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Ontario Canada : A Life Changing Experience

Gabrielle Stroud from St Patrick's Primary School in Bega writes about her life changing exchange at St Paschal Baylon Catholic School in North York, Ontario.

I believe that a good teacher is always learning - about themselves, the world, their students and more. And whether you believe that or not, going on exchange is going to literally throw you into the role of a learner. Everything you thought you knew, everything that was secure and comfortable, everything you thought you were - is about to be challenged.

Going on exchange forces you to open your eyes to the world around you, forces you to adapt, change your ways, accept change, listen, flex, grow and ask questions. From the moment you board the plane, life is not as you once knew it!

It's better!

In fact life could almost be divided into two time zones, Before Exchange and After Exchange. I'm serious - that's the affect it has on your life.

My husband was not as eager as I was to exchange - he's not a teacher and he was in a comfortable rut. After a serious round of winner takes all "rock-paper-scissors" challenge - I came out the victor. We were off to Toronto for 12 months!

It wasn't always easy - in fact at times it was a struggle. Keeping up with the drinking of the other Aussies on exchange was probably our hardest task. Although having said that I think my husband would argue that shovelling a foot of snow from the driveway in -35 degrees was probably quite difficult as well.

Then there was the travelling. Niagara Falls, New York, the Rockies, Quebec City, Vancouver, Paris, Miami, Halifax, Montreal... knowing where you were when you woke up was almost a crisis.

Naming local animals, learning to drive, eating enough Tim Horton's to last a lifetime, spending all our money on souvenirs and remembering to email loved ones at home almost proved impossible.

But seriously we learnt so much. About ourselves, our relationship, our professions... about others, about friendships, about the beautiful country of Canada and more. With a lifetime of memories we returned reluctantly to Australia confident and more aware of ourselves, hugging our memories to us, feeling grateful for all we had to return to and making a promise to ourselves to try and live each year like it was an exchange.

But of course you can't. A year on exchange is a chance to leap out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. It's a chance to take risks, travel, meet people and learn more. It takes you back to your youth where you believe that anything is possible and you are capable of achieving all you set out to do.

As I said, being on exchange makes you a learner.

So, if you are thinking about an exchange and you are willing to become a student in your own life then GO FOR IT! 

The Fifth Month : Spring in Edmonton

Nicole Delbridge is on exchange from Broughton Anglican School in Menangle Park to Edmonton, where the people are friendly and welcoming, the Rockies are nearby, and the river helps make up for the absence of ocean.

The trees have leaves!! Green is such a lovely colour after months of white. The weather continues to stay reasonably warm. We have had several days of rain over the last couple of weeks.

This month has been quite busy. I spent a great weekend skiing at Marmot Basin. I saw many elk, deer and big-horned sheep. The bears and moose remained hidden. The photo was taken at a small lake near Jasper. That is the Rocky Mountains in the background.

One Saturday I joined most of the other exchange teachers who are in and around Edmonton to visit a nearby town. We enjoyed a nice lunch and look around a museum and then went to visit a Hutterite Colony. The Hutterites are a group similar to the Amish, but they use modern farm technology. They were very welcoming and were happy to show us around their property and share their lifestyle with us.

My class have survived the first round of provincial and board exams. We only have 2 more to go and they are not for a few weeks. School finishes for the "year" at the end of June, so we are getting into that "end of year" business. It feels quite odd to preparing for the end of the year in the middle of the year! We also have acquired a cricket bat. One of my students is from an Indian family, who are naturally quite keen on cricket and are happy to lend us their cricket bat occasionally.

We have just had a four-day weekend. The Monday was Victoria Day and the Friday was a "day in lieu" granted to all Edmonton Public School teachers in recognition of time spent out of regular school hours for parent-teacher interviews and report writing. I used my weekend to join an Alberta centenary event. I joined a 300km canoe trip. It took us 3 days and yes I paddled the whole way. The canoes were at least 22 feet and had at least 6 paddlers. There were 8 boats in the fleet. Our mission was deliver two elk skins and two beaver pelts to the Queen's representative according at the original charter drawn up between the Hudson Bay Company and King Charles (? I think). It was quite fun, despite at least 8 hours of paddling a day. Towns that we passed through welcomed us and provided delicious meals. While travelling down the North Saskatchewan River we found patches of snow still on the riverbanks in a few places. The trip started at Rocky Mountain House and finished in Edmonton. This was certainly an interesting way to see the country and I did finally get to see beavers.

