I'm standing in the center of C Block, right next to the tree that blooms white in the spring and surrounded by the many classrooms that I have taught over the year. It's hot out, as December usually is in Australia. As I stand there I suddenly hear that Bron, the teacher I exchanged with, is over by the canteen and is heading my way. Within seconds she rounds the corner wearing the same Christmas sweater she was wearing at the 'goodbye' assembly she received at Seward Middle School. How wonderful it was for the staff and students to do that - send her off with a grand party to celebrate their year with her. Bron and I see each other, smile, and give each other a big hug. "Thank you, Bron," I say. "Thank you so much. This has been amazing." And then... we let go...and walk away. Suddenly I'm gripped with a thought, "I didn't get a picture of us together! But it is over." And then... I wake up.
A small part of me is laughing right now because whenever my dear friends the Literacy Ladies would come to my Year 7 and 8 classes to teach creative writing, they would always remind the kids that simply having someone "wake up from a dream" or "just die" didn't make for a very strong resolution to the story. Yet, here I am recounting my short little story and concluding that it was a dream. It was the dream I had last night. It is a dream that I've been waiting to have, or a moment anyway that tells me I have moved past the shock of being back in the States and on towards processing the experiences we've had in Australia. For those of you that don't already know, I have never met my exchange teacher face to face. We missed each other by two hours at the Anchorage airport last December. We flew out at 7:00pm, she flew in at 9:00pm. Despite that, we have gotten to know each other both through email and Skype, but more importantly through getting to know the people who have made up each other's lives. I know Bron because I work with her co-workers and live in her neighborhood. My children go to her children's school. We shop at the same stores and drive through the same roundabouts. We and our families have both been through an amazing experience - we went on exchange.
Though we no longer live in Australia, the exchange experience isn't quite over - nor did I ever think for a moment that reentering our old lives would be effortless. We are currently spending a 10 day lay-over on the Big Island of Hawaii, and it is here that I'm starting to notice things. Almost immediately I realized that I sound like everyone else. No more beautiful Australian accent lilting around me. No more Aussie slang words that I had to ask the definitions of. It didn't take long to notice that I once again had to learn to walk on the other side of the sidewalk... the right side, rather than the left. I've also had a couple of mild jolts when the driver of the vehicles I've been riding in pulls onto a road with on coming traffic. My brain does this sudden adrenaline panic alert that we are in the wrong lane, only to realize that... no we aren't. We aren't in Australia anymore.
Our final weeks in Australia were filled. Olin turned 10 years old just before we left so he brought suckers to his class and handed out American quarters to each of his classmates. We goofed on the suckers as Aussies don't call them that and we thought "lollies" (which they are allowed to bring) are the same as suckers - but they aren't. I can't remember what they call suckers, but apparently they aren't allowed in school because they are a choking hazard. Olin's teacher let the kids eat them anyway though.
My experiences during the last couple weeks at school were so full and memorable. I gave a 45 minute presentation to the staff about Alaska and teaching in the Alaskan school system. I was nervous going into it, as I had never done anything like that before, but really started enjoying myself once I got started. I had many teachers let me know that they got so much out of it, which is great feedback. (Thank you!) I also organized three Skype sessions between my Aussie students and the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at Seward Middle. My Aussie Year 8s Skyped with Bron's Seward 8th graders about colonisation of Australia and N. America and its impact on indigenous people. The Skype session followed a pen pal activity we had done on the same topic. My Aussie Year 7s Skyped with Bron's Seward 7th graders about livability of Australia and Alaska which is part of the Year 7 curriculum. Mrs. Scrivo's 6th graders Skyped with two of my Aussie Year 8 students in an interview style conversation. Mrs. Scrivo's students asked such good questions. I was really impressed with their preparation for the Skype session. They were all really rewarding experiences and I'm super happy we were able to make it all happen.
I have so much to write in this last blog post, but as I continue, I start to feel all twisted up... not sure where to continue and how much to say - afraid that I'll forget to mention someone or something. Throughout this entire year I've relied on soundbites to get me through these 'clogs' I feel sometimes when I write. So here are some soundbites.
1. I've stopped counting how many miles/kilometers I've walked to and from work. It stopped mattering. Walking to work became more of a ritual than a feat. I would say that I've probably clocked about 1000 miles over the course of the year (and through the soles of two pairs of shoes), but it wasn't the number that was important. What was important were the birds I saw, the people I met, the friends and family I walked with, and the offers of rides I received. What was important was the quiet time I had where I was left alone with my thoughts, or the deafening drone of the cicadas which reminded me of where I was. I've always loved to hike and walk, but in Australia it became an important part of who I am.
2. The Aussies we met here have an ease and casualness unlike anywhere I've ever been. The staff at Narara were supportive, caring, and understanding. Thank you for your hugs. Thank you for your encouragement. Traci, Annie, Luke, Pam, and Rhonda - thank you for your sincere friendship. TAL Staff, you taught me so incredibly much. Thank you for being there to help me process. Di and the HSIE staff - you introduced me to so many different ways of connecting with these kids. Thank you. Karen, you offered a type of support that helped me to laugh and relax. Leslie, your honesty and belief in me was there from the beginning. Thank you.
3. To my students - especially 8 Heal and 10 Mindil - You have taught me more about Australia and myself than anyone during this entire year. I've already told you individually how much I appreciate you, so I won't go into it here. Just know you are special. Thank you for letting me be your teacher.
4. Ola and Luke. You brought Europe (our home in a different chapter of our lives) to Australia for us. Vielen Dank fur alles, unsere schoenes Freunden. Ich werde immer unsere Tagen auf dem Strand nicht vergessen. Auch, unsere camping reise, wandern durch die Australian Bush, and unsere Konversation mit Wein in der Abends. Danke fur alles. Bis Naechste mal!
5. What I will miss:
6. What I won't miss:
7. And to all of those of you who followed along on my blog, supporting me in my writing and my reflection of our experiences in Australia, thank you. Sometimes it was just knowing that people were reading and enjoying my posts that spurred me on to continue writing through the year. Thank you for all your support.
8. And thank you CITEL (Colorado International Teachers Exchange League) for this amazing experience. It has changed our lives in so many ways. Two days ago, in Hawaii, Olin was having a sad moment and said "I just want to go home." I replied, "Which home Olin - Australia or Alaska?" He didn't have an answer - and that's OK. That's how deeply this experience affected not only him, but us all.
Our exchange is nearly over. The dream I had last night just might have brought it all together in a way more clear than words could have done. Just as I wished I'd gotten a picture in my dream of Bron and me together, there are still things I wish I could stay and do in Australia. But, when the time came, and the hug was over we had to thank Australia and the people there for all they offered us and taught us, and we had to leave. The sun sets on one chapter of our life's adventure and rises on another. I look north to Alaska. 'The mountains are calling.... and I must go.'
The purple flowers are starting to fall off the jacaranda trees. I stroll through their fallen petals on my walk to work sometime pretending that I'm in a far away magical land. I've been joined on my walks to work by friends and family over the last couple weeks. Dad came with me just about every morning that he and my mom were here. I showed him my new route, but he still preferred the old one through the woods and would go that way on his walk home alone. Our friend Matt has joined me a couple of times, and he's been able to see the characters that have become important parts of my morning walking ritual. He has met the tall, lean, old man who walks with a cane in one hand and his other hand on his hip. His face is lined with wrinkles and reminds me a bit of an Ent from Lord of the Rings. Then there is the little lady with her greyhounds. I think she has six now, and has to take two walks every morning so that she can take them three at a time. "Six was too many to walk all at once," she told me. She also has a little mix breed dog that she lets off the leash and stops sometimes to toss it a ball. The docile greyhounds always wait patiently for the little dog to run back with the ball so that they can resume their walk.
"Are you looking forward to being done?" I'm getting this question at school a lot now that the school year is drawing to a close. I have no idea how to answer. And I have no idea how to begin explaining it here.
"Yes. Sometimes," I want to say. Those days when the students are being rude I think of my Seward students and miss home. The days when I feel like hiking a mountain or when I have a sudden urge to smell dried spruce needles (because, you know, those urges just hit people sometimes) I go to the calendar and count how much longer I have to wait.
