Gillian Bohnet: From Canada to Queensland
For a cold Canadian, moving to anywhere in Australia is a dream – Queensland, especially. When I received the news that I had been accepted into my school union’s exchange program to Queensland, I was both elated and terrified.
For some while before, I had been restless. I loved my job teaching high school English, a job that is dynamic and rewarding. I had no desire to leave my position, but for some time I had been feeling a pang – the desire to expand my experiences outside of the norm.
I had heard about the exchange program a few years ago from a friend and colleague who had applied, and I had followed his blog throughout his travels. I felt very tempted. Though the following years were scripted (two pregnancies, two maternity leaves), it wasn’t long before I began to seek out more information about the program.
We got the news in early February that I had been accepted, and that there was a teacher, who was an ideal match, from a private school in Brisbane. It was nearly impossible to imagine what we would experience only a year later: Queensland’s beautiful and hot summer. February shows the biggest weather difference between Brisbane and Edmonton. The day that we were approved, there were fresh mounds of snow on the ground, there were still a few lingering decorations up from our recent White Christmas, and we were looking forward to the first signs of spring.
The ideal Australia that I had in my mind when I applied, the Australia that I had read about in books and heard about from relations, is not all that different from reality. The summers are hot, the people friendly, the weekends and holidays are for the beach or the bush – well-deserved after a productive week of work. Though the seasons don’t vary as they do in Canada, no one could have prepared me for the cold July chills, or the inescapable January heat. In many ways, despite their geographical differences, Australia and Canada are sisters in the extremes – extreme hots and extreme colds, and both lands seem to nourish a strength of spirit and an innate capacity (thirst, even) to endure.
It was this thirst for endurance, a desire for challenge, that led me to apply. In moving to a new country and a new curriculum, I have certainly found that challenge. Assessment regulations, management styles, term variations, even the use of space (Queensland schools are largely outdoors) differ significantly. In many ways I am a new teacher again. I have learned to ask for help. A lot. I have been humbled by the support given to me by my department colleagues. I have had to brush up on techniques I had long ago put to bed. And I am, without a doubt, better for it. A better teacher, absolutely. Of course. But also a better version of myself.
Even though I had applied, I was convinced that I would not be accepted. What an amazing program! Everyone must apply! But I realised shortly after being accepted that in so many of us there is an inherent fear of change, fear of the unknown, some xenophobia no doubt, that hinders even the most interested, those with the most unquenched wanderlust, from applying for this experience. The fear, perhaps, of being out of your element, of leaving behind friends, of not connecting with new colleagues, of leaving your home. Though I am sure (I know. I felt.) that these fears are just and true, once you’re on that new soil, with new purpose, and new excitement, they quickly fade away and are replaced by a deep quenching of the spirit. A quenching that can only happen once the leap has been taken.
In the weeks before embarking, once the arrangements were set and the flights purchased, I was terrified. I didn’t want to go. I had felt such personal and professional success in the prior months, and I didn’t want to lose that momentum. At the time, I couldn’t see what I might gain. But now that I’m here, I have felt that momentum continue, while allowing it to bend and twist in a way that I could not have otherwise imagined.