I have also joined one of the church slo-pitch teams (like baseball, only with slow pitches!). We have won two out of three games so far and my playing is improving.

The next month will be quite busy with report writing, organising my Summer holidays and enjoying a visit from my Dad and his wife.

Why an Exchange? Why Not an Exchange?

Initially going on a teacher exchange was my idea and it was to be the UK as our first choice but as my husband warmed to the idea he posed the thought ..."What about Canada??" And what a thought that turned out to be!!!

It was the breathtaking scenery, wildlife and of course the snow that first caught our attention but after twelve months of being immersed in Canadian culture our ties ran much deeper than that.

Our new home was in the beautiful city of Orillia, Ontario. As promised there was plenty of cold snow but also some very warm neighbours and colleagues to make us feel more than welcome. We found the Canadians to be overall very friendly people who were most interested in hearing all about the land down under. We have since made some life long friends who we still keep in regular contact with.

During the twelve months while we were away there was certainly never a dull moment. We really hit the jackpot in Orillia - set on two lakes and an hour & a half from Toronto one way (the capital of the province) and one hour from "cottage country". Cottage country comprised of lake after beautiful lake, abundant wildlife and vast provincial parks - perfect for hiking. Not to mention the many seasonal festivals and the local markets occurring year round. Our travels also included visiting the famous Niagara Falls, the Canadian Rockies with glacial fed lakes and snow capped peaks. We also engaged in many winter sports such as x country and down hill skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, ice skating, broom ball, curling, tobogganing, dog sledding and we even went on a sleigh ride pulled by horses to collect our Christmas tree!!!. Canada really had it all!! There's something quite remarkable about x country skiing across a lake in the winter and then canoeing across it in the summer!!

The Canadian school year is structured perfectly to make sure we didn't miss a thing. The nine week "endless" summer was just right for us to have plenty of rest and play!! Although admittedly the long terms do take some stamina!

We found the Canadian exchange rate to be very close to the Australian and the cost of living wasn't too different either. Obviously our heating bill was higher but things evened out through the summer.

Now of course the centre of our exchange was no doubt my school, Monsignor Lee Catholic School. From my first day to my last I was welcomed with open arms, I was really made to feel a part of the school community. No one ever hesitated to offer help or advice and they were all quite proud of the way I so quickly became acclimatised???There was a real sense of Christianity within the school. Once I had mastered the art of dressing twenty odd kindergartners in their snow suits I almost began to feel like one of the locals!!! I had many opportunities to receive professional in service and I learnt a lot about the Kindergarten curriculum. Participating in Winter Carnival days and celebrating Halloween were certainly eye openers too!!

Finally I really need to mention the fact that not only did we meet many wonderful and amazing Canadians but we also came into contact with many others on exchange including Aussies, kiwis, Irish & Scottish. These people also helped to make the year the truly amazing one it was!!!

So, my advice? Just do it!! Yes there is some initial organisation and worries but if you put in a lot of enthusiasm and are ready for anything then it will certainly be a year like no other, perhaps the best year of your life!!!!

Marista Cartan - from Tamworth NSW to Orillia Ontario

A Year on Teacher Exchange in Canada by Luciana Ciaccia

Why go on Teacher Exchange? Looking for excitement, travel, romance or a sea change? Then why not participate in the Teacher Exchange Programme and go to one of the many countries currently available to Australian teachers, writes Luciana Ciaccia.

I have to be honest and say my prime motivation for doing an exchange to Canada was to spend time with my brother and his family. A minor, but just as important, reason was to experience the execution of our profession in another country.

The year provided a number of social, spiritual, professional and personal challenges for both myself, and those I shared it with, and proved to be an inter and intra personal journey.

I participated fully in the school life of All Saints, an elementary catholic school in Toronto. Although the students, and some parents, didn't always exhibit qualities true to their school's namesake, they were, in all, much like students and parents anywhere. It was not an easy year for the school as we coped with the many dramas related to a new school being constructed on site. This meant restricted playground access, using the gym and the library as classrooms, teaching with constant external noise and at times 'mud and slush' everywhere. A wonderful sense of humour shared by all helped to relieve many a tense moment during the process and we finally moved into the new building in late November.