And, no. No, I don't want to go home. Many of my students here I dearly enjoy and will truly miss. There's the group of Year 8 girls that sit by the corner of my staff room and chirp "Morning Miss! Do we have you today?" I'll miss that. I'll miss the nod of the head my Year 10 boys give me from across the room when I see them in the library or while they are testing in the Hall. Each acknowledging me in their own way. I'll miss the staff here that have supported me so much: the lovely ladies from the land of literacy, the TAL and HSIE staff, and all the other individuals who have smiled my way, offered suggestions, lent me an ear, and puffed wind in my sail when I felt like I couldn't go on.
I just finished my End-of-Year reports, really my last paperwork hurdle before I'm done teaching here. Oddly, I thought I'd be overjoyed when I finished my reports, but my walk home today was a melancholy one. I don't want to be done yet. While walking to school today with our friend Julie, I showed her the part of the trail where I got lost on my first walk home from school. "See how the trail splits and one path leads to the right? Well at the beginning of the school year I used to always just gravitate to the right side of sidewalks and paths because that was what I was used to. When I was walking home on my first day, I was so busy thinking that I just followed the path to the right and got a bit lost."
But now I don't walk on the right anymore. Now, I naturally gravitate to the left of the sidewalks and paths, even the ones covered by fallen jacaranda petals. You know...maybe it's not my imagination. Maybe I am in a far away magical land. The land of Oz - and Dorothy didn't really want to leave either.
So I had grand plans of posting every week of Term 4 as a countdown to our departure. It wasn't really because I'm looking forward to leaving as much as a way to try to get myself to be a little better about posting more frequently. Well, clearly that hasn't worked and I have just finished week 5 with clear omissions of week 6 and 7.
The last two weeks have been really full. My parents arrived on a Friday and met Olin and Alta at their bus stop - a surprise as neither of them knew my parents were going to stop back through on their round-the-world trip. It was so fun to see their faces through the bus window and to watch them leap off once it had come to a full stop (and they had scanned their Opal cards) and race across the grass to Oma and Opa. My dad's response sums up the feeling of the moment. "That was fun! Let's do it again tomorrow!"
That weekend the kids and I took mom and dad on an 8km hike along the Bouddi Coastal Walk. It was a beautiful day and we even saw whales - our first in Australia. Tom met us at the end, fishing on the beach. After a quick snack we threw our hot bodies into the surf.
That week at school Olin had an Oz Tag gala, so we pulled Alta out of school and Tom took everyone (except me - I had to work) to watch. Oz Tag is like rugby league but is played by pulling flags from a waist band - like flag football - not with contact the way traditional rugby is played. Olin scored three Tries (not exactly sure what that means) and my parents said he played well.
That next weekend I took Friday and Monday off and we all piled into the car for a 7 hour road trip to the Snowy Mountains. The top thing on my 'list of things to do in Australia' was to climb Mt. Kosciusko, the highest peak in Australia. So we did! My dad, the kids, and I hiked together (a total of 13 km from the chair lift) and Tom and mom walked together as they both have knee injuries. We all made it! After Dad, the kids and I made it back to the chair lift, I decided I had time to take it all the way down to the bottom of the mountain and hike up to the chairlift to them while we waited for Tom and my mom. So off I went on a quick and steep 4 km hike. It was a grand trip.
Alright - Time for some soundbites
1. Aussies celebrate Halloween, but not even close to the degree that it is celebrated in the states. Olin and Alta went to a Halloween party at the end of our street and then all the kids went from house to house on our street. Our little dead-end street had a lot of houses with candy, which isn't normal I've heard.
2. A lorikeet flew into the library after school on Tuesday. If I ever write a book about my adventures exchanging in Australia (which is unlikely), I thought that'd be a good title.
3. We were treated to our first 'authentic Aussie meal' with our Polish friends. One of our Polish friends is married to an Aussie chef, so they invited us over! During the conversation about foods that are 'truly Aussie' they all agreed that beet root was definitely on the list.
4. My dad has been walking to work with me nearly every morning which I'm going to miss when they leave on Monday.
5. My Year 8 class is going to be Skyping with my exchange teacher's 8th grade class next week. They are going to teach each other about how colonisation impacted Australia (my kids) and North America (Seward kids) and then will ask each other questions about living in Oz and AK!
