30 Moments From Europe That Stayed With Me

A little while ago I wrote this post where I listed 10 moments from my trip to Austria that stayed with me. Well today is a year since I left for my first trip to Europe – a month long trip with my family, first doing a two week Trafalgar tour of mainland Europe and then doing two weeks in Britain, starting with 5 days in London and then driving up through York to Scotland and then down through Oxford to Poole, Dorset.

As I said before, memories and reflections are a funny thing. They change over time and what stands out to me a year on are a strange collection of moments and impressions. So, in no particular order, here is 30 moments from my first trip to Europe that I remember vividly.

  1. Walking out of a concert hall in Vienna to find it has started raining, getting the bus back to the hotel and viewing the city through rain-streaked windows that made everything beautiful.
  2. Landing at Heathrow Airport and my sister exclaiming ‘I can’t believe this is where they filmed Love Actually!’
  3. Getting the train alone to Hampton Court, and spending the whole day walking around, looking at and touching this old red bricked Tudor palace, unable to believe I was really there.
  4. Being exhausted in Rome and finding a comfortable looking rock in the Colosseum to sit on.
  5. Sitting in a boat, going down the main canal of Venice, worrying that my hat would blow off or I would drop my phone in the water.
  6. Driving over the border into Scotland and not being able to believe the sky was so big.
  7. Seeing a man buy two gelato cones in Rome, and then watching him feed one to his dog.
  8. Being too sick when we got to Paris to do the Seine river cruise – Dad and I found a bakery, and I ate a sesame seed roll with lettuce and Camembert cheese and then went to bed and slept for 12 hours.
  9. Driving through the Black Forest in Germany and totally believing that fairytale characters could appear at any moment.
  10. Walking around Florence on a 40 degree day and going to every church we saw because they were the coolest (temperature-wise) buildings.
  11. Meeting a dog named Chaz in a pub in Stow-On-The-Wold in England and missing my own Leo dog.
  12. Getting overwhelmed in the Vatican because there were so many people. 
  13. Getting the tube from Westminster to the Tower of London – it was sunny when we went underground, and then when we emerged it was pouring rain. We dashed to a nearby pub to take shelter (and eat lunch).
  14. Sailing down the Rhine River and seeing my first castle – the first castle I ever saw in real life. Then wondering how on earth you access it when it’s up so high on a cliff.
  15. Seeing the house Dad lived in and the primary school he went to in Glasgow (he lived there for a year when he was ten years old).
  16. Walking along the old city walls in Lucerne, Switzerland, and picking out which castle I would retire to/run away from the world to.
  17. Walking out of our dinner location to see the sun setting behind the Colosseum.
  18. Buying a colouring book at a rest stop in Austria and then using it as entertainment for the many, many hours on the tour bus.
  19. Realizing that the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace was happening in ten minutes, walking really fast to get there, and then realizing we were walking alongside the barracks they leave from.
  20. Driving from Glasgow to Creetown and getting lost. We ended up driving through almost deserted Scottish countryside on a tiny track. At one point we stopped the car, got out and just walked around, admiring the view. The hills stretched on forever, the sky was like a huge open dome and it was so silent.
  21. Attending a prayerbook service in the Royal Chapel at Hampton Court.
  22. Walking around a 17th Century graveyard next to the ruins of a 12th Century church – which were both in the backyard of our bnb in Bathgate. Also meeting the bnb’s two cats.
  23. Realizing the ducks in St James’ Park are HUGE.
  24. Sitting in the Eagle and Child in Oxford (the pub where the Inklings met) and drinking Pimms and lemonade and hiding from the sun.
  25. Meeting my Aunt and Uncle’s giant furry dog, and then walking him all around Poole and Dorset for three days.
  26. Standing in Westminster Abbey and just saying to myself ‘I’m in Westminster Abbey. I’m really here.’
  27. Driving from Germany, through the Bavarian alps towards Innsbruck, through the Austrian alps, and being overwhelmed that the world was so beautiful.
  28. Realizing that in Europe, a flat white is called an ‘Australian flat white.’
  29. Visiting Creetown, and the Creetown historical museum. Seeing objects like the town’s school enrollment book and letters from both World Wars.
  30. Walking down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh castle, listening to blues music (the Blues and Jazz festival was in town) and never wanting to leave.

