From traumatising fairytale characters to walking through Fenway Park, to throwing a snowball at my teacher, this overseas experience is one that has had it all. Before the 21st of October 2015 I had never been overseas, I had never seen snow, never seen a squirrel and I also never could have imagined what this adventure would give me. It started off with 30 hours of travelling before finally arriving in Fredonia at 12:30am on a Thursday morning. From day one it has been an amazing experience with a brand new adventure every second.
Around all the trees there are squirrels and their tails twitch with every step they take, whether it be crawling to collect an acorn nearby, climbing up the tree trunk or jumping across the campus lawn. A lot of people I have met are surprised when I tell them I had never seen a squirrel in real life prior to coming to Fredonia, it is just like them never seeing a kangaroo before. I am determined to bring one of these squirrels home. Squirrels get along with chickens right?
Let me just say as someone who has never experienced 95% of the things I have on this trip, it works out well if you are a kid at heart and willing to be ridiculous at any point in time. For example, on the first weekend here Emily and I walked in to see the 'local town' and what it had to offer. Bear in mind Queensland does not have Fall/Autumn like America does, so there were leaves absolutely everywhere. Blanketing the streets and covering every piece of grass in sight. What is one to do when they are in the middle of town and never seen Fall before? Start throwing leaves of course! This is when it pays off to be a weirdo and be proud of it.
The first day of school was amazing. The kids, the teachers, the atmosphere, everything is just completely different to Australian schools. I was lucky enough to get the year level I love and enjoy, which is Kindergarten (Prep in Australia). It is so fun! The kids here have their morning announcements where they say the school's motto, which they call “The Pledge for Success”, and then they say the Pledge of Allegiance.
The kids then get to play for another few minutes before completing their calendar which includes reinforcing basic skills such as counting the number of days, listing the days in the week and the months of the year. One child is selected per day to write the date on the smartboard calendar and then proceed to the weather. I have longed for the day that a child gets to put snow on that calendar. It is interesting to see the differences in even the small things, such as the language used for several things.
I had a funny moment in regards to the language with the kids. It was my first day and I was sitting down at a table with one of the kids and we were colouring, she asked me “What language do you speak?” I replied with a puzzled look, “English.” She said to me, “No you're not. What language are you speaking?” I was still confused thinking “What is this kid on about?” I thought that I needed a different approach so I asked her what language she was speaking and she told me she was speaking American. Ah ha! It was clear she meant what was my accent, so I then told her I was speaking Australian English which is the language in Australia. She was like “Oh OK.” and that was it!
One day when cutting out little squares I asked the kids to pass me their rubbish and I will put it in the bin for them. The kids all looked up at me with weird looks and I was like “What? What'd I do?... Pass me your rubbish and I'll put it in the bin. It'll give you more room on the desk.” Well to them I just said the craziest thing in the world. They didn't have a clue. I held up a piece of rubbish and showed the students what I was talking about, and they said to me “Oh you mean the garbage?! Why didn't you say that?” I was looking at them and said “I did say that.” Of course the kids began to give ME a lesson in speaking and said I was calling it the wrong thing, and also that the 'bin' is called the 'trash'. Me being a kid at heart and wanting to make this situation a little funnier I said to the kids “It's a bin” they then replied “It's trash” which began a two minute back and forth battle between a 20 year old Australian and 5 year old Americans. I looked over at my teacher and she was cracking up laughing, loving every minute of it.
Halloween was a blast! I haven't done it before so it was amazing having my first experience be an authentic American one. School on the Friday before was a half day for Halloween and of course, school Halloween dress up day. I was so fortunate that for the Kindergarten teachers the theme was Disney Princesses, so I fit right in with that. The kids loved that I was the original Disney princess, Minnie Mouse, so now when I walk down the hallway I get called Minnie Mouse by a few of the kids in other classes.
For something known as Pride in the Cluster, all the Kindergarten classes come out into the 'cluster' area outside the classrooms and listen to presentations. I was asked to present on Australia, so I had pictures of various Aussie animals and chose a few kids to be that animal. I gave them each some information about the animal and what Australian's call them. For example, for a crocodile we call them 'crocs'. It was so funny watching the kids try to guess the animals.
I have fallen in love with my teachers' family as Emily and I spent Thanksgiving with them, it is beautiful to see the family interactions and traditions. To be welcomed into their lives, homes and hearts so quickly and easily has made us feel right at home from the moment we walked in the front door. They were all fascinated by us, so much that we played guess the “Aussie word” game at Thanksgiving where Emily and I said the slang word for an object or term and they all had to guess what it could be. Of course there was one person who kept saying “boomerang” for every word, so he is now Uncle Boomerang. There still has been no measurable snowfall, with this being the warmest December they've had since 1899!!! Of course last year they broke the record for the most snowfall in the shortest period of time and this year when we arrive (and I have never seen snow before), they have broken the record for the warmest! I mean come on!
I am thankful though that my teacher drove me up into the hills one afternoon after school and we saw some snow and tried to have a snowball fight. My teacher also tried to build a snowman, but failed. I, however was fortunate enough to have another teacher scrape some snow off her car into a bucket and bring it into the classroom for me to play with. I then built a mini snowman which four weeks later is still sitting in the staff-room freezer.
This whole experience has been life changing. There have been things that I have learnt that I am sure will stick with me for many, many years to come as well as people and strategies. Each day is a new experience that provides me with the meaning of why I am doing what I'm doing. I am thankful for all the people that I have met in passing and the ones I have gotten to know. I have loved and cherished every minute of this exchange program and I’m so glad that I applied. Studying overseas or even teaching overseas is something I strongly encourage others to do. It is fun, amazing, eye opening and challenging, but the ride of a lifetime.
I still want to take a squirrel home.
By Caroline Fielding.