It was around this time last year that I first received word of a possible teaching exchange match in Canada. The idea of leaving my home town in Australia where I grew up and have lived and worked almost my entire life for a year alone in a city in Alberta Canada, was an exciting but incredibly daunting prospect.
I made the decision to say yes and make the most of the unique experience to live and work in another country. A teaching exchange has to be one of the most powerful and life changing things that you can be involved in. Lessons are learned both inside and outside of the school environment. Being thousands of miles away from home with loved ones on the other side of the world is not always easy. Like everything in life, it has its ups and downs but there is no doubt that the positives far outweigh those difficult moments.
My exchange is based in Fort McMurray Alberta. Seeing pure white snow blanketing fields, roads, and buildings as the plane landed was a completely new experience. As I walked off the plane into -40 degree conditions over the snow covered tarmac, it was so cold my breath was taken away. It was an experience I would not have been able to comprehend before this moment. I had come from the heat of an Australian Christmas to the depths of a North Canadian winter. On my first day in Fort McMurray it was officially the second coldest place on Earth, only behind a city in Russia.
Having to plug the car into a block heater at night so that it stays warm and starts in the morning was something that seemed strange at first. Driving on the opposite side of the road on snow and ice covered roads where at times your only knowledge of where the road is consists of following the previous cars tracks was terrifying and my experience has not been without a few scary road incidents but thankfully it has all been fine in the end.
I know that I am incredibly lucky to be able to experience a year in another country, another culture, another community where I have the opportunity to not only work and develop relationships but also to travel the country and have amazing experiences at every available opportunity. On a professional level, it has reinvigorated my love of teaching, the change has been refreshing and it has inspired me for my return to Australia in the new year. I look forward to being able to return to my school back home and share the things I’ve learned and come back with a new found enthusiasm.
The exchange brings benefits for both schools with the students being taught by an international teacher who brings fresh perspectives, knowledge and experiences and is able to open students minds to a global understanding. Watching the children put on their snowsuits to go and play in the snow during breaks, sliding down snow covered mounds, building a snowman, making snowballs and sliding on the ice is a very different experience to playground duty in Australia where sun safety is the main focus. My Grade 2 class have been fascinated with all things Australian, they soak up every story I have for them about life in Australia and love the books I brought to share. It is a common occurance to return after a weekend to students sharing the things they researched about Australia over the weekend or to share the story of a relative who once visited Australia.
The best advice I was given was to say yes to every invitation and experience. This has provided me with opportunities I may otherwise have missed out on and has allowed me to build relationships more quickly. On exchange, you must be ready to embrace change. My experiences have helped me to grow and move away from my comfort zone. I have learnt so much about myself personally and professionally even in the four months I have been here which has been a valuable opportunity that will impact many other aspects of my life. Completing the exchange on my own, I had concerns about loneliness too, but luckily I have made some wonderful new friends and have been welcomed with open arms. From the second I arrived off the plane I experienced the kindness of strangers. Canadians truly are such friendly and inviting people with everyone willing to lend a helping hand whenever needed.
A few of my notable experiences have been snowshoeing in Canmore, dog sledding through the Rocky Mountains, ice skating on frozen lakes and rivers, walking snow covered trails, seeing ice castles, trips to West Edmonton Mall, making snow angels and building a snowman, and visiting the phenomenal areas of Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper through the Rocky Mountains. The highlight so far, however, would have to be the incredibly breathtaking northern lights.
I am fortunate to have been placed in a northern city where the aurora takes place on a regular basis which has been very special.
The year so far has been full of new experiences, amazing places and the kindness of everyone I have encountered. As time is already flying by, I am trying to soak up every single moment and to make the most of the opportunity I am fortunate enough to have been given. I look forward to what the next eight months has to offer and, although I had a few reservations before leaving Australia, there are definitely no regrets about taking on this incredible life changing experience.