6. This month we have a whole lot of friends coming to visit from the States. Julie and Matt are flying in from Washington, Justin and Jenelle are visiting from Juneau, and Mel and Drew will be here from Anchorage. Mel and Drew arrived for just a night this week and then took off to go to the Great Barrier Reef. We are really looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with them in a couple weeks when they all show up!
7. The magpies have stopped attacking me on my walk to work. Thank goodness!
8. The cat birds have returned to our area. Now if only the fruit bats would hurry back!
9. Anyone want to buy a car? We'll be selling our 2003 Pajero (236,000 km) next month. It has been super reliable and has taken us around NSW and Victoria without a single problem - well we had a flat tire, but that isn't the car's fault!
10. Today is November 12. On December 17 our Adventures in Oz will end. We have only about a month left, and the feeling we have inside is hard to explain. I'm trying to cherish the passion fruit on my morning yogurt and granola, appreciate every banana tree I walk past in the morning, and cherish the good moments I have with my students - my students, who have taught me so much about life in Australia and about myself.
Week 2 of Term 4 has flown. It was a good week. All four of my classes are preparing for Yearly Exams - which for two of the classes (7 and 8) involves testing them on the material that they learned over the course of the whole year. My Year 9 and 10 classes are working on a couple of fun assessment tasks. My Year 10s are working on one that involves exploring Australian popular culture and how it has influenced pop culture internationally. I have learned pretty quick that this is a ridiculous topic for me to be teaching. Not only am I not Australian, so I have no idea about Aussie pop culture (really, that is something you can only know by living here for a while) but I also haven't had TV (cable) in a couple decades (when I did have it, I was in Germany and we watched British channels like Sky One or military channels like AFN - so I definitely am not in tune with 'normal' pop culture even from the States.) I've also been influenced by my parent's music taste and so don't follow any modern bands or singers. So my Year 10s are having a great time being the 'experts' while I help them as best as I can research for their task.
My Year 9s are doing a cool assessment where they have to compare the change in population between an Aussie city and an Asian city over the last 100 years. I was beyond excited to have found a file that you can upload to Google Earth (they are called KMZ files) where population data was displayed through bar graphs across the entire Google Earth Globe. If you want to try it out on your own computer just click this link and once it downloads and you open it, Google Earth will open with the file's data embedded. It's cool stuff and I was really excited to be able to share it with the HSIE staff so that they could use it with their classes. Google Earth presentation, including timeline and bar charts for individual cities (kmz, 2 MB)
Our family had a long 4 day weekend this weekend as I took Friday and Monday off. We went to the Warrumbungle National Park, which is a place we stopped over for just a night back during our winter break. I had a feeling when I was there last that I would love it in warmer weather and with more time to explore and I wasn't wrong. I feel like I need a bumper sticker like the "I heart the Chugach" bumper stickers in Alaska, but it should say "I heart the Warrumbungles." We had three days there and to make it better, our Polish friends Ola, Niko, and Luke joined us. The first night it poured - our first night of serious rain in all our nights camping in Australia. We grilled at the covered BBQ area for dinner and chatted over wine under their canopy while the kids slept snug in their tents with the pattering of rain lulling them to sleep. The morning came with blue skies and sun and we all took off on a great hike. Really it is up there as one of my most favorite hikes that we've been on so for on Australia. We all walked together for about 5 km, and then Luke, Niko, and Tom turned back while Ola, Olin, Alta and I finished the 14.5 km loop. It is the longest hike my kids have gone on - even in all their Alaskan hikes - and I was so proud of them. We were cruising. The Warrumbungles is an ancient extinct volcano who's magma solidified inside the mountain in columns. Through the millions of years, the mountain around the columns eroded away to leave these pillars of magma scattered around the land. Kangaroo are plentiful and the screeching sulphur crested cockatoos and the prehistoric landscape make for the scene of dinosaur movie.
We had so much fun hanging out with our friends and are really going to miss them when we leave. They have been teaching us words in Polish: yes, no, radish. We are also really enjoying being with people that are foreigners to Australia and that come from an area in Europe that Tom and I spent so much time in. We are familiar with the same flowers that people use in their flower boxes back in Germany and Poland. At one point, Ola's tee-light went out and I tried to get it out of the glass that it was in to relight it. I spilled wax all over the glass and apologized. She said that it was no big deal because it was an old mustard glass. "Hey!" I said. "My parents use old mustard glasses as water glasses!" For those of you that are reading this that have lived in central Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Poland) you'll probably recognize what I'm talking about. I love it. Being with them is like being home in Germany.
