Exchange Postcard

Second time around

Twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in an international teaching exchange. At the time I was living in Yellowknife, the capital of the northwest territories (think of a very cold version of Alice Springs), where I had my first job as a high school science teacher.

Our intrepid exchange partner was from Melbourne and was keen to venture to the remote corner of Canada’s sub-Arctic. And so, with my wife Nancy, and our two year old toddler Ella, we left the comforts of our regular life and routines to embark upon what proved to be an adventure of a lifetime.

A couple of years ago Nancy and I – now at the other end of our professional and domestic child raising years – began to muse about the prospects of returning to the land of down under for another go – but, this time with our Aussie-conceived 19 year old son, William and Ella will join us for a visit in May once uni is over.

We live in Edmonton, which is the provincial capital of Alberta – home to our beautiful Rocky Mountains, where many an Aussie on their gap year has found gainful employment on skis and in the service industry. At home, I teach at Strathcona High School, which is a public school with approximately 1500 students.

More students at Strathcona take the university credit Advanced Placement Program than any other school in Canada. Apart from its strong academics, it is also known for tremendous arts and sports programs.

We are certainly older and wiser since our first exchange. Having done this before we feel better able to manage the trials and tribulations of packing up our lives for the year (oh, the decluttering!), and embracing the challenge of living and working overseas for a year.

This, despite constantly battling a level of exhaustion that I haven’t experienced since – apart from my first exchange – my first year as a teacher. As the principal reminded me yesterday, not only is there the challenge of starting a new job and getting to know a batch of new students and colleagues, but there is the added challenge of doing it in a different country – in sweltering humid conditions, I might add. Although we have apparently missed the coldest winter in 40 years (the average temperature last month was -20 degrees). But like the Melbourne exchange – these ephemeral inconveniences will only vaguely register later, foregrounded instead by the incredible, life changing experiences that we have already had.

For instance, last Saturday morning Nancy and I decided to camp in the Blue Mountains for the weekend. I have to say, heading down the road to the nearest train station hand-in-hand with our backpacks on made us feel like we were 20 years old again. And, then there is our weekly crewing on racing boats at the local sailing club. Catching glimpses of the iconic Harbour Bridge as you pass by it while learning a completely different skill set is truly exhilarating.

And then there is the school. I had a pretty good sense that Domremy College would be a special place from what my exchange partner Rebecca Morrice conveyed to me prior to arriving about the terrific students and staff who I am proud to call my colleagues.

Domremy is a truly special place to work. I must admit to choking back my emotion during one of the first assemblies when the girls were practising hymns for the upcoming liturgical celebration. I have never before witnessed an assembly where a whole student body completely lose themselves through the power of music. And then there was the swimming carnival a couple of weeks ago.

To watch 600 students effusively cheer on their classmates and teachers was fantastic. As I discovered, 50 metres in the pool is a long way. I came home that day and told Nancy that in my 25 plus years as a teacher, the carnival had to be one of most fun school activities I have had the pleasure of participating in. These are just two examples that exemplify the incredible spirit and sense of pride that Domremy nurtures – a character that spills over into the classroom and makes me honoured to call it my school for the year. To think we just booked tickets to Cairns for the upcoming holidays. As they say, time flies when you are having fun!

Andrew Hodgkins
on exchange from Edmonton Alberta to Domremy College Fivedock.