Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cold, Wind, and Rain

That pretty much sums up last week in Melbourne. I know I just talked about how wonderful the autumn weather was, but winter seemed to roar in to Victoria after I wrote that post! It does rain quite often here, but typically there will be an occasional or random shower and then it will be sunny again. Last week, however, we had two straight days of nearly constant rain, leaving the ground saturated with water. 
Flooded paths near our house
And the wind…I don’t think you can really understand how cold the wind is here until you actually feel it on your skin. It is essentially coming straight from Antarctica, and it is shockingly cold. I should probably clarify “cold”, because quite a few people reading this post are from Minnesota, where winter can be brutally chilly. Wind chills last week were often below zero Celsius, for example, the air temperature was about 5 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit), but with the wind it felt like -2 degrees, or 28 degrees Fahrenheit. I also think that I notice the cold air more because I walk to work and to the gym most days. It’s one thing to run in the cold, because you warm up after the first five or ten minutes. But my walk is about 20 minutes each way, often into a fierce wind, and by the end I’m usually telling myself that I should have worn a hat and gloves to walk to work! I guess I am simply in denial that I need to wear my winter gear in Oz. :)
On Saturday, I spent all day working at the footy field, and as you can see, the sun was shining brightly, but the field was a disaster from the week's weather. I have seen some wet fields, especially when working in Eastern Baltimore County, but this field was so wet that massive amounts of water sprayed up with every step taken by the players. This was early in the morning, and three games were played on this field over the course of the day. Let's just say my white "work" pants (yes, it was someone's bright idea that sports trainers should be mandated to wear white pants) will never look the same.
As far as the rain goes, I’ve been told that winter is often the rainiest season of them all. Because we arrived in August, we only caught the tail end of winter, which involved a little bit of rain and a few cool days but nothing like we had last week. Of course there are beautiful days as well, and the forecast for the next few days appears to contain sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. However, as I’ve mentioned a few times, you cannot trust a weather forecast in Melbourne!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Autumn in Australia

The title of this post should really be "Autumn in Melbourne", because I know that there are some places in Oz that do not really experience a true Autumn due to climate and location. At lot of people from back home have asked if we see the leaves change color. In short, "yes", but not all trees change color and the colors are not nearly as dramatic as what you might see in Western Maryland or Northern Minnesota. I'm not a botanist, so I don't claim to be familiar with the names of all of the trees in the Melbourne area, but I believe that many of the trees are from the Eucalyptus family, commonly referred to as "gum trees". Correct me if I'm wrong, fellow Aussies, but I do not think that these trees lose their leaves or greens in the winter months. Many produce flowers at some point that I'm assuming die off in Autumn weather. Melbourne is also home to many palm trees, as our winters seem to be mild enough for the palms to handle.

Erik and I are fortunate enough to live on a tree-lined street of trees that do change color, so it has been enjoyable to watch the change of seasons take place right in front of our house. Technically winter began on June 1st, as the Australians don't seem to believe in following the solstice like we do in the States. The first two and a half weeks of winter have been really nice for the most part, with temperatures in the upper 50's to low 60's during the day and low to mid 40's at night. The following pictures were taken about two weeks ago. Now there are far less leaves hanging around on the branches some trees have lost all of their leaves!
Our street in the middle of the day during the week.
Packed with cars at night even though each house has a two car garage!

Not quite enough leaves for a good leaf pile!

Early moon rise.
Fortunately in just a few days we will start seeing more hours of daylight!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Things Overheard in an Australian High School

For the past few months, I have been spending about two days per week doing CRT work at a local high school. As if it's already not difficult enough to be a substitute teacher for adolescents ages 12 to 18, teaching in another country adds a new dimension to the job. I've been fortunate to become a "preferred" CRT teacher for this local school, so that means I'm one of the first people that gets called if they need substitutes. What that also means is I have subjected myself to filling in for all subject areas, so I've taught Wood Tech, Media, Maths (way too many times considering I'm terrible at math), and Year 8 Italian, to name a few. I thought you might be interested in learning a few things about how school is different in Oz compared to the United States, so I've created my own top ten list of things that would help you survive in the classroom if you decided to "have a go" at teaching these lovely Aussie children.

10. High school here is, in fact, called College. For example, instead of attending Westminster High School, I would have attended Westminster College. If students graduate high school (they can legally drop out after Year 10, I believe), they go on to "Uni", or University, though the longer version of the word is rarely used here. Students do understand if I use the term "high school" and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that they are familiar with the American educational system due to watching television shows and movies.

9. To get into Uni, students do not take the SAT or ACT. They have exams in each subject, collectively called the VCE, throughout the course of Years 11 and 12 (some accelerated students can start taking VCE exams in earlier grades). Those scores are compared with other students around the state and they basically get ranked by their test scores, similar to how the SAT scores work with percentiles, I think. All students must take VCE exams if they want to graduate from high school, even if they do not plan on attending college. I still have much to learn about VCE testing, but from what I gather, what you do in Years 7-10 doesn't matter that much because it's all about how well you do on your VCE examinations. I was told by a Year 12 class last week that sometimes in lower grades students do not even receive letter grades, just marks such as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, but I have not yet confirmed that finding.

8. If a student asks if an assignment needs to be done in grey-lead, they are asking if it needs to be completed in pencil. I found this term commonly used in the university class that I taught this semester as well!