The teachers' patience was further tested when after going on a 'Work to Rule Campaign'(Toronto-wide), they had to endure being 'Locked Out' for two and a half weeks by the Toronto Catholic District School Board. This meant they could not set foot on school property, even though they were required to turn up everyday, and could not participate in any school related events. Fortunately, the students stayed at home and a skeleton staff made up of the Principal and Vice Principal, the school secretaries, the caretakers, the teachers' aides and myself reported in each day and endeavoured to maintain the teachers' morale. We did this by providing a variety of refreshments for them before they set off to that particular day's picketing destination. From a union perspective it was a great show of solidarity and comradeship, even though for many it meant hardship at the loss of both family incomes for the entire period.

The 'Lock Out' coincided with an extremely busy May during which the Year 8 students were preparing for Confirmation and Graduation. Those of us "Locked In", as it were, undertook the preparation of the many aspects related to both ceremonies and the rehearsal of the children. The teachers did miss Confirmation, being able only to attend Mass but not help the students, but were fortunately back at school to oversee the Graduation Ceremonies.

As it happens the school was very close to my brother's home and this afforded me the luxury of dropping in several times a week to dine, cook, share an outing, help bath the kids or read a bedtime story. I never take for granted how privileged I was able to be part of their life for a year, or how lucky I was to have someone I knew intimately to greet me when I arrived in freezing conditions or to call on in an emergency. My neighbours were also great and helped out with orientation in the area, snow blowing and trips to the local doctor on just a few occasions.

2003 was not a particularly good year for Canada in many ways with the negative effects brought on by the SARS outbreak, the West Nile mosquito virus and the

'Mad cow' disease fiasco. None of this affected me directly and it never dampened my desire to travel and experience as much of the country and culture as possible.

Canada's close proximity to Europe meant I could also manage a holiday to Italy during the summer. Unfortunately, on my return from Italy I broke my wrist but I also experienced the miracle of life in the arrival of a new niece.

I happened to be in Toronto when the North American Electricity Grid collapsed and we experienced a severe Black Out for 24 hours and then rolling Power Outages for up to five days. Many places in Ontario did not have power restored for over a week.
It served as a reminder on just how much modern society depends on electricity. All stores were closed for several days and even the petrol pumps stopped.

Although all this seem very negative, in reality, it is just all part of the life experience wherever you are. 2003 wasn't such a great year in Canberra, either. It all contributes to building resilience and, with faith and courage, the willingness to let go and move forward.

I took full advantage of the variety of activities organised by CLEE (Canadian League for Exchange Teachers). This not only gave me the opportunity to explore parts of Ontario on the cheap and to do outdoors stuff, but to bond with my fellow exchangees, including non Aussies. Sharing our stories was one of the highlights of the whole experience.

There were many other great things about an exchange to Canada. In particular, its close proximity to the USA, banks that stayed open 'til eight, the best shopping in the northern hemisphere with an incredible number, and variety, of discount outlet stores, shops that stayed open 'til nine Monday to Friday, cheap petrol prices and the distinctive seasons, even the snow! There were many opportunities, for those who wanted it, to experience the 'wilds' of Canada such as hiking, canoeing, skiing, dog sledding, observing wildlife and viewing spectacular scenery. One of the things I loved most was learning about the history and culture of the First Nations people and I did go dog sledding! What a buzz!

Among the good advice we were given before we left Australia was to be open, flexible, diplomatic and friendly, and, 'If you expect it to be like home then don't go'. Well, it isn't home and it is different. Accepting this from the beginning will make all the difference between a 'good' or 'bad' exchange. If you're considering an exchange you need to be open to the possibilities it presents and embrace all the experiences, positive and negative. If you do this you will walk away with a tapestry of memories that will weave themselves into a wonderful rug rich in texture, colour and design. It is a great way to experience another culture and the truly interesting and amazing things that a country has to offer.

Our Year in Canada (Briefly) (The Australian Manning's Perspective)

Thomas Wolfe says You Can't Go Home Again...

I was reminded of Wolfe's famous novel as I began planning my second teaching exchange to Australia.  I wondered, would this experience in Oz be different?  Would I remember Australia as fondly, and should I even attempt, to go "home" again? 