10 Moments from Austria That Stayed With Me

My transcript from my time in Austria at the University of Graz arrived this week, which apart from being exciting in that I can claim credit, has also made me miss my winter adventures in Graz and Vienna. The weather in Brisbane is dropping, but it won’t be a winter with snow and frost and scarfs and gloves (for example, right now Brisbane is a whole 17 degrees).

Memories and reflections are a funny thing. They change over time – the things that stand out from my trip studying overseas are not the same things I would have drawn attention to at the time, or even in the weeks immediately afterwards.

So here’s 10 moments from Austria I remember vividly.

  1. Walking around the corner in Vienna and seeing Hofburg Palace before me and literally laughing out loud in delight.
  2. Wandering through the backstreets behind St Stephen’s Cathedral and encountering a ruined chapel and a surprise English bookstore.
  3. Walking into souvenir stores because they were warm and I was freezing.
  4. Not being able to speak in the Art History (Kunsthistorisches) Museum because I was in awe of the building and the art.
  5. Travelling with a group of Australian students and having intense constant interaction with them for three weeks.
  6. Walking up the Schlossberg (a mountain with a ruined castle on top of it), seeing the ground covered in snow and the texture of it underfoot.
  7. Stepping off the bus at Hallstatt and understanding why it had been called ‘the prettiest place on earth.’
  8. Walking past a dog park with bare trees and muddy dogs and stopping to pat them.
  9. Waiting for the tram to university one morning and having a ‘oh my gosh I’m studying in Austria’ moment. Also seeing a dog riding the tram for half price.
  10. Walking through Graz on my last day of class, with a clear blue sky and beautifully coloured houses, and knowing my adventure was almost at an end.

If you want to read more detailed accounts of my adventures, there are three posts up at the AIMOverseas blog (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3) and you can read my writing about it here on my own blog. (About Vienna, About The Course I Did, About Chance B, About Steinhof and About What I Learnt Travelling).

Animals Abound: Part 4 – Dogs in Austria

In Austria, dogs and children can ride the tram for half price. In Austria, dogs are welcome in cafes, restaurants and supermarkets. In Austria, people take their dogs along for all kinds of outings and activities.

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So obviously, I loved being in a society where it was acceptable to bring dogs everywhere. I am already glad that so much of Brisbane’s cafe etiquette permits pets. So many Australians have pets; I think it’s time we started broadening our horizons when it comes to where dogs are allowed. After all, we’re the ones that brought them into these urban environments; we’re the ones who should face the consequences and find a way for us to co-exist.

Pets can enrich our home lives, but sharing aspects of our live outside the home with our pets can also give us new perspectives and new joys. It means thinking less selfishly – about our pet and their needs as well as our own. It means being more aware of how some environments might be distressing, not just for pets but for other people as well. Involving animals in a wider range of our daily activities helps us be responsible, empathetic and caring.

16110321_170860923399309_1287128821606121472_nI saw this in Austria – restaurants were accommodating, bringing fresh water to their canine customers. Dog owners were thoughtful of their impact on their surroundings, keeping their dogs on a lead when appropriate, and cleaning up after their dog when needed. The dogs out in public were also well trained – and even if you disagree that dogs have a place in our public life, surely you can see that better trained dogs are safer dogs, for everyone involved? On that note, I saw children much more comfortable with dogs in Austria than in Australia, and with much better habits when approaching a dog – asking permission to pat it, not coming up from behind, and being gentle and kind with their new four legged friends.

Most of Europe have developed laws and guidelines to allow pets in public places and on public transport without harm to the animals or people involved. Yes, it would be a cultural shift for a lot of Australians, but I think we’re already starting to shift that way already. I think that including animals in more spheres of society will only make society richer and more empathetic, will make public spaces more appealing and dog ownership more attractive. It’s better for pets and people. So while I miss all the many dogs I patted in Austria, I’m hopeful that in the future I’ll see more dogs out and about in Brisbane as well.

 

Things I Liked In February

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. I was overseas in most of January and February, so I’m a little behind. But here’s what I liked in February. What have you liked this month?