On Saturday night we booked a session at the Milroy Observatory where the world's largest public telescope is housed. Saturn. We saw Saturn. It was amazing!!! We also saw a dead star, and a star cluster that was 8,000 light years away. I love the sky here in Australia, and looking through that telescope was like kissing the sky! (I know that sounds kind-of dorky, but the exhilaration was the same.)
1. Luke and Ola made us our first real English breakfast (they used to live in England). Eggs, ham, and beans!
2. On our way home from camping, about two blocks from our house (by the Private Hospital for anyone who knows the neighborhood), we passed a man trying to help an echidna across the road. We don't live in the wilderness, so seeing an echidna cross the road here is definitely something noteworthy!
3. Olin and I spent our morning drinking coffee (me) and cocoa (him) next to a small camp fire with the magma pillars stretching into beautiful morning blue skies and kangaroo grazing on the fresh Spring grass around us.
4. "Heh. That red ant and that green ant were fighting over a bee's butt." - Alta while on a hike
5. "Mom look. A cockroach's head without the body. And it is still alive!" - Alta while on a different hike
6. We learned to find the Scorpio constellation and I really do wish it was visible in the Northern Hemisphere. It is just really neat to see in the sky and you use it to find Saturn, which makes it even cooler.
7. While looking in the telescope at Saturn, a shooting star crossed my field of vision. Guess that doesn't happen very often!
8. Tom is getting some little green tomatoes on his patio garden tomato plant.
9. My parents are coming Thursday of this week! Olin and Alta don't know yet. It's a surprise.
10. I hit a kangaroo with the car.
Enjoy the pics. Ola took some good ones on our hike, so I'll try to post them when I get copies.
Term 4 is here. One week down, 9 to go.
I have just finished my first week of Term 4, and the one statement that I could write that would sum it up is that if all my weeks at Narara Valley High School had been like this week I probably would be doing everything I could to immigrate to Australia. It was hands-down the best week this year. It wasn't that the kids were especially good, in fact I even had my first EVER (like in 12 years of teaching) fight in class (Year 10, 3 boys that all got suspended). But despite that, everything just felt so good. I think there are a couple things coming into play. The first is that the kids have accepted me. Even the principal told me that the first two terms in any Aussie school, but especially this one, can be hard as the kids are putting you through their 'test.' The next is that I'm officially fed up with ding-bat rude kid behavior, have fully embraced the idea that it isn't personal, and have really cracked down on it. Instead of keeping kids for detention where they just sit passively for 10 minutes, I now have them do "school service" where they have to pick up "papers" (garbage) during lunch. Name on the board = 10 papers. Each check = additional 10 papers. I love it because not only do the kids hate it, and therefore seem to be responding with better behavior, but when they do pick up garbage it helps change one thing that I have never really enjoyed about being here - all the litter. I also have discovered a key to having seating charts with a class that meets in 9 different classrooms. Instead of a seating chart for each classroom, I've told certain kids (6 specific boys in my Year 8 class) that they can't sit by each other. No matter what room they walk into, they can't sit near one another. It's awesome!! I've seen such a change so far in their behavior. I hope it continues to work over the course of the next 9 weeks.
Something else to point out about this Term so far is that I'm feeling so much more confident in taking 'risks' the way I did at school in Alaska. What I mean by this is the idea of 'putting yourself out there', or 'trying new things.' I approached Michael, the principal, about doing a presentation to the staff (75 people) about Alaska and our school system. He thought that was a great idea and so will have me present during one of our Wednesday after school meetings. I'm also organizing a Skype or videoconference session between my Year 8s and Year 7s and my exchange teacher in Seward's 7th and 8th graders. I'm also hoping to get three of my Year 8 students to Skype with Seward's 6th grade class. The final thing I wanted to mention is that I've been tasked with writing the open response section of the Year 7 Yearly Exam. Whew! It is actually kind-of fun, but definitely time consuming. I hope to have it finished up this afternoon and ready to go to print tomorrow morning.