While Australia is not my home, the title is still appropriate and worthy of a pause to consider the question, can you go home again? Wolfe's novel challenged me to consider if I could fondly revisit my much loved "home" after twelve years away.  Australia would have changed in that time.  I know that I certainly wasn't the same person. There was a lifetime of new memories and new experiences for both of us. 

We all know that a summer romance is never quite the same once winter arrives. What would it be like to meet Australia again? I worried that our next meeting might be awkward?  Would we avoid each other's eyes and stumble to fill the silence, or would there be a warm and genuine embrace?

During my first teaching exchange I was at an elementary school, St. Agatha's in Pennant Hills.  I was living in the western suburbs of Sydney, it was 2000, it was the Olympic year and I was exciting about the energy of the city and the energy of the country.  

Looking back, so many things were new to me, so many things, were a surprise. While I could bore you with hours and hours, or in the case pages and pages of narrative, I won't.  The year away, the new friends that I made, and the many things that I experienced, made it, in a word, fantastic.  At this very moment simply recalling the events is making me smile.

The 2012 exchange would take me to Pambula Beach, NSW.  If you were to draw a line between Sydney and Melbourne along the coast and then find the middle of that line, you would be in Pambula Beach.  

It is a small coastal town with amazing beaches and kangaroos in the back yard. I had visited the area in 2000 on a teacher exchange weekend and I remembered it to be beautiful. On this second teacher exchange while many things would be familiar, certainly the small town living would be new.  

I would be teaching in a High school setting at Lumen Christi College.  The school itself did not even exist when I last taught in Australia in 2000.  The building, a former bowling club was now a vibrant school with a brand new elementary wing.  The energy to Sydney was to be replaced by the majesty of the Sapphire coast.  I was excited to be Pambula Beach the iconic Australian coastal beach town.

I signed on the dotted line and the chaos of a teacher exchangee's life commenced. I will hit the fast forward button and tell you that the year away was, once again, fantastic.

But what of Thomas Wolfe's famous novel and my concern about going home?  It is here that I must make my apologizes to Mr. Wolfe for appearing to contradict him, but yes Mr. Wolfe, I say that you can go home again.  Unlike George Webber the character in the novel, in my return home, I was greeted by an old friend.  

We have both grown up and changed but Australia and I were still the best of friends.  Of course, it is never the same experience but it is still special.  Just like two old friends getting back together after years away, you spend some time revisiting old memories, you take the time to make new memories.  For me, the second exchange was an opportunity to revisit special places like the Great Barrier Reef and to wonder off to different parts of the neighbourhood like Tasmania. It also afforded me the opportunity to take a different pace, to pause a bit longer and to be a greater part of the community.

Thank-you to everyone from Lumen Christi and the Pambula Beach community, 2012

Thank-you to everyone from St. Agatha and the Sydney community, 2000.

Thank-you to the teacher exchange community especially to Helen Gregory Independent Education Union NSW ACT and Carol Wilkins Teacher Exchange Coordinator, Canadian Education Exchange Foundation. 

Thomas Wolfe said, "I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once."   When it comes to Australia and that special friendship, I saw it once but I wish to see it, a thousand times more. 

Looking forward to the next visit "home".

Michael Corcoran

Toronto, Canada

United Kingdom

The UK Experience - Two Teachers' Tales

Paul Stampton - on exchange from Leongatha to Kettering, Northamptonshire

Personally, I had never worked in another secondary school, having come from TAFE teaching and industry, so the change from a small country Catholic school to a large town government school was most rewarding and valuable. As Science Co-ordinator, it was good to do a whole year of science as I teach a typically varied range of subjects in my small school.

I had a family of five and we were able to travel for 20 plus weeks visiting many countries and regions as a result of the economies of scale that results from the extended stay of an exchange ie we bought a motorhome and insured it for a year and travelled through Europe as it is so close by.

The initial period of work was hard (OFSTED inspection two weeks into the exchange!) as was getting the family used to the new schools etc. My wife took two weeks to obtain employment which was great as we would have found it a bit hard financially in the UK without her working.

But overall, it was a great experience for my family, we would recommend the exchange program to colleagues and given the opportunity, I would do it all again!

