Sunday, February 14, 2010

Starting all over again...again.

Two short weeks ago, I started over. My oldest child began her first year of primary school here in Australia and although I've been living here for 10 years, this experience has been a whole new ball game. I felt once again, like I'd just arrived. I know lots of parents have to adjust to the difference between preschool and primary school, but I can't help but think that as an expat, there is another dimension. I feel like, in many ways, I've got far more things to consider than my Australian counterparts going through the same transition.

Australians have a basic working knowledge of the school system here because they were educated in the very system in question. I, on the other hand, was educated in the American public school system. I can't help but constantly feel like I'm on the back foot and everyone else is two steps ahead of me. The school schedule, the daily routine, the curriculum, all seems to be second nature to most of the other parents, but I'm taking in the information as quickly as it's coming and I still feel a bit like a deer in the headlights. The Handsome Australian is a good reference for me because he was schooled here in Australia, but his memory is vague. Really, really vague. (Is there a man out there that remembers details? Anyone?) So I soldier on, trying to work it all out.

The basics are all there, but the approach is vastly different to what I remember of school in the USA. During a Parent Information Evening last week, our daughter's teacher was explaining the "No Worries" approach that the school takes with the children. If they make a mistake, they are told, "No worries, we all make mistakes. " That seemed fair enough. Then she said, "If they forget something at home like their hat or their jacket or their show and tell item, please don't rush home and get it for them even if they are crying. We just say, 'No worries'. It's okay, you forgot." I appreciate that these kids are very young and teaching them to not sweat the little things is probably good for their resilience, but gee it seems really laid back to an American like me. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying it's different. It's many subtle differences like this that mean I have to constantly rethink my expectations, readjust my understanding and review the process.

Then there is the whole social side of things. Just like my daughter in her new class, I've got to make new friends with the other Mums. I've always said Melbourne social circles can be a hard nut to crack. My prior experience here has taught me that most Melbournians have well established friendship circles full of life long friends and family which leave very little room for expats like myself. I'm not saying Melbournians are unfriendly, I'm just saying the lack of transience in their culture means the ties that bind are that much stronger than a more transient society like the USA. Which means as an Expat, you have to work that much harder to create a network for yourself--especially when you spend 2 months out of the year back in the USA, which has been the case for our family for the past 4 or 5 years.

Yes, just as the school year is settling in, and we've started to learn the names of the other children and parents, we pick up and go back to the USA for 6-8 weeks. When our daughter started preschool, I thought nothing of our trip to the USA and its social implications for either of us. When we returned from our trip I realised the friendship groups in the class and among the parents had formed and we were on the outside looking in, once again. This isn't a problem that doesn't solve itself over time, but it's just the constant feeling of starting over, starting over, starting over. Of course as soon as we settle in to the group, the year is finished and the following year is a different class or even a different preschool...and repeat.

Now that my daughter is at primary school, I know we'll be in one place for quite awhile so the friendships we make now will hopefully be lasting ones. Still, with a trip to the USA pending 6 short weeks after the beginning of the school year, I am doing everything I can to meet and befriend as many of the families as we can to try and avoid that starting over feeling again once we return from our trip. Who knew there would be so much to consider?

I thought I'd gotten the hang of this country, but here I am starting all over...again.


Laine Moore said...

Where are you from in Texas again? I'm from San Antonio, just curious :) It must be so nice to go to the U.S. for that length of time each year! I want to start that.

It's not the same thing, but I started a job working in schools (public, private and independent) in Australia last year, and although I was PSYCHED to land the job, I was terrified. I had NO IDEA what was going on at the beginning! I do find the schools here to be very different. I work with students from 5-15 , and I had to do many transitions from 7th grade to high school, and let's just say, I found that more often than not my 7th grade students were not getting homework assignments from their teachers, VERY off-putting. I was supposed to prepare them for the transition to high school: tons of homework, diary usage, having a different teacher for each subject, etc. The system is just a bit... different haha.

It also seems from my outsider's perspective that public schools do not necessarily prepare for university entry, whereas private schools, which cater more to this, are SO EXPENSIVE. Coming from Texas, where we have a pretty high standard of public education, it's a bit confusing to me.