Let’s start with a dog pun. Capture.PNG(sorry).

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Guys I love history. So much. All of it. But Reformation history – Tudor England – you are speaking my language. I don’t read the Gospel Coalition much, but this article was interesting and engaging without stereotyping and repeating common historical inaccuracies about Jane Grey, the girl who was Queen for nine days.

Why You’ve Already Failed Your New Year’s Resolutions

I feel like I recommend something from Nina Kardia every month, but I can’t help it, her writing is just too good. Please read this blog, especially if you have ever been disappointed in your ability to meet your goals (so that means everyone should go read it). It contains this gem of advice in achieving, well, anything:

Think about where you’d like to be year from now.  (Hitting the gym for an hour a day.)  Then think about what you can realistically achieve this week.  (Walk around outside for 10 minutes before breakfast a couple of times.) Then do that.  Re-assess next week.  Repeat.

The Lady In The Tower (By Alison Weir)

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More history. I’m not even sorry. This book, by Alison Weir, is exactly the kind of history book I love best – a detailed analysis of primary sources and a dismantling of our preconceived ideas about events in history that have often moved from collective memory and fact to collective myth and storytelling. It focuses on the three months leading up to Anne Boleyn’s arrest, trial and execution – the first execution of a Queen of England ever.

(Even Eleanor of Aquitaine, who helped her sons stage a rebellion against their father and King, her husband Henry II, was only placed under house arrest. Isabella of France, who did commit adultery, disposed her husband, Edward the II and ruled England with her lover, Roger Mortimer in the name of her son, Edward the III, suffered the punishment of being committed to a nunnery after she and Mortimer were ousted from power).

Also, this book makes a number of logical points I haven’t seen clearly stated elsewhere – for example, Anne Boleyn couldn’t be both guilty of adultery AND never have been the King’s lawful wife. You can’t have it both ways Henry VIII!

Coffee Coffee Coffee Coffee Coffee

I missed my family, my friends, my pets and my church while I was away. I also desperately missed having access to a good flat white. I am so spoiled for choice, but seriously, Australia, I love you and your coffee.

Human Life Is Getting Better 

The world can suck. But it used to suck more. People, especially small babies, don’t die as often from things like a lack of access to food and medical care. There’s still work to do. But there’s hope. Watch this video. It contains this great quote:

“And I really believe that as a species, our success is best judged not by how the richest or the best connected amongst us live, but how the poor and the oppressed and the vulnerable live.”

 

Hedger Humour

This instagram account posts the delightfully hilarious comics of Adrienne Hedger. Check it out. This is probably my favourite of her (recent) comics (definitely not because I do this all the time):

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The West Wing Reunion: Walk and Talk

I just like it when people from the West Wing do basically anything. I can’t help it.

My Trip To Austria Taught Me…

I’m back from Austria, and slowly settling back into normal life (whatever normal life is). I learnt a lot while I was away, about travel, about education, about history, and about myself. I learnt a lot of skills, not just while I was away, but in the process of applying and preparing for my trip. Here’s four things that my trip to Austria taught me how to do.

My trip to Austria taught me to make decisions

Decision making is hard for me, especially when under pressure. If you’ve ever asked me what movie I want to watch or what food I want to eat you probably know this. So, all the decisions involved in a trip like this seemed intimidating. If I thought picking travel insurance and choosing between flight options was bad enough, wait until I landed in Vienna with a budget and a whole week to myself.

I will admit I got off to a shaky start. Choosing which museums to spend money on, where to eat lunch, whether to invest in another pair of boots (always invest in another pair of boots) was overwhelming. There were phone calls home, where I just needed to verbalize and bounce my options and thoughts off someone else.

As my time in Austria went on though, I got better at making decisions for myself – even without having someone to run it past first. I decided which meals I wanted to spend money on and which I was happy to have instant mashed potato in a cup for (what a great food invention by the way). I could decide that yes, this museum experience or going to the top of this tower was worth the money to me, and no, I didn’t want to do this particular experience, even if it was something other people might enjoy.