Outside of school: We've all been enjoying the summer weather, though it is REALLY strange to see people start to put up Christmas decorations with hot weather, tropical birds, and palm trees all around! It was in the 90s this week and I'm just dripping buckets after my runs in the afternoon. The kids have been enjoying swimming at our friend's pool across the street. This weekend, we went horse back riding (thanks Grace for getting that for us.) I've never been before and always wanted to. My horse was named Dakota, Alta's was Mouse, and Olin's was Halo. That's all for now!
"I hope the dead fly I just found at the bottom of my coffee hadn't been sitting on that dead kangaroo." - Myla
I can't think of anything that I have ever done that has brought my family closer together than traveling, and this trip, I'd say, has been the jewel of our traveling experiences in Australia. Our trip took us all around New South Wales, We made it almost all the way to Broken Hill and down to Victoria and the Great Ocean Road. We at lots of sandwiches, saw lots of animals, and read almost the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy on audiodbook. (14 hours left of it!)
I'm struggling a little in finding the words to describe it all. It is hard to describe the experience of spending all those hours gazing out the car window at the endless kilometers of Outback, feeling the inside of the car windows to get an idea of how hot it was outside, and wondering what it must have been like for the people who first settled out there. It is hard to explain the silence in the car after passing an emu injured on the roadside, attempting to run away from our oncoming car with it's broken leg and battered side. It is hard to describe the sense of closeness and belonging you feel when you, once again, climb into your sleeping bag with your family close around you, their headlamps softly glowing as they read just a few more pages of their books while listening to the wind shake the tent outside.
We bathed in creeks, washed our clothes in sinks, met a wonderful retired couple at a community fire pit, and learned about Victoria's caterpillars who climb trees and spit burning acid on you. Olin and Alta found a $1 coin under the boardwalk at the 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Road and were more interested in retrieving it (to the great amusement of the Asian tourists) than in looking at the world famous attraction. We swept up flies in an old sheep station kitchen, climbed a steep hill to find a grassy opening full of grazing kangaroos, and learned to find koalas by watching for other tourists pulled off along the side of the road. We said 'hi' to some locals at a very remote, hot, and dusty Outback town only to have them simply stare back at us, and we learned to always be aware of how much water we had in our big water jug in the back of the car. We saw racism that I've only ever experienced in history books, and were touched by a type of kindness that I can only imagine is rooted in a culture where people help each other because the environment can be so hostile.
I enjoyed watching our children grow. Every morning they packed up all their own camping gear, and every night they made their own beds at the new campground. At one campground, they wanted to go watch TV at the camp kitchen. When I showed up about 20 minutes later to wash the dinner dishes I found them sitting on a horseshoe couch with 6 teenage girls that all had Down Syndrome. The girls were a part of a retreat and had accepted my kids, as my kids had accepted them, on the big community couch watching TV. (I'll mention that they were all watching a news report on the local weather which made the scene even that more unique!) Olin and Alta learned to navigate holiday parks, started a beer bottle cap collection ('Olin, these bottle caps here are the ones you find in the Outback, while these over here are the ones you find in places like Dubbo.' - Alta), and eventually stopped alerting us all to emu and kangaroo out the window because they just became a normal part of the scenery.
There is so much more to tell, but I'll leave my story there. Enjoy the pictures (and don't forget to click the pictures to see the captions describing them.)
I have a lot to write, but because we are about to take off for two weeks on our big holiday road trip, I can't get too descriptive. So here are some sound bites to help us remember all the fun times we've had over the last couple weeks.
1. Happy Birthday Alta - and yes, a cake can be made at a campground kitchen! All the other campers kept coming by to ask when I was going to invite them to afternoon tea because it smelled so good. Strawberry Shortcake with hand whipped (with a fork) whipped cream. Alta enjoyed her 8th birthday surrounded by our Polish friends.
2. Thank you Grace for the epic dune buggy experience. It has been a highlight of our adventures. I loved watching Olin and Alta driving their own dune buggies and sliding down the dunes on sand boards.
3. Kids got to walk out with the Premiere League Gosford City Football Club team and stand on the field for the Aussie National Anthem before the game.
4. "Dob" means to snitch or to rat somebody out. No matter how much you think you have won over your students they will NEVER dob on their peers.
