Australian family ends year-long visit to Port Elgin area

Joan LeBlanc
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The Carlson family, consisting of mother and father Kylie and Nick and daughters Emily, seated left, and Brittany, have called Port Elgin home for the past year as part of the International Teaching Fellowship program, which sees educators from around the world ‘swap’ teaching responsibilities and homes for one year. LEBLANC PHOTO

PORT ELGIN, NB – A year-long visit to a country halfway across the world will soon come to an end for one Australian family.

Nick and Kylie Carlson and their daughters Brittany and Emily have been living near Port Elgin for a year, as part of the International Teaching Fellowship program, an international education program which sees educators from around the world ‘swap’ teaching responsibilities and homes for one year.  The Carlsons’  live in the township of Cowes on Phillip Island, a small island just off the southern coast of Australia, about two hours south of Melbourne where Kylie is a teacher and Nick a member of the Victoria state police force, from which he is currently on temporary leave.

Port Elgin Regional School vice-principal Christophe Becker, his wife Pamela, also a teacher, and their two teenage sons Jessua and Josiah have spent the past year in Cowes, Victoria, Australia where he has been teaching at Cowes Primary School. The Beckers’ will soon be returning to Canada.

The family arrived in Port Elgin in late December, 2012 and in January Kylie began teaching a grade four class at PERS. The family talked recently about the past year spent in Canada.

“It’s been an experience for us all; we’ve all learned so much and met so many wonderful people. We’ve made a lot of friends here,” Kylie said in her delightful Australian accent.

Apart from the professional experience of teaching in another country, Kylie and Nick wanted their whole family to have the opportunity to travel and see a vastly different part of the world and to live in a location so very diverse from their own.

“When you take a holiday you don’t get to know the people and what it’s really like in a particular place; you have to live there and become part of the community to really experience the culture there. We love to travel and this opportunity gave us the ability to live and work in this community,” Nick noted.

In the months leading up to their coming to Canada, the Carlson family was eagerly awaiting the commencement of their year-long adventure.

“It’s been great, better than I expected. It’s been the best thing we’ve ever done, I think, as a family,” Kylie said, prompting smiles and hearty agreement from the rest of the family.

A teacher for many years, she admitted there were a lot of challenges to face going from one school system to another.

“School is challenge to begin with, and I didn’t expect it to be. I like things to be planned well. The first few weeks were tough; I had to learn a whole new curriculum, new outcomes. It was the small things, like you don’t know where to pull a resource from to teach a lesson. So many people told me things and there was so much to take in that by the end of the day I would forget it all. But it was a good learning experience for me and for the children in my class because we learned a lot from each other,” she said.

The Australian school year runs from January to December, with the months of January and February being summer vacation. Being on the opposite side of the world, the winter mild winter season takes places from June to September.

And more than that, the family faced a myriad of differences in living their daily lives, although Kylie noted that the International Teaching Fellowship program is very thorough in preparing individuals and families for life in another part of the world.

“We got a lot of information about all aspects of life so we were prepared for just about everything. But even though you know it’s going to be cold when you arrive, you can’t actually feel that cold, so that was definitely a challenge, getting used to the cold and snow. We left Australia on Christmas Day last year and it was 30 degrees Celsius. We arrived here a couple days later and it was minus 18. What a shock it was! We got used to it quite quickly though, and we love the snow. We’re looking forward to getting a big snowstorm so there will be lots of snow before we leave,” Kylie said.

The girls had a different perspective toward the issue of Canada’s cold winter weather.

“When we got here it was so cold; we wore layers and layers of clothes. But it was always so warm in the buildings. Our house here is always nice and warm and cozy and even when you go to other places, like to school or in stores; it’s always so nice and warm. That is really different I think,” Emily admitted.

And then there was the issue of driving on the opposite side of the road than what they are used to.

“I do drive but I’m still nervous; I have to drive to work every day, but it’s not far - driving in snow has been a challenge though. When we go places together Nick always drives; he has no problem with it,” Kylie said.

