Husband and wife teaching duo ChyAnne and Neil Finney swapped whiteouts for wipeouts on their beach exchange to St Michael’s Primary in Nowra, NSW.
The Canadian family of four (they have two sons, 7 and 5) arrived in the heat of the Australian summer, calling it a fair swap for the bitter Canuck freeze they left behind in their hometown of Orillia, Ontario.
“We live in an area that is considered a snow belt,” Neil said.
“I know that they have multiple feet (of snow) at the moment and it’s getting down to minus 40.”
Through the long and heavy winters, Orillia is landlocked between two vast coastlines and is best described by the Finneys as “cottage country”, a popular vacationing spot for outdoor lovers, and only an hour’s drive to Toronto.
And though their exchange home in Nowra may look less like the frozen wilds of Ontario, it did come offer a chance to meet some interesting guests.
“We had alpacas when we first moved in,” Neil said with a wry smile.
The country-style home even includes a dam, and their peruvian paddock pets were on loan from the local high school for the first few weeks.
Work-wise, ChyAnne is currently teaching full-time at St Michael's, while Neil, who is also a principal back in Canada – is hoping to secure some casual work at the school or the local high school – just as soon as he receives his work ticket from the DEC and CEO.
On weekends, the family loves to explore, spending some of their time dolphin-spotting and kayaking in Jervis Bay. But it’s the birds that still stand out for them.
“The birds here are full on here,” Neil said.
The Finney’s had only seen cockatoos in the pet shop back home, instead of outside their windows, making a mess in the cirtrus trees.
The Finney’s Canadian home backs onto a state forest with plenty of mountain biking trails to keep their exchange family happy – but no bears – well not that they know of.
“There might be some bears around where we live”, ChyAnne said.
“But we’ve never seen one.”
And while the bears may stay hidden in Orillia, there are skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and even the occasional skittish wolf to contend with, the Finneys said.
“But not close enough to do any damage.”
“When it changes into our spring and summer, they are going to see more a lot wildlife than they’re used to seeing.”
The family hopes to visit Uluru, Melbourne, Canberra and the Great Barrier reef during their exchange year. As for now, they only offer Sydney the highest of praise.
“Easy, safe, great,” ChyAnne said. “The Opera House is only minutes walk from our interview.
“You couldn’t take enough photos. It’s just incredible.”
You can follow the family on their adventures through their blog at: