Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Of Mice and Men

We've got some big things in the works 'round these parts.  And yes, I know that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry (to quote an author I can't stand).  For now, those mice and men are making things look pretty solid so I'm...well, I'm so excited I can barely stand it.

I've been itching to travel for years now, but both time and money have been lean. I'm not quite sure how; everyone knows the 'law school debt and three children' financial plan is a quick path to riches!  As the kids have grown, though, it is becoming increasingly important to me to instill in them some perspective; you know, that they will survive just fine if they don't own a XBox/Wii/PS2/(insert the latest and greatest blahblahblah here).  On the coldest days around here we make big pots of beef stew for the homeless and head downtown, with Jackson on ladling duty and Alex and Kenyon on spoon duty.  The stark contrast between our cozy home with the fire going and stocked fridge and our shivering hands doling out soup makes the brief two miles' distance seem worlds apart, and I know the kids get vivid lessons in appreciation on these days (as do I).

A few years ago, I started looking into teaching abroad opportunities for Sam.  My parents' friends and two of my favorite people in the world, Kathy and Dorsey, taught in Germany and Japan through the Department of Defense, so we got an application in there but I wasn't about to hold my breath waiting for there to be a worldwide shortage of art teachers.  Although Sam is technically qualified to teach high school science (he amassed a ton of science courses while on his initial path towards being a scientific illustrator), he freely admits that he would be doing any student body a serious disservice if he ever attempted such instruction.  

With that limitation, I looked into the Fulbright Teacher Exchange program.  Different countries participate each year, and that seemed like it could be promising, except for the fact that I had no idea how competitive it was, and there were often fluency qualifications.  I took a look at the application and wondered if Sam's ability to say "I can't speak Chinese very well" in Chinese could be considered fluency in a broad sense.

Then, the heavens parted and angels sang as I clicked on the webpage for the Colorado International Teacher Exchange League (CITEL), home of the Australian/New Zealand Educator Exchange program.  Now, if I could choose somewhere in the world to live and inject a little dose of perspective into our children, I'd choose Thailand.  Or Cambodia.  Or Nepal.  But Australia would at least be an opportunity to see new things, and for all of us to experience some important cultural differences (such as the fact that schools keep the teacher's lounge stocked with beer).

We thought we were fairly open to exchange prospects, but we found that there were some things we didn't want to compromise on:
  • I wanted to be close to the ocean.  And not just close, but c l o s e. 
  • I am fairly anti-suburb...I know, I need to work on bias, and I'm sure there are lovely suburbs.  But I do prefer the amenities (and rough-around-the-edges grit) that come with a more urban lifestyle.  So I didn't want to end up in Suzy Suburbanville, Australia.
  • We wanted to be in New South Wales or Queensland, which would position us well for traveling and exploring on a reasonable budget. 
Now all we had to do was find an art teacher down there to exchange easy task.  Elementary schools in Australia by and large do not employ art teachers; for whatever reason, music is favored over art.  Sam currently teaches elementary art, but is qualified to teach up through 12th grade.  I am not exaggerating when I write that I emailed every. single. school. up and down the coast of New South Wales and Queensland with an email about our family, explaining the exchange program, and encouraging art teachers to apply.  I also posted our plea on online teacher forums.

I woke up one morning to an email from an Australian teacher who had found our posting on an online forum--she and her family had already applied for an exchange and had been offered one in Canada, but their first choice was Colorado.  She had seen my posting and was hopeful that we could make something work between our two families.

But what about my requirements, you may be thinking...well, this family (that not only seems so, so nice, but they also have two young children similar in age to my three) live in Wollongong, the ninth largest city in Australia.  Check.  It's an hour south of Sydney in New South Wales.  Check.  They live in a condo with an enormous balcony (that I plan on spending all my time on) just 5 minutes' walk(!) to two beaches.  Check, bigtime. 

photo credit:
The rest is history, and if those mice and men keep going, we will depart for a year-long adventure in December.  I'll keep you posted on the details as the Adventures of Annie and Her Boys Goes Down Under...


  1. (such as the fact that schools keep the teacher's lounge stocked with beer)

    A benefit lost on Sam.

    Looking forward to reading about your Adventures Down Under.

  2. Um, this is amazing, and something we would totally do! We've thought about spending some time abroad in Rome/Italy as Kevin got his degree in Classics (though he is "wasting" it on law). Let us know if you're already booking guests for visits :)

    ~Jenni Nute Cox