For anyone thinking about a teaching exchange...

This post is an introduction to what this blog is all about, And yet, it is actually the very last post I will be writing here.
Because blogs are structured in reverse chronological order, this final post is possibly the very first one you'll see if you visit this site, and so it must serve as an introduction even though it was written last.
In 2006, my family and I went to Canada on a teaching exchange. Actually, to be more correct, I went to Canada on the teaching exchange, and my family joined me. We had a fabulous year. We made a lot of friends, saw lots of Canada, and experienced what it was like to live in another place. It was a wonderful experience. This blog documents that entire year, and the 6 months of preparation leading up to it.
When I started writing this blog, many people - including my family - did not see any point in why I was doing it. They told me - fairly reasonably at the time - that no one would read it or be all that interested in what we were doing. But I didn't write this for other people. I wrote it for me. It wrote it as my own personal diary and reflection of a year. I wrote it because I thought I'd enjoy looking back on it in years to come. I wrote it because I thought it might be of some use to others about to take the plunge and do a year of teaching in another country. I wrote it so I could learn to blog. I wrote it for my children. I wrote it for a quite a few reasons.
As it turns out, many people did read it, and it has grown into a fairly thorough chronicle of our time there.
As I look back on the year 2006, it was a good year. There is a sequel to the story that is best left for another time and place, but for now, this blog stands as a record of a wonderful year that was.
You can use the list of months on the right side of the page to jump back in time to any point. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Chris Betcher
Sydney Australia

No Place like Home

After a long flight from Vancouver via Honolulu, I started counting the hours until I would be back on Australian soil. While it was great to be away, it was also wonderful to be nearly home too. As the aircraft started to get near the Australian coastline I listened to Kate Ceberano singing I Still Call Australia Home on my iPod. It's true... No matter how far or how wide I roam, I do still call Australia home.

Thanks Canada. I loved being there for the year we were away, and would not have missed the opportunity to experience you for anything. We saw so many new things and had so many wonderful moments. A truly life changing experience...

I can honestly say that life will never be the same...

Public Relations


I’m sitting here in Vancouver airport waiting for my plane back to Sydney. I’ve just taken a three hour bus trip back from Whistler, picked up my bags out of storage, almost lost my wallet, and traipsed from one end of Vancouver airport to the other with a trolley full of bags (and my $175 box) looking for the right check-in to catch my plane back home.

I eventually found the desks for International check-in, only to be told that I had to backtrack over to the check-in for the United States departures because the flight goes via Hawaii. I pointed out to them that Sydney, Australia was not part of the United States and that perhaps it was not very clear, but they just shrugged and went back to what they were doing.

So, I made my way through US customs, and you’ll be pleased to know that the approach to customer relations from the US Border Protection people has been extremely consistent. They are just as humourless and abrupt here in Vancouver as they have been at every other US border crossing I’ve been through. Come on guys, lighten up! We’re not all terrorists, and as the front line face of the United States to international visitors, the public relations damage you guys do to American tourism is just outrageous. It wouldn’t hurt to smile, to say hello, to act like a human being occasionally. I’m pretty sure you can be just as effective at protecting your border and keeping the terrorists out of the country, even if you do occasionally smile. Keep up the great work you’re doing keeping your country secure, just learn to treat your visitors like the valuable people that they are instead of making us all feel like we’re trespassing on your precious American soil.

After a quick snack and a rather delicious fruit smoothie thing from Starbucks, I finally arrived at the departure gate where I plugged my Mac in for a final burst of charge before boarding the long flight back to Australia.

Mountain Dreams


I was always taught that you should write down the things you dream about in life, and that the mere act of writing them down can sometimes play a powerful part in making them come true. Figuring that I had nothing to lose by trying this strategy, several years ago I wrote a list of things that I wanted to do, have and become. I’m not naive enough to think that I will get everything I dream about, but I do accept that I probably won’t get anything that I don’t dream about. I wrote that list many years ago and to be honest I put it aside after I wrote it and more or less forgot about it.

In the preparation to come to Canada last year I happened to stumble across that list. I was amazed at just how many of the items on that list - things that probably seemed quite unrealistic at the time I wrote it - had in fact come to pass. I won’t bore you with the actual list of things, but just believe me when I tell you that I was very surprised how many of them had come true. Of course there were also things on that list that hadn’t happened (yet), and also quite a few things that no longer really mattered to me. Priorities change over the years, and some things that I thought were important no longer are. I also realised that some things that matter to me just aren’t ever going to happen, and I guess I need to give some thought to how I deal with that.

