A postcard from Canada: From the coast to the Rocky Mountains
After 10 years of teaching, Lauren Barclay from Lutheran Ormeau Rivers District School on the Gold Coast recounts her unforgettable experience of taking the plunge to do a teacher exchange at Tuc-el-Nuit Elementary School in snowy British Columbia, Canada.
I have always had dreams of engaging in a teacher exchange experience but the timing had never been right. After discussions with my principal, family and friends and approaching 10 years of teaching, I knew it was time to do it for the 2016 school year.
It was a big decision and I experienced a strange mixture of feelings from fear and nervousness to excitement and joy in the lead up to my big adventure.
I landed in extremely cold and snowy conditions in Penticton, a small town in British Columbia on 28 December 2015 and was greeted by co-workers at the airport. One of the teachers had completed an exchange with her husband in Ballarat a few years earlier.
After sharing a nice dinner together they took me to my new home for the year and I made a snow angel on my ‘lawn.’ It was so surreal moving into someone else’s home, but such an amazing and exciting experience at the same time.
I started school in early January and it took a while to find my feet, both with life in general as well as making adjustments to a new curriculum and the many differences in the education system.
During class, children often ‘run home’ to collect something they have forgotten or give their parents a message, which is an unheard of concept in Australian schools. The difference in accents also tends to makes students smile, especially during spelling tests.
It would be impossible to describe the many and varied experiences that I have been fortunate enough to take part in so far this year.
I have visited many of the region’s ski resorts including Apex Ski Mountain to go tubing and Revelstoke Mountain where I took skiing lessons with an Australian friend. We also went to Mount Baldy, where we played ‘frisbee golf’ and went snow shoeing.
It has also been wonderful to learn and experience first-hand the many traditions and stories of the First Nations people in the Okanagan Valley.
I have been lucky enough to attend many cultural events with my class including Okanagan Day celebrations and digging for beetroots or ‘speetlum’.
There has not been a shortage of things to do, places to explore and new things to learn. Although there have been tough times, adjustments to be made, missing home and traveling this journey on my own, it has changed my life for the better and I have grown incredibly from this experience.
The teacher exchange program has provided me with many opportunities to travel outside of Canada, including exploring Mexico and Brazil. I am waiting in anticipation for my parents to visit and I have many plans for the remainder of the year, including big celebrations for my 30th birthday.
If anyone is considering completing a teacher exchange and the timing is right for them, I highly recommend that they throw caution to the wind and do it! I very nearly didn’t follow through with it but I am so glad I did.
Although I am a world away from family and friends, as well as the sunshine and beaches of the Gold Coast, I have been fortunate to have landed in a part of the world that is beautiful in all seasons and a place that has so much to offer.
Luckily I have had many supportive colleagues around me to lend a hand and give advice. It is definitely a year that I will never forget and I have made many new lifelong friends along the way.