Anyway, good luck with the new school year! I'm sure your daughter will do great and make all those friends!

emseedubya said...

I feel a little bit spoiled that I get to read your blog and learn from your experiences! We won't be having kids for another 5 years or so and the idea of trying to raise them without my family TERRIFIES ME, for all the reasons you mention. I've been lucky that my husband had a very tight knit group of friends here that I've been able to easily deposit myself into without having to try very hard, but they are all 2.5 hrs away and I'm experiencing the world of trying to push into these cliques that have existed for years before me and you DO have to constantly be on your toes and putting yourself out there and making plans just to be remembered and it's exhausting and feels false and desperate half the time, like the first day of high school....we had talked about taking our kids back to Texas for summer holidays every year as've def. given us some things to think about. I agree with Laine that the public school system here is majorly lacking my standards. With many kids dropping out of school at 15 to pursue trades through apprenticeships and traineeships, it's not always in the public schools' agendas to seriously prepare kids for uni. I feel like I'm tangenting. Anyways. I can't relate with you 100% because I don't have kids, but I have felt that pang when you realize that a friendship you've been working on suddenly disintegrates because you've been state-side and you have to begin again. I hope you find a support system that works for you, it's a shame that 2 months out of 12 would push you out of the loop. :( All we can do is pick ourselves up again, entertain as much as possible and hope things bond over time. Good luck!!!

Lisa in Oz said...

Our kids aren't starting school yet (they're still being grown lol), but I'm with you on the "sooo different" thing.

I felt the same way when I started my Master's degree here. It was just so bewildering - everyone else seemed to know EXACTLY what to do (who to talk to, what paperwork they needed, etc.) and I was just clueless. I had a practicum as part of my first class, and I only discovered on the first day that we were supposed to have done them in the weeks BEFORE the class started. This information was never sent out to students - you were just expected to magically know somehow, and yet everyone except me did! Not the most auspicious beginning for me lol - and it's gotten better since then, but it's still a big learning curve. Hang in there!

P.S. About the friend thing - it's the same way here, although my little town only has a population of about 28k. People aren't unfriendly, but a lot of them grew up here together and have a huge history and simply aren't interested in expanding their circles. Over the course of 2.5 years, I've made a couple good friends, but that's about it.

suzinoz said...

@ Laine Raised in El Paso, University in S.A. I have to agree with you on the public vs. private system here in Oz. I've worked in the public schools here and I honestly could not believe the appalling standard of the facilities. I was educated in the public schools of Texas and worked in them too before I moved here and I have to say they are miles ahead of the Australian counterparts I've come across. I always look at my husband and think, he was educated here and has done very well for himself and is a very clever fellow. Having said that, he is a product of the PRIVATE school system. At this stage, if we continue to live here in Oz, we will definitely be looking at staying on the Private school track.

suzinoz said...

Thanks for stopping by and for your lovely comment. I know that my kids will miss out on many things when we take our annual trips to the USA, but I also know that they grow tremendously every time we visit. They adore the trips and love seeing their cousins. I think one of the things that has made it good for us is that we go vaguely around the same time each year, so for the past four or five years we've spent Easter with my family. It's become a tradition and that makes me really happy that they have that to look forward to each year.

In a lot of ways, having kids in Australia has been really positive in terms of expanding my network of friends. I've met so many more people through activities relating to my children than I ever did before I had kids.

As for the public schools, I do think there are some that are up to scratch, but it is very hit or miss. This is why I believe private is a better option if you can afford it. Personally, I've always been very impressed with Australia's technical schools and have liked the idea that kids with that kind of interest are encouraged to pursue it. It's nice to see there is another avenue because University isn't always the right fit for every person, but high school should give you a basis to go either way right?
Again, thanks for reading! =)

suzinoz said...