Anyway, one of the things on that list was “Skiing at Whistler”. As of yesterday and today, I can now cross that one off the list too. (Well, technically I never skied Whistler since I spent all my time on its more advanced sister peak Blackcomb, but it’s considered all part of the one resort so I’ll still claim it as a dream fulfilled.)

I skied on my own yesterday since Pete wasn’t keen to be skiing in the poor visibility conditions. I had a great day on the hills, with excellent snow conditions even if the bumps were a bit hard to see in the misty conditions. It was still great to be out skiing this legendary mountain. Blackcomb starts at 600 metres Above Sea Level and rises to a highpoint of nearly 2600 metres ASL... that gives a total vertical drop of nearly 2 kilometres. That’s a pretty impressive vertical drop! My legs were buggered by the end of the first day.

On day two Pete and I went out for the day to enjoy the ample white snow and beautiful blue skies. This has been a bumper season for Whistler, and the mountain currently boasts an average base depth of 10 feet. You know there is a lot of snow when the little “saplings” growing in the snow are in fact only the top sections of fully grown fir trees.

Pete and I skied the top section of the mountain in the morning since the sun had been hitting it for a while, making it the best snow conditions on the whole hill. We quite literally skied until we couldn’t ski any more, with our quads and calves burning with lactic acid. We took a break for lunch for a while since the place we were staying at was ski-in,ski-out and right at the base of the Wizard Express chairlift. After a chance to let our aching legs recover we went back up to the very top of the mountain, skied again until we couldn’t ski any more and eventually made our way back down the mountain to the village. You know it’s a big mountain when you ski down the hill for nearly an hour and you are still about the cloud line! We finally descended through the clouds to arrive back at the hotel, where we indulged ourselves in a hot tub for an hour or so, chatting with Canadians, Americans and fellow Aussies.

By the end of the day my legs were absolutely killing me, partly from the punishment I’d dished out to them on the moguls and steep slopes, but also because the boots I was using were less than wonderful. Regardless, I decided to soldier on and limp around Whistler Village with Pete on a mini pub crawl that night. Good times.

I’ve got a whole morning to kill tomorrow before I catch the bus back to Vancouver and a plane back to Sydney. I’m not going to ski... they are predicting more dubious weather conditions, and besides, I can hardly walk at the moment. I think I’ll hang around the village for a while, shoot some photos, and maybe even catch a lift to the top of the mountain to take a few pics from there as well. It’s a stunning mountain range.

I’m sure this visit to Whistler-Blackcomb has just been a taster for me... I think I’ll be back here in the not-to-distant future for a bit more time on these amazing mountains. Only next time, I’m going to do a bit more work beforehand in the gym to get my leg muscles in condition, as well as find a decent pair of ski boots!

Still, it’s been great to tick another dream off the dream list.

btw, there are more photos to come with this post... once I get them off Pete’s camera!

Goodbye Toronto, Hello Vancouver


7:00am. The alarm didn't even need to go off. I woke up before the time arrived and readied myself for my last day in Oakville. It was all a bit of a blur really... I said my goodbye to Dave as he waited for Darrell to pick him up and drive him to school, something that Darrell had been doing for me for most of the past 12 months. I packed the last few things in my luggage and was pleased with the way I'd been able to fit everything into my two bags.

Sean soon arrived to take me to the airport, so I said my last goodbye to Heidi, packed my bags into the back of Sean's truck and headed down the 403 for the last time. We made good time to the airport, thanks to the express 2-person lane, and Sean dropped me at Pearson's Terminal 1 departures, where we said our final goodbyes. Man, this really is hard. I hate goodbyes.

Once in the terminal I checked in, and then the trouble started. Apparently my large bag was overweight - I knew it would be, and I was prepared to pay the $35 overweight charge - but I mean it was WAY overweight, like beyond the point where the baggage handlers would handle it. After a discussion of the options, I was given a cardboard box (not a particularly big one either!) and had to offload about 40 pounds of weight from the big bag into the box. So I'm standing there in the middle of the terminal with my bags open, clothes everywhere and trying to shuffle stuff from one place to the other to balance the weight out. Eventually, I got what I thought was a workable combination and went back to the counter. It only took a little more shuffling of stuff between bags and we finally arrived at a workable combination. The bad news was that the extra "bag" that I now had was going to cost me $175 to get home. (Actually it was supposed to cost me $105 to get to Vancouver and then another $175 to get to Sydney, but the guy at the desk felt sorry for me and tried to bundle it into a single charge... I did appreciate his effort to do that for me.)

