Dad, can we get a dog?

Steve Wierzbicki is on exchange from Collingwood, Ontario, Canada, to Xavier College, Skennars Head, Northern NSW. He shares his story with us.

Five years ago, I brought up the idea of going to Australia for a one year teacher exchange with my wife, Laura, and our children, Hannah, Michael and Matthew.

It was a great way to hold off on getting a dog. “When we get back from Australia, we’ll get a dog,” I’d often say. Now time is flying – and the kids are researching dogs like crazy!

Getting underway

December 2019 was the first time we heard anything about COVID-19 and we knew bushfires were burning in Australia. It was big international news – there was more news on Aussie forest fires than Trump’s stupidity.

When we landed on 26 January 2020, for our one year teaching exchange at Xavier Catholic College near Ballina, we were excited but felt very empathic, knowing of the fires and floods that preceded our visit.

Two days after landing, I had the pleasure of meeting the legendary Mick Vella, the principal at Xavier. I had heard so many wonderful things about him and how he really understands the importance and value the exchange program has to offer both Canadian and Australian teachers. If I were a Tigers fan instead of an Eels fan, I think we’d be a lot closer.

It was straight into the classroom: full on in a new country, new curriculum, new staff, and driving on the “wrong” side of the road. We had the cleanest windows in NSW.

Coping with COVID

Learning online platforms (Zoom, Gimkit, quizzez, Kahoot etc) and home schooling our own children as well as meetings and schedules at work was almost comical. But once I’d put in a few weeks, all cylinders were running. Coaching basketball at lunch was a blast. The students really know how to play the game!

I had planned to go on many school trips and coach and get certified for rugby so I could take it back to teach and coach it at my school. I’m still hoping to do that.

I have a keen interest in learning Australia’s great sports of rugby, league, and AFL. I want to bring back new physical activities and games to play with our Canadian students (netball, touch footy etc) and in-depth health units and lessons, which are very similar.

Our family is living in Ocean Shores, a beautiful community where we’ve met many lovely people and made wonderful friends. We’ve been exploring the local area frequently as none of the national parks or borders are open. We’ve been to Sydney, Canberra, and Fraser Island – definitely the highlight. We saw an eagle, whales, a manta ray, several dingos, and lots of whacky looking goannas. Sand surfing was a blast.

Australia is definitely not a bad place to be locked down in, and we have no regrets.