@ Lisa in Oz-Don't even get me started on the University system. I did a full year of study when I first came to Australia and I couldn't believe how bizarre it was. The course work I was doing then was at the undergraduate level and I couldn't get over these 'tutorials'. Each class had a tutorial session that was seperate from the lecture portion. Often the "tutes" were taken by assistants or grad students and we'd all have to sit around in smaller groups for an hour and discuss the most inane things and a large portion of your mark for the class was based on how much you spoke in these classes. So people just crapped on about anything just to join in because they knew they were graded on how much they spoke, not on what they actually said. So retarded! I hope your experience is better.

bw said...

Your dad remembers all of the details!

Happy Birthday!

suzinoz said...

@bw, Yes, thank goodness for Blackberry!

Martyn said...

I feel exactly the same as you sometimes. Things are completely different here, our children started childcare when we arrived and that was confusing enough. Can't wait until they are old enough to go to school, then I get to experience that confusion as well.


suzinoz said...

@Martyn-Thanks for stopping by. I find that no matter how long you live here, you will still find things that surprise you. Not as often and not as much, but it happens more frequently than you'd think after 10 years! =)

cents and sanctuary said...

Hello Suz! I'm glad I found your blog. I was googling for expat jobs as am finishing postgrad by mid-year and i came upon this. Am also a mom and our lil' one will start primary school by 2012. i know it's a bit early to be thinking about it but he recently started kindercare once a week and even that has been quite an adjustment! And i really feel for u, esp re the friend-situation (esp once you've a family!), ice cream woes..i'm not demanding, i just want good coffee or mocha flavoured ones!! haha :) In any case reading your blog makes me feel less isolated I guess. I'm from the Philippines and my hubby is also Lebanese..also handsome ;) looking forward to reading your blogs! -Lizz
ps. i started a blog but have never got around to it LOL

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your blog and I'm so happy. I will be moving to Melbourne with my husband and 6 year old daughter in Oct. I'm originally from Texas but have been living in Switzerland for the past 7.5 years. I was wondering if you could shed some light as to what grade, a child who will be 7 in Feb., would be placed in? My daughter is starting 1st grade in August but from what I can tell about Victoria schooling, she would be finishing 1st grade in Dec. and then starting 2nd grade in Feb. Is that true? thanks for writing such a funny and informative blog.
Oh one other thing is there good Tex-Mex in Melbourne? .... because I've been living without it (almost) for 7.5 years now and I'm getting a bit fed up.

suzinoz said...

@Pokey Puppy-Thanks for stopping by. You've got an exciting move ahead of you. Melbourne is a fantastic city with lots on offer. As for your question about schooling, technically yes, your daughter could be placed in 1st grade upon arrival and then would start 2nd Grade in January. The current age cutoff to start school in Victoria is 5 years old by 30th of April. Having said that, children with birthdays that fall anywhere from Jan to April are often held back because they are "young" (ie still 4). Our daughter fell in that category and we started her the following year when she was 5 nearly 6. So in her case, she's been 6 for most of Prep (or Kindergarten as we know it in the USA) and she'll be 7 for most of 1st Grade. The point being, there aren't a lot of hard and fast rules about age and grade level here. It seems to be a bit of a grey area that is left to parent and teacher discretion. In addition to that, I think you will find most Victorian primary schools operate with composite classes which mean the classes are made up of a mix of 1st and 2nd Grade students, 2nd and 3rd, 3rd and 4th and so on and so forth. So it is very possible you daughter could be placed in a Grade 1/2 class which would have kids from both year levels and she'll probably be just fine there as she might fall somewhere between the two. I hope that makes sense.

As for the Tex Mex...hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the only Tex Mex worth eating in Melbourne that I know of is the stuff I dish out in my own kitchen. Ingredients used to be excruitatingly hard to come by, but that's changing all the time and it's pretty easy to get your hands on most of the necessary things to cook up a little magic of your own.

Best of luck and please feel free to e-mail me with any more questions or queries you have about Melbourne in general. Happy to help where I can . My email is:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Suz! It's a relief to hear about the mixed classrooms.
I'm sad to hear about the Tex-Mex but not so surprised. I guess I need to continue improving my Tex-Mex cooking skillz.

suzinoz said...

@Pokey Puppy-Glad I could help. When you get here, I can point you in the right direction for Tex Mex ingredients (as they can be tricky to locate) and share a few good recipes with you. Keep in touch!