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Trading Places

November 4, 2014
The Tamuras take time for a family photo during a trip to Cape Tribulation on the northeastern coast of Australia during a term break from school.

Exchange program enables teachers to take on another’s life for a year

The Alberta Teachers’ Association has been organizing year-long exchanges to other countries for years. This program matches teachers with counterparts in another country. The matched teachers slip into each other’s jobs and also live in each other’s homes.

The exchanges are life changing, both personally and professionally, says Carolyn Freed, an international exchange liaison with the ATA.

“With that length of time you can really experience the difference in another system — you’re not just observing it,” she says.

Australia is the most common trading partner, but the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark are also options, as are other Canadian provinces. Seeing how things work in another jurisdiction is eye opening for teachers, who return with new ideas that they share with colleagues, creating a ripple effect that can reach an entire school and beyond.

“It’s a way to really examine what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” Freed says. “Teachers come home with a new-found appreciation for what they have here at home.”

To be considered for the next intake into the program, teachers must submit an application for approval by their district’s superintendent in early ­December. More information is available at

Teacher grows through Australia exchange

Esau Tamura

Prior to our teacher exchange in Australia, I taught for five years at Father James Whelihan School, in Calgary. This was my first and only school as a teacher, and I’d found a fantastic fit with the staff and students. I embraced my role as a science, drama and rock music teacher and all of the positive experiences at work and at home with my newly flourishing family of four.

Despite all of these blessings, I was feeling worn down by the challenges of balancing being a father of two young boys with a new teaching job and mortgage, as was my wife Deb, who had returned to work as a nurse. We had a sinking feeling that we needed a change of pace, and that is when I stumbled across a flyer for the year-long exchange program. We applied. The process proceeded quickly, and we found ourselves primed in less than a year to move our lives to Australia.

Our exchange destination was Yass, a small, remote inland town of about 5,600 located about 280 kilometres southwest of Sydney. When we looked this up online, we were hesitant, to say the least. We had originally been expecting to be located close to the coast in a larger city and felt some disappointment that this was not everything we had envisioned.

Upon arriving, however, we were greeted warmly by the local community, including staff and student families from the school, plus some friends of the exchangees: Troy and Ange Sicily and their children Ruby, Stella and Baxter. Some of the people we met on our first day in Yass have become close friends to our whole family. They made us feel like we had a second home during our time there.

Deb got involved with many of the community events and developed a large network of friends and acquaintances who filled our social calendar. I joined some of Troy’s friends in doing a radio show called the Segue Highway on the local FM station. This became the highlight of my week.

Eoin settled nicely into Mt. Carmel School and we enjoyed walking there together in the mornings, something that is not possible here in Calgary with weather and different schools. Eoin also enjoyed playing rugby for the local U7 team and made many friends.

Isaac started preschool and learned to swim during his time there. He underwent noticeable growth in size and maturity, but I wondered if he would remember much of his experiences. As it turns out, he can still describe a number of the places we visited and can recall the details of the beautiful country house and yard where we had the pleasure of staying.

As far as professional development goes, this was the most introspective and enlightening period of my career. While I am always learning something new at my regular job, being removed from the situation and being given a new culture, method and staff to work with opened my eyes and perspective on teaching and life. I am a better teacher and father (I think) as a result of my time in Australia. ❚ 

Esau Tamura teaches at Father James Whelihan School in Calgary.

Survey says:

A sampling of comments about the program gathered via online survey:

“I feel refreshed and changed as a teacher, and I am really enjoying all the insight and growth I have experienced in the past year.”

 “Professionally it’s very challenging and you learn a lot about your way of teaching, how you work with others and how you deal with children. You have a chance to observe different methods and pedagogies. I have clearly grown in my way of teaching!”

“It is an excellent way to experience some adventure without giving up what you have worked hard to achieve (home, permanent teaching position).”

“It was reassuring to know that similar struggles are happening around the world and also reassuring to know that we are ahead in some areas.”

“The benefit of the exchange for me was having my expectations and understanding of my role and practices as a teacher turned upside down.”

“Teaching in a different system isn’t easy. You have a lot of adapting to do, but you learn so much!”

“We really enjoyed living in a new place and not just visiting the place.”

“It taught me how to adapt and be open to change.”

“I now call flip-flops ‘thongs’ and erasers ‘rubbers’ so I get funny looks all the time.”

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