My trip to Austria taught me to save and budget

It wasn’t until I was preparing for this trip that I truly learnt how to properly save and budget. To save, I needed more money coming into my bank account than was going out of it – significantly more. To know if that was happening, I not only had to keep track of what I was earning, but also what I was spending, and what I was spending it on.

I also learnt to value things – not just their monetary value, but their value to me. Was continuing to spend money once a week on a coffee at my writing group a worthwhile investment? To me it was, even if to others it might have looked like a waste when I was trying to save.

But I also learnt how little I needed to spend to survive – and how much I had been spending that I didn’t need to. I learnt to say no to things I didn’t actually want to do, because I needed to save the money for other things, like food in Austria. I learnt self control, to avoid impulse spending and to make decisions wisely about where I wanted my money to go.

While I was overseas, I learnt to keep track of each euro, and to stick to my weekly budget. I learnt that if I went over budget now, it would mean missing out on something else later. Practice in managing a tight budget has been a really useful exercise for me. I am really glad I have learnt how to do this now, as I’m hoping I can apply the same skills here at home to save and budget more wisely than I did pre-Austria.

My trip to Austria taught me to do the things I want to do

This part might seem in contrast with what I just said about self control and spending wisely, but another key thing I learnt was to do the things I wanted to do – even if they cost money. Even if they were unconventional to what others might have wanted to do. I learnt to make the most of my opportunity (who knows when I’ll get to be back in a European country on my own with money and time?) and to see things and do things and have fun.

My favourite museum was also the most expensive one I visited, and I almost didn’t go because of the cost. Was it a lot of euros? Yes. Was it worth it? Most definitely. I hate to think I would have missed on the Art History Museum because of the price. It was a magical experience and worth far more to me than the sum of money I paid to go in. That day I had a cheap lunch to balance it out – and I didn’t regret for a moment, not even as I ate my bread roll and cheese on a park bench in the cold winds of Vienna.

I had good experiences in Austria, and most of them cost money from my limited budget – but that’s okay. I didn’t want to let that hold me back, which is why I had spent so long saving and budgeting beforehand. I can honestly say I don’t regret any of the things I spent money on in Austria, because I focused on experiences I wanted to do and things I wanted to see. Is everyone going to be as excited as I was about going to an underground chapel from the 12th Century? No, but that was no reason to not pay the entry fee and go enjoy that medieval masterpiece.

My trip to Austria taught me to balance priorities

I wasn’t just being a tourist the whole time in Austria – I did have classes to go to and reflections to write and assignments to complete and an exam to study for. Balancing these commitments with the fact that I was in a foreign country for a limited time and wanted to see things was difficult at times. Do I go out and eat (more) goulash with bread dumplings, or do I stay in and write another few hundred words of my essay?

Often it meant being prepared and deliberate. We had a weekend trip to Vienna, which I knew was going to be jam packed and would leave me very tired. I didn’t want to a) be trying to get uni work done in Vienna or b) trying to get uni work done the night we got back. So I was prepared, and did work in advance. Then I got to enjoy Vienna without stressing about the work to do.

(Did I do this right all the time? No. But I learnt eventually).

 

This trip has taught me a lot, from basic adulting skills to the ways I need to grow as a person. There are other ways to learn all these things, it’s true, and for many of them I am behind the curve, but this trip is what did it for me. For that I am grateful.

 

Snapshot: Steinhof

As part of my Inclusive Education Course over here in Austria, I’ve visited a lot of organisations and sites as part of our ‘excursions.’ They all relate in some way to how people outside ‘mainstream’ society have been treated and educated. I’ll be writing some snapshots of these places to summarize what I have seen and learnt. 

Warning: this post talks about things like Nazis, tortured children and deliberate extermination. If you aren’t up for reading about these things, skip this post.

During my course in Graz, we had a weekend trip to Vienna. On the Saturday afternoon, we went to Steinhof.

When Steinhof opened in 1907, it was a fairly progressive mental health hospital, at least for it’s time. It had a park where patients could walk and a church where they could worship. They were housed and treated in the rows of pavilions that make up the bulk of the hospital.

