The experience of a lifetime

Monaro High School teachers Kari and Phil Ingram have recently returned from a 12 month teacher exchange in Canada with their children Georgina and Benson. Swapping lives with Canadian teachers Adam and Sheila Sillery, they taught for 12 months at Hunting Hills High School in Red Deer, Alberta, teaching Yr 9 and 10 PE, Health, English and Science. Here Kari Ingram reflects on the once in a lifetime experience.

THE entire year was a great challenge for us and we found it extremely worthwhile and rewarding. Our time away has enriched our careers and lives and given us a new perspective.

Even though we were very happy at Monaro before we left, and have always considered ourselves very fortunate to work there, our time away has further reinforced those feelings. Our Canadian school consisted of years 9-12 and had 1,400 plus enrolments. Despite the size, all being in one building and the extra-curricular programs they ran, helped the students feel connected and school spirit was high.

The facilities at the school were excellent, being relatively new and to cater for the colder climate. Public schools in Alberta are extremely well funded. Our own children adjusted to their new elementary school and environment even more readily than we did. It was such a great experience for them and we loved watching them grow in confidence and their friendships develop throughout the year.

The Canadian culture is similar to ours and everyone we met was very friendly and polite. The Red Deer community that we lived and worked in was very active, multicultural and generous. The province of Alberta is quite abundant being the home to the oil industry.

There were also lots of crops - plenty of wheat and corn. There is a very small time frame for crops though and the farmers are working around the clock during summer to squeeze in their years produce. We did ask what they do in winter and apparently they participate in the sport of Curling.

In Red Deer the winter we left behind had seen heavier snow falls than many expected and it continued to be quite a novelty for us but we are not sure we could stick it out year in year out. The coldest temperature we saw was -37 deg with a -49 degree wind chill.

Not far from where we lived the coldest recorded temperature on earth for that day was claimed. We were able to throw boiling water into the air and watch it freeze. We had to dig our car out many mornings. Fortunately our car engine was fitted with a block heater. We would plug our car into electricity overnight to keep the engine warm and stop the oil from freezing.

We spent our holidays travelling and were delighted to have visits throughout the year from our parents, siblings and friends. During the summer break in July and August we drove to Vancouver, flew to Alaska and toured in an RV. We then headed back east with our parents to the magnificent Rocky Mountains and together visited Niagara Falls, Washington DC, New York, Quebec City and Montreal.

The Rocky Mountains were only a couple of hours from where we lived. The first time we visited we arrived at night and could only see shadows and at first thought they were clouds. We couldn't quite believe it when we woke in the morning at the base of these glorious mountains towering over us.

Canada also has beautiful great lakes further than the eye can see. We loved seeing bears, moose, caribou and deer in the wild.

Summer was not quite as hot or as long as ours, however, we enjoyed the longer days and the twilight that stretched for many hours. We spent some late nights outside by the fire hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights and were lucky enough to see them from our street.

Throughout the winter we got to ski and ice skate and curl and build snowmen. Snowball fights were a regular afternoon activity. Driving after the big snow dumps was one of the biggest challenges, especially when big mounds of snow on the roads froze and made for lots of pot holes and slippery conditions.

We certainly miss our Red Deer friends and lifestyle but we are so pleased to be home with our family and friends and thrilled to be back working with our colleagues and the young people at Monaro High School. We are so proud of the 2013 HSC students and their results and were disappointed to miss their final year and graduation.

The lengths the Monaro staff go to assist these students is seldom publicised, however it is tremendous.

As for plans for another teacher exchange.... for us it was a once in a lifetime thing. It was, however, truly a positive and rewarding experience and we learnt a lot.

We commend our exchange counterparts Adam and Sheila Sillery on how well they fitted in and the great contributions they made to the school. We are forever grateful to our Monaro PDHPE colleagues Michelle Pollard and Alicia Bolton who worked tirelessly throughout the year to ensure its success and our Monaro and Hunting Hills principals Adrian Bell and Karyn Barber for their support and encouragement.

Finally, it would not have been possible without the staff from the Department of Education who arrange the swaps and help prepare people for their new roles and environment, Tracy Davies, Janice Cherubini and Kylie Hoss along with their Albertan counterpart Caroline Freed. Special thanks also to the Hopkin and Sillery families for being great community sponsors.

We look forward to another great year in 2014.

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