With the bags finally taken care of, I made my way through security and went to Gate 143 to wait for the flight to Vancouver. I had a bite to eat and listened to my iPod for a while while I waited for the flight, which was delayed 30 minutes. (How come flights are always delayed in multiples of 5 minutes? How come they are never 27 minutes late?)

The flight to Vancouver was uneventful, which is probably the best sort of flight to have. On arrival, I checked my large bag and my $175 box into storage at the airport, bought a bus ticket to Whistler and made my way up to Canada's number one ski resort.

Skiing at Whistler has always been on my dream list, so when I was planning my trip home to Australia I wanted to drop in there for a few days. As the time got closer though, I started to deliberate about whether I really wanted to go there on my own, not to mention how expensive it would end up being. In the end I'd more or less talked myself out of going there. Then by a complete coincidence I got a phone call from a mate back in Australia who was planning a Whistler trip with his daughter and invited me to come stay for a few days. Done deal!

The bus from Vancouver arrived at Whistler village at about 5:30pm and I made my way to Aspens on Blackcomb where I met up with my friends Pete and Rebecca. They made me feel very welcome and went out of their way to make me comfortable with them for a few days.

More Whistler adventures soon...

The Last Supper


On Sunday evening, Dave and Heidi held a lovely farewell dinner at home - well it was a farewell dinner to me anyway - and invited the Smiths around to join us. There were many moments that evening that were very bittersweet, sharing a few wonderful memories with people who have become extremely special to me, while saying our goodbyes at the same time. Dave and Heidi were the most wonderful exchange partners I could have wished for... this whole exchange worked so well on so many levels because of the easy going and communicative way we were able to make it happen. And we met so many great people while we were here in Oakville, people that have a permanent place in our hearts, and none moreso than Sean and Kim. It was very special to be able to share my last night in Oakville with these four friends.

We also had a little birthday celebration for Charlee, whose birthday was the day before. Steve K dropped around to say goodbye as well. It was all very much a case of sensory overload to me, and when I gave Kim that last hug goodbye I really lost it inside.

This saying goodbye stuff is so much harder than I ever thought it would be.

One Last Nibble...

0 comments the Niblick.

Yes, Donna's old stomping ground was the place for that one-last-drink with my work colleagues (and anyone else who felt like dropping in) My workroom buddies arranged for a final get-together at the Niblick Pub on Saturday night, which was quite fitting since it was the very first place that I met many of them just over a year ago when they gathered there for a farewell drink for Dave. Dave and Heidi arrived back from Australia this morning, so it was great that Dave could also join us at the pub as well. Ah, the circle of life...

Much beer was consumed, although not so much by me. I had way too much to think about the next day to have been doing it with a hangover so I took it pretty easy. I did however have a Grade 11 student turn up at one stage to buy me a shot of farewell bourbon, just for old times sake. Thanks Jorge.

It was a nice evening, with plenty of laughs and shared moments. The girls from my workroom even gathered together to give me a hummer. You had to be there. Thanks ladies!

Sean turned up as the only non-schoolie, but of course he fit right in and was chatting away to people as though he'd known them forever. Eventually though, the night had to end, so I said more goodbyes and got lots hugs and kisses and handshakes. Sean had the munchies so he, Dave and I swung by Pizza Pizza for a few slices of Canadian goodness before we all finally walked home.

Thanks to everyone who organised the night, especially Lorain and Jen who seemed to be the masterminds behind it. I truly appreciated the chance to have just one more final goodbye with everyone who came along.

Pulling the Plug


On Saturday morning, Sean gave me a hand to do a few things that I needed to do in order to unplug my life here in Oakville. It was a bit sad for me really, as it really drove home the fact that my time here in Canada was coming to an end.

First job was to get rid of the car. Not long after we arrived in Canada we picked up a very nice 2003 Chev Venture minivan, and it was a fantastic little car. It gave us absolutely no trouble all year, was totally reliable and very nice to drive. Considering we planned to do so much driving this year we thought it was important to get a decent car, so we were prepared to pay for something reasonably good. We put 94,000km on the clock (it had about 60,000 when we got it) which was just under the lease limit of 96,000.

After looking at the options of buying as opposed to leasing, we decided to lease the car and I'm pleased we did it that way. We spent about as much on the lease as we would have lost in a buy/sell transaction, but the convenience factor when returning the car made it more than worthwhile. True enough, I drove the van back to Towne Chevrolet on Saturday morning, dropped off the key and signed the release papers. Easy as that.