However, when Austria was annexed just prior to the Second World War, the function of the hospital started to change. Soon, not just the mentally unwell but many types of ‘socially undesirable’ people sent to Steinhof. Communists, the same-sex attracted, women who gave birth outside of marriage, children with autism or other behavioural disorders – anyone who didn’t fit a narrow criteria of ‘normal.’

The Nazi Government did not want to waste food or medicine on these people, so treatment was stopped, which killed many patients, and food was scarce, which killed even more. Then the experiments started. Over half of the hospitals’ patients were children, and a number of the doctors, led by Heinrich Gross, began carrying out experiments on the children’s brains. These experiments often led to agonizing deaths for the patients.

Of course, patients there didn’t just die from starvation, a lack of treatment or experimental torture. Some were very deliberately killed. If their file was reviewed by the head office of T4, the Nazi extermination program, and it was decided they weren’t worthy of life, they would be injected with a cocktail of drugs that would slowly kill them over the next few days.

Obviously, visiting this site was an intense and slightly horrible experience. I think the worst part was knowing that those running this hospital of death were never brought to account for it. Heinrich Gross, the main instigator, didn’t face trial until the early 2000s, and it was never concluded as he died in 2005. After WWII he had a successful career as a psychologist and university lecturer in Vienna.
Visiting was one of the most emotionally intense and awful experiences I have been through, but it feels even worse knowing most of those running these experiments and death hospitals got away with it and never faced a trial. The sense of injustice overwhelmed me.
When we labelled people as ‘other,’ when we begin to think of people as different and not like us, we run into trouble. It’s easy to dehumanize other humans if we’ve already convinced ourselves we don’t have that much in common with them anyway. It’s easy to forget that we are only who we are through God’s grace and luck. If we were the other, the marginalized, the forgotten and despised, how might we view things differently?
I am still figuring out what this experience has taught me, but most of all I think it has served as a warning – that to be human does not always mean we act humanely. That mercy and compassion do not come naturally and can be waylaid easily. That justice does not always happen this side of heaven, and we cannot assume things will work out for the best if we do nothing. That horrors happen, often behind closed doors and with the approval of the state.
How do we react to the things humanity is capable of, both in the past and the present? How do we deal with the darkness in us, collectively and individually? I’m not sure. We look to Jesus, who is light and grace and mercy, the perfect example of humanity. We try to live like him, treating others with compassion and grace, whether or not we think they deserve it or not – for if Jesus loved us at our worst, how can we deem anyone unlovable?
These things help. But they don’t solve the reality of living with the knowledge of what humans do to each other. I don’t know how to reconcile that. I don’t think we are meant to be able to reconcile these horrible misdeeds though. It should hurt. It should make us uncomfortable and angry. It should make us feel awful. Maybe these are the only right reactions to injustice and suffering. Maybe we need to grieve, despair, and then get up, fix our eyes on Jesus, and try to do better.

Snapshot: Chance B

As part of my Inclusive Education Course over here in Austria, I’ve visited a lot of organisations and sites as part of our ‘excursions.’ They all relate in some way to how people outside ‘mainstream’ society have been treated and educated. I’ll be writing some snapshots of these places to summarize what I have seen and learnt. 

Chance B describe themselves as an Innovative Social Service. They are a private, not for profit and politically uncommitted organisation working in the Eastern Styrian region with disadvantaged people – ‘in the region, for the region.’ They offer a range of services, but are particularly focused on training people to work independently in the job market and supporting the families of people with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

The organisation is committed to helping all people, but particularly those facing discrimination, find their way from school to work. As well as helping those with SEN and disabilities, they work with all disadvantaged people (for example, homeless people, drug addicts, those with unsafe home lives, those with mental health issues).

Their services are focused on being mobile – going to where they are needed. Chance B has 370 employees, who assist 2700 clients per year. They are mainly financed by money from the federal government. Chance B runs on a case management system. Support is individualized, consultative and respects the autonomy of each person – only as much support as is needed is provided.

 

The early intervention unit focuses on supporting and assisting families with children with SEN. Chance B sends experts to the family in their homes and normal school settings to help adjust things as needed. The children don’t need to travel to a special school or location. They also focus on support for the parents, supply leisure time (e.g. movie tickets) and childcare as needed, and supporting siblings as well. Chance B believes that keeping the family system strong is essential in supporting children with SEN.

