has lead to the evolving idea of being ‘spiritual but not religious’ – this is becoming more popular in the world with previous religiously practicing youth becoming a part of the religious ‘nones’.
The catalysts for this growing view of the youth becoming ‘nones’ are many and varied. Today one in six people are described to be spiritual alone even though affiliated with a religion.

The consequence of this shift ripples throughout the community. The youth do not have a spiritual and committed support network around them in a time where they need it most. Due to the rapid rise in information availability on the internet people have access to education that previously has never been possible.

In 1984 only 8.2% of people had a computer at home compared to 75.6% in 2011. (Census)
I believe that the school curriculum needs to focus on spirituality within the classroom. By saying this I don’t mean a standard religious instruction class when a representative of a particular faith comes in to teach the class about Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha every week; but a holistic, tangible, interactive learning experience to spirituality that incorporates not only religion but also society.

So, by now you’re probably asking have I done it?

Yes and no. Since graduating in 2015 I have worked for two organizations in the Bay Area (you can find me on LinkedIn here and I’d welcome you to add me and provide feedback on what you think of my plight).

On my LinkedIn profile it explains what I’ve achieved so far and in all honesty I don’t really like to talk about my achievements that much (the pitfalls of growing up in Australia, to not talk about yourself and to knock the tall poppy down). However, what I will say is that I’m proud of the work that I’ve done so far.

  • I’ve developed and lead retreats to students, academics, adults searching for meaning in their life and so much more (I will start a business to do this in Australia).
  • I currently work in one of the best schools in the country teaching, leading and directing retreats and incorporating holistic spirituality within this realm.
  • I’ve partnered with Facebook, Google, GoPro, Salesforce, Bank of America,, Genentech, Various venture capitalists, Netsuite and many more to integrate community service and compassionate responses to those in the marginalized through generating programs.
    I’ve developed my own travel social media business that I’m excited to develop further.
  • In true Bay Area style if anything that I’ve done interests you let’s connect. I’ve found that working and collaborating with others is such a great way of increasing the passion in your work and connecting with others who are interested only heightens success.

Hardest thing about moving here?

Oh that’s easy. The lack of sausage rolls 😳jokes, that is hard but it’s not the hardest.

Expecting that the American culture is similar to the Australian culture. We’re soooooo different ie: Australians can be brass and say it as it is, Americans (or more precisely Californians) are tactful in the way they respond. I think this is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it’s nice just to hear how it is, however, if that person has no idea what they’re talking about it can be frustrating.

And bloody guns, I hate the gun culture in the USA. Even as I’m writing this there has just been a shooting in synagogue in Pittsburgh. It’s ridiculous and every time this happens I want to share this by comedian Jim Jefferies. And it happens too much. I listen to his podcast and he says that his ratings go up when shootings happen due to this comedy piece. Even he hates that this happens.

Also the fact that I work in a school in America and more students have died in school this year than active military personnel in the army is ridiculous.  this should not be happening. Students should 100% feel safe about moving here.

Finally, it would be not being so close to family and friends. That’s quite difficult. I dearly love my family and friends and when you can’t be there for a birth, wedding, special occasion it can cut pretty deep.

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

Too many too count! Here’s a few:

  • Seeing the Utah desert and camping under the stars.
  • Having the opportunity to slide down a fireman’s pole in a San Francisco Fire Station (not a euphemism).
  • Seeing Paul Simon at the Greet Theatre in Berkeley.
  • Walking the Lost Coast Train and driving through the Avenue of the Giants.
  • Seeing Van Morrison in Oakland (even though he wasn’t super great live I still rate it).
  • Attending the women’s march in San Francisco after Donald Trump was elected.
  • Becoming a Labyrinth Facilitator and walking the Labyrinth in Grace Cathedral.
  • Ice skating in Union Square.
  • Driving Highway 1 to Big Sur, Hearst Castle and all the other great stops.
  • Winning flights to Australia.
  • Being the voiceover for a trivia show app called Cash Show in Australia.

What impact has being Australian had on your life here? In dating? In work?

Being Australian has been an advantage. In work it’s quite easy to go through an E3 to work here and be fairly free (there are restrictions and that can be so daunting sometimes) to come and go as you please.

I’ve also found that as opposed to Australia I’ve had way more wins here as a female than what I did in Australia.

In general (work and dating) people really like Aussies. They love our accent, they love our culture (thanks to Steve Irwin) and they like our free way of being.

Dating – oh goodness I could write a whole book about this. Dating in America is so different to dating in Australia. In Australia I found that when you would date somebody you’d end up moving in together after 3 months, then things would just get serious from there.

In America I’ve known people who’ve been together for 8 years and are still living separately and have no concrete future plans (oh, and BTW I’m not saying either is correct it’s just what I’ve noticed). A lot more people are on apps in America and American’s tend to date many people at once to begin with.

Most American thing you’ve experienced in your time here?

Probably Halloween and Thanksgiving. Both of these holidays are great and I fully embrace them. Picking pumpkins at a pumpkin patch in Half Moon Bay could be one of the most American things I’ve done. I’ve been here for 6 years though so there’s quite a few that I’m probably forgetting.

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

Just. Do. It.

Any additional comments?

I’d suggest maybe encouraging people to follow on the platforms they are on. So people can follow me or friend request me here:

I’d also recommend a question of how have you grown as person (and professionally) or what have you discovered about yourself since being in America?


Christian Thurston


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