Bronwyn and Wayne Gill - on exchange from Newcastle to Semilong, Northamptonshire

The UK is a fantastic destination. We loved what it had to offer. We did very well financially and feel people are misinformed about how much it costs to live there. We have found many things more expensive since being back in Australia. Food items have been about the same, if not cheaper on some items, especially fruit and vegetables. The choice of food is unbelievable; prices vary considerably with the supermarket you go to.

Travelling to Europe is so close; we have been to Greece, Eastern Europe, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland. Travelling in the UK is so easy - petrol is expensive but distances are quite short compared to Australia. The road system is very good; we were in Northamptonshire in the Midlands, about 60 miles north of London; it was so central that we are able to find a new area to visit every weekend.

There are so many beautiful places in the UK; you just never get tired of the beautiful villages or the country scenery. Don't just think of Europe when you plan your holidays.

The exchange experience has given me a new appreciation of how well we do things at my Australian school and what great teaching conditions we have. I came home feeling revived and enthused.

The Exchange Conference held in Belfast in March is an absolute must! We can't stress enough how good this was and that you must not miss it. Information on the conference will be forwarded to you by the League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers.

Join the Youth Hostel - especially if you have a family and you don't mind this sort of accommodation. We joined on the internet when we arrived and they gave us two free nights' accommodation; use your UK address to join the England and Wales Association. Some hostels are in great locations for natural environment visits; city hostels are less appealing - can be busy and noisy.

The exchange program is fantastic - the "darkness" of the days was hard to cope with at first; the cold was not a problem. Remember you are arriving at the worst time of the year; it isn't the cold but the short days; you go to school in the dark and come home in the dark! Choose carefully the distance of the school from where you live; commuting is hectic and even harder in the dark of winter; but still, we would recommend the exchange program!

United States

Colorado Kate Realises Artistic Dream

I am on a teacher exchange in Denver, Colorado. A medium sized city in the United States that is partially arid desert, snow capped ski fields and suburbia. And, Jean Claude and Christo are celebrating New York City with an Installation entitled The Gates.

So anyway I am teaching in a massive co-ed state senior high school in a suburb in the Denver metro area called Thornton.

Horizon High School has a 2200 strong student population (and growing) and about 200 staff. The art department is a vibrant, enthusiastic faculty in the school who teach Studio Practice. Painting, Drawing, Ceramics, Photography and Sculpture and Art integration - that is where I come in.

Art is integrated into the Core and elective subjects as a way to bring the Visual Arts into the everyday classroom. Today I taught an art history lesson on the Renaissance and completed it with a practical lesson on Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors and an anamorphic drawing lesson. So here comes the dream part.

The art department (Suzi Melly and Kim Colegrove), my husband (Grant Shortis) and my two kids (Zachary-7 and Imogen-3) traveled to NYC. It was the President's Day long weekend, it was also the last viewing weekend of The Gates in Central Park!

So I managed to convince Kim and Suzi to take a Professional Day on Friday and come with us (twisted arms!) to Central Park. We were driving - 30 hours straight through the night. This is unbelievable the experience of knowing Christo was only so far away. Thursday night was Parent Teacher night, so 7.30 couldn't come any earlier. Finally, Teachers in tow, home to our exchange house to a rented Dodge Mini van that seated 7 people and we were off.

Portable DVD player playing Mary Kate and Ashley's New York Minute and great enthusiasm and laughter for this 30 hour non-stop drive we were to undertake. Though Kansas (with many Dorothy items for sale in Truck Stops), St Louis, Pennsylvania (yes, Hershey does smell like chocolate) and Pittsburgh (no time for Andy's gravestone) into New York.

The Holland Tunnel was jam packed into NYC on this Saturday lunch time. We drove into our favourite city, Lady Liberty shining in the winter sun and The Gates as bright and gorgeously saffron as we had expected. The afternoon, night and morning were spent checking out the fabric, the folds, the sizes, the posts, the feeling and of course photographing (three art teachers!) and then, back to Colorado. Another 30 hours through cities and states only days before visited to be back at school for Tuesday morning classes (school starts at 7am!).

To experience an installation of this magnitude was inspiring and with many photos to share this was an unbelievable teaching experience never to be forgotten. This was our second trip to the big Apple in the 3 months we've been here and with 9 months still to go, here we come NYC.

Kate Coleman
Art Integrator
Horizon High School
Aka Visual Arts Coordinator, Bethany College.