Could you swap lives with a stranger from the other side of the world for 12 months?
That’s what Canadian Kellie Bowkowy has done with Girraween Public School teacher Maxine Johnson.
Mrs Bowkowy and her family are living in Mrs Johnson’s Oatlands home and teaching her year 2 class at Girraween. It’s part of an exchange program between the Alberta Teachers Association and the NSW education department.
Mrs Johnson is living and teaching in the Bowkowys’ hometown of Beaumont in the province of Alberta, a small bilingual town with a population of 18,000.
Mrs Bowkowy has been joined by husband Matt and daughters Maëlle, 6, and Malia, 3, on the exchange.
“We thought the experience would be good to show our kids something different,” she said.
“It was very overwhelming at the beginning with the move to the big city from the small town and the small school to the big school. I feel like this is our home now, I don’t see myself as much as tourist any more.”
The family left Canada on Boxing Day last year and have spent the school holidays travelling along the east coast of Australia. They are enjoying their time in Oatlands. “It’s a nice little community that’s very close to Parramatta,” Mrs Bowkowy said.
“Maëlle loves school in Australia and has really come out of her shell. I can’t believe how much we have been able to see, do and experience in such a short time and we have so many adventures already booked to look forward too. Turning our life upside down has pushed all of us to live life to its fullest.”
Girraween has more than 1000 pupils, compared to École Coloniale Estates School, which has 600 from kindergarten to year 8.
“Girraween is a huge school with a very different demographic,” Mrs Bowkowy said.
“It’s a very academic school The beginning of the school year was challenging and full of learning for me in the classroom. The workload is a more and I am finally feeling like I have it under a bit of control.The biggest is the size, but other differences are uniforms, the year round school terms, and some of the terms used to describe school materials. I am liking how much positive praise is given to students and can't wait to take back some of the ideas to Canada. I have enjoyed teaching my students about Canada and a lot of them can't wait to visit me once I am back.”
The Bowkowys will consider doing the exchange again.
“We’ll wait until the girls are older so they can remember more of it,” Mrs Bowkowy said.
“I’ve had a few people at school ask about the exchange. I would encourage any teacher to do it as it’s a great learning experience.”