An education alumnus shares his family’s adventures living and working in Australia — spiders, cold weather and all
by David Basisty, ’01 BEd
My wife [Erin Basisty, ’98 BPE, ’01 BEd] and I have just returned from a year-long teacher exchange in Australia, and I can claim that my wife’s arachnophobia is officially cured. Before arriving last January in Bowral, New South Wales, we braced ourselves for the perils of spiders and snakes. The first several weeks involved me vacuuming dozens of spiders daily, with my wife standing, hysterical, on a chair. After a couple of months, the fear subsided and acceptance set in. With three little girls, my concern was snakes, which luckily we never encountered.
Oddly enough, it was Australia’s weather that threw us. Winters in the Southern Highlands average eight degrees Celsius, accompanied with winds and rain. However, most homes are not insulated and have no central heating, so mornings and evenings matched the outdoor temperature. We wore many layers and I became skilled at making fires in the wood-burning heater.
It took us many months to get used to crossing streets and intersections, as drivers have the right of way. Fortunately, it was a quick transition to learn to drive on the other side of the road. The real test was mastering the M5 motorway in Sydney during rush hour in a torrential downpour with three crying kids and a shouting wife.
The town of Bowral (pop. 8,000) has a very English look to it, with beautiful shops, gardens and homes. Refreshingly, there are no convenience stores or fast food outlets, which reinforced a healthier lifestyle for all of us. We found Australia to be expensive — about 25 percent more for retail goods and groceries. With one income, this required us to be creative with our budget, including grocery shopping for a weekly menu and going without a cellphone. I’ll never complain about gasoline prices in Alberta again, as it costs about $1.50 per litre in Australia.
Private schooling seems to be the way for many Australians. This is costly to parents, with fees ranging from $3,000 to $45,000 per year. My daughter Mckenna attended the same school where I taught, making mornings simple and stress-free. My Grade 5 class loved learning about Canada. We played more floor hockey than we should have, and I got the students intrigued about the NHL and CFL.
It was challenging travelling with three small children to another country and teaching a different curriculum, but we are grateful for our experience and the wonderful people we met. We’ve discussed another exchange (maybe to Scotland), but we’ll wait until the girls get much older. For now, I will be returning to teach at Brentwood Elementary in Sherwood Park, AB.