In Austria after the age of 15 students are tracking either towards university, through an academic high school, or the labour market, through a central high school. To assist with the decision-making process, Chance B runs youth coaching – for students in school to age 24. This is free and available to all students. It is focused around giving students the knowledge they need to make informed choices about their future, particularly in relation to study and work. The youth coaches first work with the students in the school system and then with job services and job providers. The goal is to balance the interests and abilities of students with what is achievable and realistic for them.

Along with the youth coaching program, Chance B has designed a modified pathway for students with SEN. This duel program allows students to work and serve apprenticeships at the same time they are still attending school. They are a full employee in the company’s eyes and get paid the same wages as other apprentices, but still attend school a minimum of one day a week. Through these programs, Chance B arranges 350 jobs a year.

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The Inclusive Education crew at Chance B

The restaurant we had lunch at is run by Chance B as a training site for those wanting to get jobs in the hospitality industry. Our servers were professional and friendly, and would be more than capable of working in the mainstream job market – but if they hadn’t had this opportunity to be trained and to learn in a safe, sheltered environment, this may not have been true.

In Brisbane, my church at Southbank has a relationship with the Micah Projects, a group who work with homeless and disadvantaged people in inner Brisbane. Just up the road from where we meet is the Hope St Cafe, which has a similar approach in helping to train people for entry into the mainstream job market. They set up a safe training environment where people can gain skills, qualifications and experience to enabled them to gain employment independently.

The main thing I really liked about Chance B was their approach to making services mobile, rather than having a central location that clients must travel to. This gives clients more autonomy and helps the assistance become a more streamlined part of their regular lives, rather than a break in routine. Particularly for families with young children, having assistance in the home and in regular school settings can make the process feel more ‘normal.’ It reduces issues of finding bigger sites as the organisation grows, and gives access to services to wider range of people geographically.

Inclusive Education – the goal of having all children educated in mainstream classrooms, with a curriculum and teaching pedagogy that is flexible to fit all children, whatever their needs – can only succeed when teachers and schools have the assistance of organisations like Chance B. Without early intervention before school and a guided pathway out of school, much of the work done in school can go to waste.

We need to keep reaching out – organisations to schools and schools to organisations – to improve the experience of all students – but especially those at risk of being forgotten or left behind – or worst of all – deemed ‘too difficult.’

I’m learning a lot about a wider view of education, outside of the Australian context of my own school experience. I’m excited to keep writing about the things I am seeing and experiencing here.

If you’re interested in reading more about what I have been doing and learning about in Graz, Austria, you can read my first blog for AimOverseas here

Learning About Learning

I’m here in Austria, doing a university subject on Inclusive Education from an International Perspective. This basically means looking at education systems around the world, and how accessible education is, especially to the most vulnerable children amongst us. I have learnt a lot so far, and it’s barely the end of the first week.

Some stats:

About 100 million children do not even receive elementary school education.

2/3 of these children are girls.

One in four children cannot read or write.

2% of the estimated 12 million children with special needs go to school.

In Asia and Africa, only 1% of children with special needs go to school, and only if they can pay the very high school fees.

In Austria alone there are around 9000 unaccompanied minors, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

So obviously there’s still some work to be done.

Apart from the moral obligation I believe we have towards children, and the statistics that show when children are educated, all parts of society improve, the UN Convention on the Rights of A Child, Article 28, clearly states that every child has a right to access education freely.

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But this isn’t happening. Not yet. The children who need our support the most are being left behind. This is where inclusive education comes in.

We visited an inclusive Austrian elementary school. An inclusive school essentially means each class had students of mixed ability and needs, including some students with severe physical and/or intellectual disabilities. These students weren’t educated separately or at a higher cost, but where placed in classrooms along with their peers.

Each class had 22 students, two teachers and a teacher’s aide. The classrooms were clean and tidy, the atmosphere was calm and engaged, and there was a lot of non direct instruction, group work and individual work (direct instruction is when the teacher stands up the front and delivers content to the class as a whole group). I saw teachers were interacting respectfully with each other and the students. I saw students on task, busy with their work, and excited to show us, the Australian visitors, what they have been learning.