5. During Term 3, Alta did pottery in her art class.
6. It is starting to warm up. The familiar summer birds are returning. The blue fairy wrens are brilliantly coloured.
7. I saw my first red backed spider. It was crawling across the pavement at school.
8. Saw another red bellied black snake while on a run in the Rumbalara Reserve behind our house. It was basking in the sun.
9. "Mom, I wish I had a time machine so that on Sunday night I could go back to Alaska and it would be Saturday. I'd have a whole extra day in my weekend. Then on Sunday in Alaska I could get back in my time machine and come back to Australia and it will be Tuesday. I'll have one less day in the week that I have to go to school!" The logic of a 9 year old world traveller.
10. I'm currently reading "Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds." I HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone that is going on or has gone on exchange - especially with kids. I also recommend it for Adult Third Culture Kids. I'm learning a lot not only about myself as a ATCK but also about how I am processing being overseas again - especially now that we are 3 months from moving again. I think anyone that has lived between worlds can find tools in this book to help them come to terms with how they feel, what they think, and how they deal with things.
11. I had a student put gum in another student's hair yesterday.
12. Walk to Work Tally - 230 miles (370km).
We are off on our trip! Leaving in 45 minutes. Outback, sheep shearing station, Great Ocean Road, and hours and hours of Lord of the Rings on audiobook planned for the trip I've been looking forward to since we got here.
Australia throws curve balls. Just when you think you've got a pretty good handle on the country, you find out just how much you still have to learn. Take magpies for example. Of all the amazing birds we've seen here in Australia, they aren't one of the prettiest, but their tuxedo look gives them a respectable dapper appearance that I appreciate. That is, however, until Monday. Seems that magpies know exactly when spring starts in Australia. It's like a little internal beacon inside them starts blinking and makes them go all 'James Bond.' Instead of simply sitting on a branch watching you walk by (imagine James Bond sipping a cocktail at a bar), they suddenly flex their muscles, adjust their scopes, take aim, and dive at your head with precision and stealth. I know I probably shouldn't have run - you know that's what everyone says to not do when a bear is chasing you... don't run - but I did (with arms waving), which not only increased the severity of the attack, but probably increased the comedy of the scene for anyone watching. Apparently magpies, like many birds, nest in the spring. They prefer large, open, grassy areas...well at least the one that attacked me does, so I've had to reroute my walk to and from school. All this time, I was worried about being attacked by a man wearing camo and wielding a hunting knife (he was caught by the way). Little did I know the attack would come from above by a crow-size winged tuxedoed torpedo.
There are 10 odd-timed attacks you should be aware of when you visit Australia. This is what I've learned so far:
1. After it's rained: Don't go hiking after it has rained or the leeches will get you.
2. In the morning: Dump out your shoes before you put them on or the funnel web spiders that climbed in will get you
3. When the waves are big and coming from the north: Don't go in the ocean or the blue bottles will get you
4. When the sun is out in the spring, summer, and fall: Be careful about sunbathing snakes
5. At night after it has rained: Wear shoes in the yard or the funnel web spiders will get you
6. Spring: Don't walk alone by ovals (fields) or the magpies will get you
7. Anytime you are having a bad day: Don't walk by kookaburras or they will mockingly laugh at your misery - or at least that's what it feels like.
8. And I'm not sure when the ticks prefer to get you.... but I'm sure it is just about anytime they can find you.
9. Summer: We don't live by jellyfish (oh thank goodness) but I think you can't swim in the ocean or the jellies will get you.
10. At night: Don't swim in the ocean at night or the great white sharks will get you.
Keep those little tips in mind, and everything will be just fine!
On another note, our family had an adventurous weekend. Our soccer season is now over, but Alta's team decided to do a end-of-season party. The plan was to have dinner and then go to Clip and Climb, a local kids rock climbing center. Clip and Climb was awesome! We had a little dilemma with dinner though. Dinner was to be held at Macca's, which for anyone that doesn't know, is Aussie slang for McDonalds. Believe it or not, our kids have never been to McDonalds. Honestly, I think my last time there was in 1995 in Ansbach, Germany when I seventeen. I couldn't bear the thought of Ronald McDonald, yellow and red plastic seating, and gross ball pits that kids slide into in the playground area. And that smell... Augh..... But, I also couldn't be the snob that kept my kids from their end-of season soccer party. So, we went! The kids loved it. I was pleasantly surprised. No red and yellow plastic seats. Everything was a soft brown and silver. They even had these cool touch screen menus that you could order form. It felt just like a cafe... with Happy Meals. I will say though, the burgers didn't look like they'd changed at all.
