By Jessica Schmidt, SED 2015
After I made the 22-hour flight from Sydney back to my hometown last winter and I will openly admit that the culture shock I experienced upon arriving was rough. Instead of focusing on how to adjust back to the cold and the snow, I couldn’t help but relive my time in Sydney, Australia where the people are chipper and sun-kissed, and everything is made prettier by beaches and endearing accents.
I was lucky enough to take my student teaching practicum to the other side of the world and delve into a new, breathtaking culture that is packed with adventure and free spirits. The country as a whole has a population that is approximately the same as that of New York City, around 23 million people. With fewer people, comes more animals. Australia is home to many of the world’s most dangerous animals—don’t worry, I made it back alive with minimal scrapes and bruises.
I came to know the country’s natives (both people and animals) quite well, traveling around the continent and into others. However, the age of the people I got to know the best averaged around 10 years old. I spent every day in an all boy’s school, teaching a class of 25 fifth graders. To some, this may seem like I spent precious beach time managing hormonal troublemakers, but for me, the situation could not have been more worthwhile.
Student teaching in another country sounds intimidating. Add on the fact that the students being instructed are fifth grade boys with adorable accents and preppy school uniforms and you’re practically begging for a panic-stricken deer-in the headlights reaction. However, the opposite happened when I walked into 5L on the first day of September 2014. I had twenty-five boys who were obsessed with my accent and who wanted to know which celebrities I have met (they weren’t too impressed with my meeting of Zac Efron, which would have gone over much better at an all girls school). I spent four days camping in the Aussie wilderness with my class on the second week of school and learned just how scary it is to have a wombat try to get into your tent in the middle of the night. In no time, I was viewed as the cool American teacher who needed to learn as much Aussie slang as possible.
I couldn’t believe how quickly I was accepted into the culture of the school, let alone that of the country. I was able to integrate myself into a large faculty and feel like an important member of the team: participating in professional development and staff meetings, comparing intervention programs used in Boston to those in Sydney, and designing unit plans to be used across all fifth grade classrooms in the building. I was able to foster bonds with my students that continue today through email and hopefully was able to teach them one or two things that stuck.
More than anything, I learned that being on the other side of the world does not mean everything is upside down and backwards. People in Australia are living very similarly to those in Boston. We have remarkably similar successes and histories, as well as struggles. Unfortunately, many people are so focused on the differences in cultures, that there is not enough emphasis on the similarities. By exposing students and teachers around the world to cultures other than their own and focusing on how we are all similar, there is hope for greater cross-cultural unity and acceptance in the future. Traveling nearly 10,000 miles away from home taught me that the world is smaller than I ever realized.
Jessica Schmidt is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Elementary and Special Education