I saw learning in action that was flexible, dynamic and accessible to all the students. This is the most amazing thing about inclusive education – when you make education flexible and focused on removing barriers to learning, all students benefit. When you provide multiple pathways to the same content, all students benefit. When you think through how you do things deliberately, because you have to when you have students with special needs, all students benefit.

Of course, this works best if, like this Austrian school, you have the human and material resources to implement inclusive education properly. I am aware a lot of people reading this probably think it’s too much money, or too hard. I don’t argue there are still many issues before this could work in many places. However, Austria has managed it, and their entire education system is provided free of charge to parents and students. They have made an investment in education, and I believe it will pay off.

Visiting this school was also the first time I have seen co-teaching, also called team teaching or collaborative teaching, work well in action. Here are some thoughts on what it might mean to have two teachers sharing a class.

  • Co-teaching means you need to be humble – your mistakes are in front of another teacher. You will be receiving constructive feedback more regularly. This will make you a better teacher than if you’re left alone to do your thing in your own classroom without feedback, but it requires maturity and a willingness to hear about the things you need to improve.
  • Co-teaching means you have to be more prepared and organised. When you are working with someone else so closely, you need to have planned lessons and content ahead of time. If you can’t leave things to the last minute and plan the next lesson in your break in the same way you can as an individual teacher. Again, this will make you a better teacher, but it can also be challenging if you’re not used to working in an organised way.
  • Co-teaching means you need to be aware of how your personality impacts your teaching. How does your personality impact your interactions with your co-teacher and students? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do they line up with your co-teacher’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Co-teaching means breaking routines and the status quo. Is this the best way to do things or is it the way you are most comfortable with? Just because you have taught this way before, it doesn’t mean you can continue teaching this way when there is another teacher to weigh in and give opinions and share how they have done things in the past.
  • Co-teaching means students are more likely to connect with one of the teachers, or find their teaching style more in line with their learning style. It means you can try new things, use different approaches and spend more time on intervention and enrichment as needed.
  • Co-teaching means students get assessed by two people, not just one. This makes the process fairer, as there are two opinions weighing in and making judgments, who are both familiar with the student.

I think co-teaching has a lot of potential for use in Australia, and other places in the world. But to do it, we need to do it right. We need to make sure the way we implement it gets right to heart of the goal: making learning accessible to all students, everywhere, whatever their needs.

We have a long way to go. In Australia, most of the teaching literature and conferences on education are excited about new ways to use technology and what resources are best – and these things have their place – but meanwhile, worldwide, there are children being denied the right to learn. We have to get our priorities straight. We have to find the methods that work to teach all children, and invest in our education systems. It’s a big ask, and may seem impossible. You may wonder how we can afford to do it. Right now I am wondering how we can afford not to.

 

Over the next three weeks I will be blogging over at AIM Overseas (the organisation I am doing my program through) as one of their official bloggers. My first blog for them will go up sometime on the weekend. As always, I’m posting photos on my instagram if you want to keep up with my travels.

Austrian Travels – Part 1

I made it to Graz! So here’s an update on my time in Austria so far.

I thoroughly enjoyed my week in Vienna. It was the tourist/sightseeing part of my trip, and I definitely feel I did it justice. I enjoyed exploring the various museums (Kunsthistorische, Neue Burg, Romermuseum, Jüdische Museum), I went to the peak of St Stephen’s Cathedral and the dome of Karlskirche, the Hofburg Palace and the Vienna Opera house. I delighted in exploring old bookstores and cafes and side streets and shops. I feel like I know Vienna (at least the city centre) as well as I know the CBD of Brisbane back home. I’ve learnt how to navigate the underground train system, and I even know where the best wifi and cheapest bread rolls are in Stephenplatz. Also, I have seen and patted so many dogs!

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Me. Rugged up. Cold.

I’m adjusting to the temperature change and all the lifestyle habits that come with it. I am now used to layering up with jacket, beanie, scarf, gloves and boots before stepping outside, and the inevitable un-layering that happens when I enter somewhere warm and cosy. I’ve learnt how to wind my scarf so my neck, ears and nose if needed are all protected from the wind. Unfortunately wearing glasses doesn’t help – metal sits verycoldly on my face, and the lenses tend to fog up quite regularly! But I’m making the most out of being able to use all my winter gear, and even enjoying finding new ways to layer clothing for the warmest effect.