Ever put a key in a lock, knowing that it's the right key, but find that it just won't unlock the door? You put it in. You pull it out. You put it in again and try to turn it. You even try to turn it while turning the knob at the same time, but to no avail. The door won't open. Then... you take the key out, put it in, turn it and 'click,' it unlocks. I think my 'key' has finally opened the 'lock' to teaching in Australia.
I'm not sure what made it all unfold, but I think it was a number of things all at once.
1. The way Americans say 'emu' is hilarious to Aussies. We say it 'e-moo.' They say 'e-mew.' Yesterday, I had a whole class laughing at me because of my pronunciation.
2. Here you pronounce the 'h' in "herbicide" and "herbs."
3. 'Dune' here is pronounced 'june.' (which I think is hilarious)
4. Today a student told me that I needed to "go back to my country." I was so humored by it that I didn't realize that I should be offended. He got a suspension warning for it.
5. For the first time ever I almost had a fight break out in my class today. A girl fight. It was pretty entertaining to watch, and I managed to get everyone calmed down without any physical contact.
6. I'm starting to realize that the way things are done here is starting to feel normal. The driving and walking on the left isn't anything I even notice anymore. I can understand Aussie speech without much issue at all - even when they use all their slang (like when someone is being a sook or is crook.) It is all starting to feel so... familiar. I know that feeling. I know it from when I lived in Germany. And I know that it is what makes going back home to your old life so difficult.
Recently CITEL, the program I am exchanging to Australia to, has asked that exchange teachers post pictures, blog posts, etc to their Facebook page so that other teachers can get an idea of what some of the exchange experiences are like. This post is a bit of an overview of our experiences so far - we are in month 8 of our exchange.
Our home town is a small coastal town tucked in the fjords in Alaska . Our town has about 3500 people living in it. It has no traffic lights and no fast food chain stores. My family of four exchanged with an Australian family of four (with kids that have similar ages) to the Central Coast in New South Wales. We are living an hour north of Sydney in a beautiful forested and hilly, yet very much urban type of environment. We are 20 minutes from beautiful beaches, and 20 minutes from the bush just west of us. The famous wine area, the Hunter Valley, is about an hour and a half northwest.
My home school has about 120 students in the school and class sizes range up to 26 students per class. We have about 7 teachers at our school. The school that I am exchanging to has about 1000 students, with 77 teachers. Class sizes are up to 30 students. The school here in Australia enrolls many students that come from low socio economic backgrounds, but there are also a wide range of students from all walks of life. The Aboriginal population of the school isn't especially high. I believe there are about 88 students that identify as Indigenous.
Here is a list of things that future exchange teachers might be interested in. Keep in mind that all exchanges are different depending on the school you exchange to.
What I teach:
In Alaska I teach two subjects, 8th grade US history and 7th grade world history. In Australia I teach Year 7 and 8 Humanities and Year 9 and Year 10 History/Geography (HSIE, pronounced "his - ee".) I've had to learn some new content for the courses I'm teaching. Specific things I've had to teach about that are new for me is Polynesian history, Shakespeare, Australian history, and coastal management.
This has been, honestly, the most challenging experience I've had in my professional life. Some days are fantastic. Some days are ones I never want to revisit. (But we have those in our own classrooms back home from time to time don't we?) If you are feeling stagnant, bored, and ready for a challenge, then this might be right for you. I wouldn't exchange what I'm learning here for anything. All of us are learning so much. What I think is interesting is that it wasn't what we thought we'd learn.
Here are some quotes that I have reflected on during my time on exchange so far.
And as someone who has spent many years living overseas, I know that going home after exchange is the beginning of a whole different adventure. This quote, is something I will keep in mind. Of course I'll mention it, but living overseas changes people in a way that others can't always understand.
The Liljemark's enjoy exploring the world. This blog chronicles our adventures.