Many (hm...yikes...23, to be exact) years ago, I was getting ready to head to England on a study abroad program. The semester before we left, all of the London-bound students had a series of culture/history/politics prep classes. At the first session, our director (the beloved Dr. S) started with this: "Repeat after me: different isn't necessarily bad. It's just different."
We chanted it together then for the first of many times and came to use those words as a mantra for the next six+ months. I remember thinking, "it's England, we speak the same language, how different can it be?" Dr. S knew that our very human tendency--not just to notice differences but to judge them against our comfort settings--might become a barrier to understanding and enjoying our new surroundings. The mantra helped reset our automatic responses, replacing judgment with curiosity.
My poor kids. They've been subjected to this phrase ad nauseum. Don't get me wrong: we love noticing differences. We're just working hard on not automatically deciding they're wrong/bad/silly but instead to be curious and appreciate the novelty for what it is: different.
. . .
With that preamble, here are a few things we've noticed that are different in Oz, school edition:
~ They have recess! Even through senior school (years 7-12) they have two classes, then a 20-minute outdoor recess (for snacking, playing soccer & other games, running around, chatting with friends), then two classes, then a break for lunch, then two classes, then after school activities. Quite nice, I think.
~ Hats are a way of life. Because of Australia's placement on the planet, Australians are particularly prone to sun cancer (and I think it's interesting they call it "sun cancer" rather than skin cancer, don't you?) and they take their sun protection seriously. Hats are a part of the school uniform at both schools and the penalty for being caught outside without them is to go sit in the shade for a certain amount of time or write a paper on sun cancer.
~ Yesterday when we were talking about the school day and how the transition is going, Sam said "I keep forgetting to stay standing at the beginning of class." I had no idea! He went on to note that all of the students stand next to their desks at the start of each class until the teacher comes in and invites them to sit. So interesting! I wonder if they see a difference in attitude with that simple but different start?
~ Participation in a co-curricular sport each season is required at the boys' school and strongly urged at the girls'. After weighing several fun options (cricket? tennis? netball? mountain biking? basketball?), both kids decided to take up completely new sports this term that would put them on the water during the hot months: Maddy is doing Dragonboats, which is similar to but different from crew--they use paddles rather than oars and face front rather than back. In competitions the boats are decorated with dragon heads and tails in a nod to the Chinese roots of the sport. Sam is doing Sailing, first learning on a little solo boat with the other newbies and then he'll move on to race in teams.
~ Not much homework. A couple of other American parents told me not to be surprised if the kids didn't have much homework every night. The curriculum is more oriented around exams and projects so the students do some reading and project work on an incremental basis but not much daily worksheet-type work.
~ Likewise, I was warned that grading here is strict and on the true curve. This means most students really do get Cs for doing well, performing at the level that's expected. If you've done extra work or above and beyond you get a B, and if you've done extraordinarily excellent work (very rare) you get an A. No grade inflation here! We'll have to adjust our expectations, I think, but it's just different.