7. There are several breaks during the course of the day and they are wonderful! At the school where I teach most often, there are two 47 minute classes in the morning followed by a 20-ish minute break for snack/recess, two more classes followed by a 47 minute lunch, and then two final classes before the end of the day. Sometimes those "two" classes are actually a double of the same subject. There is also a 20 minute period of "sustained silent reading" or "SSR" after the recess period in the morning, and the students seem to adhere quite well to the rules of being silent and having something to read (teachers must read as well...no grading or internet searching allowed during SSR).

6. Hamish is a very popular name and it's pronounced HAYmish, not HAMish.

5. Aussie children, and many adults, cannot distinguish between the Canadian and American accent. And apparently it is rare to be an American CRT, as many of their foreign teachers have been Canuks. Admittedly, I can not differentiate between the Australian accent and the New Zealand accent, but I'm getting better, I think!

4. When a student asks their classmate for a "rubber", they are talking about an eraser. Pencils (or grey-leads!) don't seem to be manufactured with erasers on top here, which I find very strange.

3. Study up on the NBA, because that is pretty much the only U.S. sport these Aussie children care about. I've tried to explain many times that college basketball is far superior to the NBA, but usually that just causes blank stares.

2. A marker is called a "texta". A white board marker can, according to the students, be called a marker, but a marker that you might color with or a Sharpie, for example, those are textas.

1. Be prepared to answer the question "is college really like it is in the movies, like American Pie"?! I find that is a difficult question to answer. College/Uni lifestyle seems much different here than at home. Many students live with their parents and commute, because some universities have very little on-campus housing. I sometimes think that my Australian students seem to overlook the fact that occasionally college students in America do go to class and they must actually pass all of their classes in order to remain enrolled in college. They tend to focus on the frat parties, sporting events, and Spring Break trips that they see on television instead.

This is by no means an inclusive list, but it will help get you started. While you are working hard to remember these items, you should know that they do not use the word "schedule" here, but "timetable" instead. Be sure to get up-to-date on your technology too, because attendance is taken using your own personal iPad (quite a nice perk if you ask me)! Also, be sure not to use the terms freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, because the students will surely look at you like you have a second head.
The "bright" side of getting up early to go to work. :)

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Sometimes it is the little changes to life in Oz that tend to be the most noticeable. Laundry is something I never really thought twice about in the States. I did a few loads over the weekend and I didn't mind washing, drying, or folding laundry. Now, however, that has changed!

The first major difference between doing laundry here compared to the U.S. is that the size of washing machines are much smaller. At home I would generally be able to get away with putting a LOT of clothes into one load of laundry, but that does not happen here. Technically the weight capacity of our washing machine is 6 kilograms, which works out to about 13 pounds. Seems like a lot, but the size of the machine is so darn small that it always seems like I cannot get all of our dirty clothes inside the machine. In addition to the size of the machine, it just does not seem to get clothes all that clean, though perhaps that is because I'm still overloading the machine with too many dirty clothes?!

The second and most challenging difference is that we are dryer-less. I realize that many people live life without a dryer (pretty sure my in-laws did for many years), but it seems much more common in Oz to not have a clothes dryer than it is in the States. Nearly every house/apartment here has a built-in clothes drying rack, something that would be rare in the US of A. The issue of not having a dryer comes into play for several reasons. Melbourne has ridiculously unpredictable weather. It will sometimes be a gorgeous sunny morning and then by afternoon it is cold and rainy. Twice now, I've done laundry when the forecast was for nice weather, left clothes out on our clothesline, only to return to find them soaked. A few weeks ago when the days started getting a bit chillier and the daylight hours shorter, I noticed that even on beautiful days, the laundry was just not drying. Enter: indoor clothes drying rack. I started using the indoor rack, which was nice because I did not have to check the weather forecast before putting in a load of laundry. However, the clothes still seemed to take days to dry. The rack is also a bit small, so I literally have clothes hanging in various places all over the house.

A few weekends ago at footy, one of the "moms" on the team told me her strategy for drying clothes. She told me that she puts the clothes on drying racks in one of the small bedrooms, closes the door, and turns up the heat in the house. Many homes here seem to have gas duct heating, and this method of heating warms up the house much quicker than the electric heating we used in the States. According to a few of my Melbournian friends, it is actually not uncommon to have a dedicated "clothes drying room" in the house! Anyway, I did this in one of our bathrooms, and while it helped to dry the clothes a bit faster, it also made the bathroom smell like mildew. Not exactly success. Erik suggested we open the door for a bit, which helped with the smell and the clothes still seemed to benefit from being placed under the heating duct.
Yes, the drying rack is set up in the bathtub!
It does help that many of our clothes are dri-fit material, so they dry rather quickly. On the other hand, I do have to think twice if I'm going to wash a pair of jeans or a sweatshirt, because those items might take 5 days to dry completely! Another thing I miss about having a clothes dryer is the absence of wrinkle release. I am not good with a clothes iron, so previously if my clothes were a bit wrinkly I would just toss them in the dryer for a bit to get the wrinkles out. I believe I've used an iron more times in the last few months than I have in my entire life! We have considered buying a clothes dryer, but now that we have sorted out a few strategies to assist in drying the clothes, I believe that life will go on without one. :) In fact, I think that after this experience of not owning a clothes dryer, we might look at having one in the future as a luxury!