Then there was the difference in foods. The family brought along a year’s supply of Vegemite, which is a dark brown food paste made from leftover brewers' yeast extract with various vegetables and spices added and which is hugely popular in Australia.

“That’s a favourite, we had to have that,” Kylie admitted.

Although accustomed to eating a lot of Asian food, such as curry, the family noted that back home Down Under they also enjoy many of the same types of foods as Canadians.

“Oh yes, we love salads and barbecues and that sort of thing, but it was challenging to get all of the ingredients that we’re used to at home, particularly when we’re used to living in the city and are close to supermarkets,” she said.

But the family embraced their borrowed culture and learned to try all sorts of Canadian foods. When asked what was their favourite local food, ‘poutine’ was the resounding reply from both Brittany and Emily and that they’d both really miss the delicious Canadian dish of French Fries, gravy and grated Mozzarella cheese.

They were also open to trying more traditional fare.  A teacher at PERS, who is of Acadian descent, brought the family an old Acadian treat, poutine râpée. The popular dish is made of mashed and grated potatoes rolled into a ball around a nest of salt pork, then cooked by boiling in water. And while this delectable dish is revered by many Maritime residents, the dull grey colour and sticky consistency of the poutine râpée can be unappetizing to some diners.

“They looked gross; but we tried them and they really weren’t bad,” Emily admitted.

Nick said he had initially been concerned about what he was going to do for a year, with no job to go to everyday. But that didn’t turn out to be a problem. Preparing the family meals, maintaining a web log for family and friends back home and being a chauffeur for this children to the many activities that they joined during their year here, took up much of his time.

“I have not been bored; just keeping up with the house things, volunteering at the school and mowing the grass. There is so much grass here; Christophe and Pam have an amazing property and we’ve totally enjoyed being here, but there really is a lot of grass to mow. A neighbour mowed it in the summer when we were away so it didn’t get out of control,” he said with a grin.

During summer vacation the Carlsons travelled across Canada and were continually amazed by the scenery and the people.

“At the end of the day I remember saying ‘this was the best day we’ve ever had’, but then the next day we went to another place and saw more awesome things and that night I said, ‘ no I was wrong, today is the best day we’ve ever had’. There was so much to see and do, it was the best,” Brittany said.

On weekends and shorter holidays the family travelled to various locations in the Maritimes as well as spending some time in Quebec.

“Quebec City is amazing; we went there twice, once to the winter carnival. Actually we were surprised that a lot of people in this area have never been there; and you really need to go there, it’s absolutely amazing,” Nick said.

The Internet and social media kept the Carlsons in touch with their family and friends at home, and they enjoyed the visit of both Nick and Kylie’s mothers as well as some of their friends over the past year. But the whole family has been overwhelmed by the number of friends they’ve made locally during their stay here.

“Christophe and Pam had made arrangements for their good friends Steve and Holly Alward to pick us up from the airport when we arrived and we got to know them and many others soon after. One of the best things we got to do with our new friends was ice fishing for smelts,” Nick recalled.

The family thoroughly enjoyed going out onto the ice on the Northumberland Strait and spearing smelts.

“We did that three or four times and then they gave us more smelts. We all love to eat the smelts, they’re such a wonderful fish,” he added.

Although the Carlsons are looking forward to heading home to see their family and friends in Australia, they all admitted that saying goodbye to new friends they’ve made over the past year in Port Elgin, will be hard.

“It’s been a wonderful year. I thought when we came that we’d have the whole experience, see new places, meet new people. But I wasn’t prepared for how friendly everyone is here.  We came to this community and the people here just made us a part of that community. We’ve made some friends, many that we don’t want to have to say goodbye to and it’s going to be tough doing that. I didn’t ever expect this would happen,” Kylie said, tears welling.


Organizations: Port Elgin Regional School, Cowes Primary School

Geographic location: Port Elgin, Australia, Canada Cowes Victoria Phillip Island Melbourne Quebec City Maritime

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