With Australia Gathering Photologue
As I sit waiting for my friends from Australia to come online, I decided it was high time to write my article for The Teachers Net Gazette. I have looked back over my semi-daily journal that I keep to refresh those first impressions when I landed in Melbourne in June 2000. To put it in a nutshell, Australia and the United States are very similar yet very different at the same time.
My first encounter with a "real" Australian was at the customs desk when I arrived. The politeness of this official was something I would observe each and every time I had occasion to interact with persons serving the public. Luckily for me I have talked to many Australians on the phone and received voice messages on ICQ so my ear is attuned to the English-speaking but non-American accent and to much of their slang. During most of my visit I had little problem understanding what was said to me, but be forewarned if you travel to the Great Southern Land, most Australians have keen senses of humor and delight in using slang to confuse Americans. I was not confused when they said we would have "a barbie on Sunday arvo," nor when they told me to "put my cases in the boot." I knew not to use the words "root" and "fanny," from making that mistake in the chatroom two years ago, much to the pm-ing delight of all the Aussies there. And I knew to put on a sweater if someone said I needed a "jumper." Language, therefore, in Australia is very similar while being very different at the same time.
Before I went to Australia many people sent me websites to peruse of things to see and do while there. I had a mental picture of what it would look like when I arrived but was surprised that it looked so much like California. Many houses have red tile roofs, small fenced front yards, palm trees, cactus and of course eucalyptus. Even the architecture was similar to that of California. All the areas I visited, from metropolitan Sydney to rural Mortlake were exceptionally clean, unlike many of the areas I have traveled in the United States including my home, Cincinnati. I found early on that the Australians in general are very ecologically minded and waste neither water nor paper products. Toilets, in fact, both in private homes and in public places offer the choice of a full flush or a half depending on your need. It took me a while to discern which button did what as they are not marked, but this feature I found is far superior to our water saving models that don't work correctly.
I had the distinct advantage of staying with Australian families on my trip. Of the 30 days I was there I slept only 2 nights in apartments, motels to Americans. Although we bought take away foods a few times and dined out a dozen times, I ate normal Australian meals. We had pizza, oriental meals, and spaghetti. For anyone who has heard about Vegemite----yes, it is popular with most Australians and even New Zealanders, and yes, I don't like it! I did eat lots of lamb, wonderful Aussie pies and pumpkin cooked as a vegetable. Aussie and Kiwi, two of my hosts, requested I bake pumpkin pies, which I gladly did, though finding the ingredients was an adventure in itself. My hosts watched as I examined items unfamiliar to me like gray fresh pumpkins and attempted to compare prices with my somewhat limited currency converting skills. I found that Australians use far less processed foods due primarily to the fact they are unavailable. I think the American palate would find more similarities than difference in the everyday Australian diet.
My trip to Australia though made primarily for social reasons did include an opportunity to visit three Australian schools. I spent an entire day in a parochial school and two days in separate public schools, one urban and one rural. The first impression in all three schools was a very relaxed atmosphere much as in the rest of the general society. I watched some formal instruction but more partner learning and small group interactions. From talking to many of the teachers, I think the outcome-based education model they adopted a couple years ago, is working well and they are seeing the desired results. Their schools operate on four terms in a year-round schedule for the most part. I have taught for 29 years and cherish my summer holidays, but I can see distinct advantages in the year-round schools. Continuity alone is maintained and there is a flow from one term to the next that I don't think we have in our schools after our long summer recess. The schools seemed very learner-centered with student work dominating the classroom walls versus the teacher made bulletin boards that are so common in our schools. Since I am a kindergarten teacher I looked carefully at their preps and found our curriculums were practically the same.
I could write pages more on the similarities and differences between our countries, but will suggest to everyone instead that they make a trip Downunder or to the States to form their own conclusions. I thank Teachers Net for giving me the opportunity to meet and form what hope will be lifelong friendships with my friends from Australia and New Zealand. It took a commitment on my part of getting up at somewhat early hours to meet them at the chatroom, but the experience was well worth the effort. Though I suspected it even before I set foot in their fair country, they are wonderful teachers, caring friends and best of all, humans endeavoring to live life to its fullest while treading lightly on the earth. I think those qualities make us more alike than different.
Check out BJ's Australia Gatherings Photologue!