After that Sean drove me around to the local MTO office to cancel the registration plate. That was painless and easy as well. While I was there, I decided to cancel my Ontario G1 license. If you've been a regular reader of this blog then you probably know the crap I've gone through with the whole licensing issue. I was holding out for the whole $85 refund on the license-that-never-should-have-been, but I figured I would just get my $60 refund and be done with it. The three phone calls I recorded with three different MTO staff members, all contradicting each other and sounding like complete dills, will be priceless enough when I edit it into a finished podcast that it will be well worth the $15.

I'd also cancelled the car insurance earlier in the week, and that was supposed to take effect as of Saturday afternoon.

Finally it was off to the bank to close our bank account. I thought TD Canada Trust were excellent to deal with and their customer service was great. I would have liked to have kept it open - after all, you never know when we'll be back - however, there was a small fee each month to keep the account open so it really didn't make sense to keep it.

So... no car, no rego, no license, no insurance, no bank account. Talk about pulling the plug on my life in Canada. It was starting to feel very real all of a sudden.

No More Teachers, No More Books


Friday was my last day at Trinity. It was a busy couple of weeks, with plenty of assessment tasks, culminating tasks, exams, etc in order to get everything completed and wrapped up before I left. There will still be reports to write, but at the time of me leaving, Trillium (the reporting software) was not open yet for Semester 1 reports so I guess I will have to do those from Australia. Luckily they are web-based, so that ought not be too much of a problem.

The kids were great too... they said nice things to me and I even got a few cards from some of them. My BTA class turned up with boxes of Tim Horton's donuts and we snacked out. My BTT kids turned up with chips and pop, and I was even treated to a special display of jumprope from two of them who are rather expert in that area. We had an enjoyable last day and I was reminded of just why I love teaching so much. It's all about the kids.

On Thursday, the staff at Trinity held a bit of a shindig in the library after school. It was advertised as a "special staff meeting" and I had no prior idea about it, but a few people made comments during the day that sort of raised my suspicions. It was a nice sendoff with a lovely speech by Angelo and some nice gifts as well - a Team Canada hockey jersey and tuque, as well as a very cool Trinity coach's shirt. There were munchies and snacks and a nice going-away cake too, although I'm not sure about the design on the cake. A bit too "rainbow parade" for me. :-)

I took the opportunity to get around and see as many people as possible. I tried to see nearly everyone, but I'm sure there were many that I missed, so please accept my apologies if I didn't get to you. I did send an email message to everyone just to say goodbye just in case.

There was only one final school farewell to go, and that was for drinks at the Niblick on Saturday night. Dave would even be back for that one!

Saying Thanks


For what it's worth, this is a copy of the letter I asked to be sent to all the staff at Trinity...

As my time here at Holy Trinity draws to a close I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone here for such a wonderful year. Taking yourself, your work and your family and uprooting a comfortable existence to go and live in another country for a year is a big decision. When Dave Grace and I first started talking about an exchange it was full of unknowns and before we left Australia there were still plenty of times when I wondered if I was doing the right thing.

As soon as we arrived in Canada however, I was certain I was doing the right thing. 2006 has been an absolutely amazing year for my family and myself and I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. We’ve travelled to many parts of eastern Canada, enjoyed some of the cottage lifestyle of the Muskokas, experienced different weather and lifestyle, but mostly we got the chance to get to know Canada by getting to know Canadians. It has been the people we’ve met, far more than any other aspect of the exchange that has been the most rewarding and incredible aspect of our year.

I wanted to thank everyone here at Holy Trinity for making me feel so welcomed into the school community, and being so willing to help me, share ideas and talk about life in general and education in particular. I’ve met many people here at Trinity with whom I’ve developed very close friendships and who I hope to be able to continue to stay in touch with in coming years.

The chance to experience a different work environment and a different educational system has been really valuable both personally and professionally, and while I may have expressed my occasional frustration at things that seemed odd or inefficient to me, I have really valued the opportunity to experience those differences. I will certainly return home to Australia with fresh ideas from the many great things that I’ve seen happening here at Trinity.

What really stood out to me though was the warmth and caring that you all show to the kids you teach, and to each other. The teachers at Trinity are what make this place great, and I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your community.

I suspect that I will be back here at some stage, and of course, if you’re ever in Australia I would love to be able to return some of your hospitality.

Thanks again for everything you’ve done for me.

King regards,

Skype: betchaboy

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