Sylvan Lake elementary school teacher Stephanie Cardinal didn’t need to think twice about applying to take part in a year-long teacher exchange program in Australia.
The Grade 4/5 École Mother Teresa School teacher, who had previously spent a year teaching in Japan, jumped at the chance to combine two of her greatest passions — teaching and travelling — and in January 2012 set off for Australia to begin her new life down under.
She recently returned to Sylvan Lake, and after more than a year away, is happily settling back into life in Canada.
“It was strange to walk into your own house and stuff is the same, but you’ve been gone for so long,” she said. “It was as if I had never left, and it was a bit surreal to come back.”
As part of the exchange, an Australian teacher relocated to Sylvan Lake, and for a year they swapped houses, jobs and vehicles.
Cardinal set up her home in Dubbo, a city of about 45,000 people in the New South Wales state of Australia. It was there she taught a Grade 4 class at an elementary school.
“No matter where you go in the world, kids are kids, and at that age, I just love them,” she said. “I found the Aussies pretty sarcastic, and I’m really sarcastic, so that was good.”
One of the biggest differences, according to Cardinal, is the heavy focus on sports in Australian schools.
“I find here we are more academic-focused, and in Australia, at the school I was at, I found there was quite an emphasis on sport.
“When the Olympics were happening, and they didn’t get as many gold medals as they wanted, it was the biggest news in the country. They didn’t stop talking about it.”
Cardinal’s time abroad allowed her to learn about a number of sports that she was unfamiliar with, including cricket and different types of rugby. One day she found herself involved as an umpire in a school cricket match, despite having limited knowledge of the sport and its rules.
“Thankfully I had some very patient male and just kind of let me observe as I learned the rules of cricket.”
Relocating to Dubbo — often referred to as the gateway to the Australian outback — meant venturing into new territory for Cardinal, who gradually adjusted to her new surroundings.
“You just kind of look around every day, and it’s surreal,” she said. “I laughed the whole way into town after I’d almost hit a kangaroo, because it’s a kangaroo!
“It’s just things like that, and seeing a big huge snake on the road while you’re driving home from the outback — it was just really interesting to see a different country.”
One of the biggest adjustments for Cardinal was getting used to the laid-back atmosphere of the Australian road system.
“Aussies are very laid-back and very easy going no-stress kind of people, and so on the roads, people let you in and they wave at you. If someone honks at you, it’s a courtesy thing.
“People are just a bit more impatient on the roads over here, and we all need to take a breath.”
Cardinal is happy to be home and teaching once again in Sylvan Lake, but assured that her Australian experience is one she’ll not soon forget.
“It was fantastic, and I would highly recommend it,” she said. “Australians are wonderful people.
“I love travelling, but home is home, and it’s just so awesome to be home.”