I still find it amazing to be in a place, a city, a country with history that stretches back through the ages. During the week I visited an underground chapel in Stephenplatz. It is the only underground chapel in Europe. Built in the 13th Century, the construction of the St Virgil’s chapel  was most likely part of the redevelopment and expansion of Vienna funded by the ransom paid by England for Richard the Lionheart. Then chapel had vanished from view for hundreds of years, and was only rediscovered when the underground railway was built in Vienna in the 1970s! To be in a place that can trace the roots of it’s story back through our collective consciousness like that takes my breath away and makes the inner history geek in me just completely freak out with joy.

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Palace? Opera House? No, this awe-inspiring building is a museum. It was so pretty I almost cried. 

I’ve had some serious geek moments on this trip – the nice thing about travelling alone means doing the things you want to do and seeing the geeky nerd things you want to see. The not nice thing about travelling alone is that there’s no one to witness these geek out moments and laugh at my total state of excitement with me. But walking through the Imperial Apartments at Hofburg palace, seeing the violin owned by Mozart’s father, going to a museum that looks like a palace, spending hours browsing bookstores and shop windows and museums -seeing real Egyptian artefacts and statues from Rome and suits of armor from the Renaissance – my history and literature heart is pretty happy.

This morning, to end my week in Vienna spectacularly, it snowed! Not very heavily, but enough. Then my bus to Graz took me through snow laden mountains and past snow covered fields and frozen rivers and frost tipped trees and it felt like I’d been transported to a magical world of white. I understand now why people write poetry about snow.

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This is not a drill. This is real snow.

Over the next three weeks I will be blogging over at AIM Overseas (the organisation I am doing my program through) as one of their official bloggers. As always, I’m posting photos on my instagram if you want to keep up with my travels.

Taking Flight

Do you remember how a few months ago I wrote this thing about traveling alone and how scared I was feeling?

Well, I leave for a month overseas, alone and independent, at the end of this week.

That happened very fast.

Family and friends will be only an email away – but that’s still a very long way away.

I’m not as scared as I was. But I’m also a lot more prepared and ready. I’m packing and making lists and printing documents and getting myself together. It’s down to the pointy end of planning for my adventure.

Even now I’m mentally listing the itinerary I need to finish, the sim card I need to test, the decisions about which jacket on the plane I need to make and when I should do my final load of washing.

It’s all on me. I’m responsible for myself, and for making this trip work. If I forget something important, I need to solve it. If I get lost, I need to ask for help. If I freak out about something, I’m the one who needs to calm myself down and come up with a plan.

I’m excited. I’m nervous. I still have moments of panic, of oh-my-goodness-what-have-I-done. But I’m ready – or as ready as I will ever be before actually stepping onto that plane and taking flight into the air.

Already planning and preparing for this trip has helped me grow in a lot of different areas – researching and planning, managing my finances, and of course, filling out paperwork. But in all seriousness, I’ve talked to insurance companies and organisations and applied for scholarships and grants and done things I wouldn’t have had to do otherwise – and I haven’t left Australia yet. I am sure in the next four weeks I will be required to do many more new things, intimidating things, things that push me out of my comfort zone – things that are good for me.

I know this trip will make me more confident, more capable and more independent. Those are all good things, right? But I also know this trip will make me more grateful for home, for stability, for my day to day normal. I’m excited and keen for the adventure, but I’m also looking forward to coming home, having learnt new things and gained new perspectives.

So while I am gone I will do my best to be brave and smart and resourceful and organized. I will soak up every moment of adventure, every new experience, everything about being in a different country by myself. I will do this knowing that home is a safe place to come back to, with people who love me and routines that are simple and not scary.

But maybe the occasional scary thing isn’t so bad.

P.S. While I am away I will be blogging over at AIM Overseas (the organisation I am doing my program through) as one of their official bloggers! I will also be posting photos on my instagram if you’re interested in following my adventures.