Judith writes about her bilingual cats and obnoxious children (or is it the other way round?) and her plans to completely reinvent the education system, over at Secrets of the Sandpit.
I was so pleased when Judith agreed to write a guest post for me. She writes beautifully and has a fascinating story to tell....
July 1987 my whole life changed. Up until that point, I had been an ordinary Dutch girl, living in the Netherlands with her Dutch parents. But that July, my parents, my younger brother and I took our brand new suitcases and boarded a plane that flew us to Brisbane, Australia, where we were to live for a year.
I remember only excitement about the adventure. Of course I was sad to leave my friends behind, but I knew I was coming back and I was over the moon to be going on a plane and learning a new language and going to a new school and of course meeting koalas.
On arrival, the only English phrase I knew was: “I’m sorry, I’m Dutch and I don’t understand.”
Thankfully, at that age, I was like a sponge. Within a few weeks I was using my extremely limited English to write a little picture book (“Cutie Koala is ill”) and showing it proudly to the proprietor of the motel where we were staying for the first few weeks. Within three months, my brother and I were fluent and if my parents addressed us in Dutch we would reply in English.
We lived in an endless summer. We went to islands with secluded beaches, saw the coral reef in a glass-bottomed boat, stayed in a resort in the rainforest, went to the Opera House, to Tasmania, Melbourne – a year long holiday punctuated by school, which was fun and exciting as well because it was new. They even had school uniforms, something I’d only read about in Enid Blyton novels.
I asked my mother whether she would say the year abroad had been a success. She wrote:
Yes, brilliant success. We had more time for each other; made lots of
lovely trips; met different people and discovered new things to do (cricket!)
Last but not least: children became bilingual and have remained so.
I would go further and say that our stay in Australia has defined my life. Being bilingual meant that I felt a little bit different, a little bit special. It was both good and bad: feeling special is nice, but I also did a lot of showing off which got on my friends’ nerves. In fact, one friend admitted to me years later that she really hadn’t enjoyed learning English and dropped it as soon as she could because I was always correcting her. Yup, I was that kid.
I also walked around with a hole in my heart, exactly the size and shape of Australia. I was home again, but I still felt homesick. I have moved around a lot since then and the more places you live in, the more pieces of yourself you leave behind. There is no longer one place that completely clicks with all of you.
As a child post-Australia, I yearned to be back and wanted to read and speak English as much as I could. Wherever I went, I sought out other English speakers, which caused me to make an extra effort with a shy British girl in my new class when I started secondary school. This girl became my best friend, we shared a flat together before I got married and still live relatively close to each other.
It also meant I went on to study English Language and Literature. It wasn’t quite enough though, as I really wanted to go back to Australia, or at least live in an English speaking country again. When I was offered the opportunity to go to a British university in my third year on a scholarship, I went.
I am still on this year abroad, over a decade later. I blame my husband, who I met in a seminar at the university I went to.
I became a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), helping immigrants and asylum seekers to fit into society better, knowing as I do what it is like to not quite feel at home anywhere anymore. Now I am a freelance translator.
Finally, it was in Brisbane that I first went to church. My Mum liked listening to the music; I believed in God. When we came back to the Netherlands, I told my Mum I wanted to keep going to church. “Fine,” she said. “There is one behind our house. Go check it out.” And so my very basic faith that began with a Children’s Bible borrowed from the library started to grow and find root in a community of other believers. I don’t remember a single sermon from St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane – just that I liked their biscuits – and yet it set me on a path that leads to where I am with God today.
My job, my home, my friends, my husband, my kids, my writing, my blog, my faith – all of it I can trace back to that day in July 1987, when my parents bravely set off half way across the world with a four year old and a seven year old in tow.
I would urge you: if you are ever given the opportunity to live abroad with your children, do it. Whether they are young or old, it will be the experience of a life time, and will almost certainly have a tremendous impact on their future.
At the very least, they might get to hold a koala.
|This treacherous koala poo-ed in my hand whilst pretending to be asleep!|