Before I tell you how I farewelled the class and the staff and how we cleaned the house from top to bottom and how we took a taxi to Heathrow for £100 I will mention an article in Wollongong’s local newspaper, The Illawarra Mercury, about my exchange. There used to be an educational supplement once a week and the editor asked me to send pictures and information about my experiences when I could. They found Carol at my school and asked her to participate. Much to her embarrassment she made the front page of the supplement, dripping wet and emerging from the surf at Wollongong’s North Beach. She told me she had to go in and out of the water many times to get the photo just right.
The following list of pluses and minuses made it into the article uncut. It was written earlier in the year so I have to tell you that I did eventually find the fish and oyster sauces in the supermarket.
Good things about England:
• the house is small so easy to clean and easy to heat. We are never cold inside, but it’s a different story outside. We don’t really miss not having a larger house. House is beautifully decorated.
• area is quiet because we are next to a graveyard
• short walk to High Street and Chasewater Park
• we have a good little car – a Ford Focus (pale green) and cheaper than expected. GBP6,600
• people have been very friendly. We had a lunch with the school principal (Trish), the first Sunday we were here, at a popular country pub.
• we’ve also had dinner at Carol’s parent’s house. (Carol is the teacher I’m exchanging with).
• half term holiday – after six weeks flat out it’s great to recharge the batteries.
• European wines make an interesting change.
• meat is affordable (in small quantities) but we’ve been told we can’t eat salmon because of high number of carcinogens.
• we are close to a significant number of tourist attractions, Stratford, Warwick Castle etc
• television is full of DIY, real estate, travel, antique and relocation programs –day and night- couldn’t work out whether to put this in good or bad list.
Australia is in the news daily because of “I’m a celebrity-Get me Out of Here”. I don’t watch it (nobody does), but we all know about it. Actually John watches it and I mark books and catch glimpses to see who’s been sent off.
• John says, “close to art galleries, museums, gymnasium, parks and good shopping”(except can’t find fish and oyster sauce for my stir fries).
• Birmingham – a great place to visit, full of great shops and magnificent canal side eateries and bars. Well, they look good – haven’t been inside yet. It’s a bit quiet because of winter.
• snow – makes everything look pretty but roads are terrifying as a result.
• sailing – can walk to sailing club but not inviting in mid-winter.
• clothes- some good deals in the January sales.
• school dinners – again not sure if a plus or a minus
• good ideas about organisation at school to take home
• half term, Easter, half term, summer, half term, Christmas
• Proximity to Europe – going on 7 day whirlwind tour of five countries at Easter.
• John says the variety of cars is keeping him entertained (small things……)
Not so good things about our experience so far
• weather – mostly cloudy and damp but I have been surprised to see sunny days with blue sky. They are even colder than cloudy days.
• showers – how I long for a power shower
• food – I miss fresh seafood and Leisure Coast Foods at Fairy Meadow.
• very busy roads with speeding cars and speed cameras every 100 yards (I have only driven once)
• school – enormous amount of paperwork and accountability (testing) and fear of inspection, losing job etc. Low morale. However planning is great. We do it together at the computer, print it out and there is the program, done. A lot of it is a repeat of last year’s work, so programming is easier than Oz.
• schooldays are long. To those who are not teachers 3.30 may not seem a late finish time but talking almost non stop from 9 until 3.30 is a long time (hence my laryngitis). There is no release from face to face so all planning, marking etc is done after 3.30. Most teachers go home about 5.00 and then work all weekend. I was determined not to work weekends but had to just before parent interviews. Teachers here seem much more stressed than Oz. The school is losing two teachers because of a drop in numbers so everyone is thinking “will it be me”?
• kids can’t play on grass in winter because it is too muddy
• restaurants are expensive. In the posh ones you are charged for water, sitting down and even breathing. Cheaper restaurants have very ordinary food (and people smoke in them)
• no barbecue
• local cake shop has inedible food – just went there to get morning tea but came back empty handed
• TV programs indicate that moving to Spain, Italy, France etc is everyone’s dream. Australia is too far and too hard to get into.
As you know, the barbecue situation was resolved, the laryngitis went away, the paperwork was all completed on time and we spent nearly every weekend exploring Britain. Looking back I am glad I did it but would never do it again. I could have applied to do an exchange to Canada in a few more years but decided that the next time I travelled overseas it would be on a holiday.
We returned to Britain in 2012 for the wedding of a friend’s daughter. Of course we had to call in on Carol and her parents. We recalled the day Alan and Barbara drove us to see the Air Show. We had a late start and were caught up in a massive traffic jam as thousands of others were going to the same place. We gave up, had our picnic in a lay by and visited another historic “pile” we hadn’t seen before. I think I might have enjoyed it more than the Air Show!
Sadly Alan passed away last year. We will never forget his cheerful manner and desire to make us feel welcome in a strange environment.
As for the “interested one”, he stayed in London when Carina returned to Australia, but not for long. Now they are married with two children and live in Sydney, Australia.
My exchange teacher, Carol, came to Australia for a visit and not long after announced that she too was getting married. She still lives in the same house in England but has made quite a few alterations.
John’s father sold his house while we were away and with the help of John’s brother and his family, moved to a comfortable villa so that when we returned all the hard work was done.
Cameron moved house twice while we were in England. I had to laugh when he wrote that they rotated the bedrooms so that each had a few weeks in the master suite before moving back to a smaller room. He did get to visit England eventually and went on one of those “Under 30” tours of Europe a few years later.
I only stayed in teaching for one more year. In whatever country you teach, the job is stressful, although it certainly has its rewards. I missed the group planning sessions, the wealth of material available for our topics and the predictability of content. I arrived back at the time of the rollout of the new HSIE (Human Society and Its Envornment) syllabus so the first (pupil free) day of school in 2005 was spent writing new units of work. Did I really want to do this? I decided I didn’t and although I enjoyed my last year of teaching by the end of the year I was ready to leave it all behind and join my husband in the glorious freedom of retirement.