Brantford and Beyond Through the eyes of an Aussie from Down Under by Heather Brooks

I have had the privilege of working and living in Brantford for the last eight months through a teacher exchange program. When asked to share some of my experiences and observations, I readily agreed! It is my way to say thank you to the people of Brantford for their warm welcome and also to share Brantford with you through a “fresh” set of eyes.

I will never forget my first snowfall – it literally took my breath away. To other people, snow may just be part of the natural cycle of seasons, but I live in Adelaide, South Australia which experiences very hot summers and mild winters. Snow is only seen on postcards. My neighbours here in Brantford thought I was crazy….. out in my pyjamas videoing the flurries and the snow plough. The staff and students at my school laughed when I made a snow angel in the snow, but through my eyes it was a brand new experience full of wonder and joy. It was not long, however, that the cold and snow began to lose some of its appeal, especially after shovelling it from the driveway a number of times and driving through it!

This brings me to my next major adjustment, driving on the “wrong” side of the road. The steering wheel is even on the other side of the car and I cannot count the times I have put on the wipers instead of the turning light. Even now, I still go to the passenger door when I am about to drive. The all-stop intersections were also something new. We all stop, but who goes first???  So many times I have been waved on with a smile. Thank goodness for that I say, or I may have never made it to school in that first week of driving in Brantford. A big apology also to those drivers who have had the unpleasant experience of seeing me coming towards them on the wrong side of the yellow line. Rest assured, it was not a pleasant experience for me either and thankfully rarely occurs now. It would be remiss of me not to also mention my first experience of driving on icy roads. Suffice to say, I arrived in one piece, having performed some fancy pirouettes- ice skater style.

The challenges that faced me on my arrival all seem so long ago, but in truth each day I experience something new. Here are some that have made each day new and exciting:

•           Canada is banana lover’s heaven. They are really inexpensive here and I love bananas!

•           Milk is sold in bags! That is not the end of this unusual practice….. There are four litres divided into three bags. There’s a Maths conundrum for you.

•           Fire hydrants are yellow not red.

•           Really hot is 30 degrees Celsius not 40 + as in Adelaide. I have adapted the famous quote from Crocodile Dundee “That’s not a knife” to “That’s not hot!” Also, the humidity index adds to the heat. I must admit humidity and heat are not my favourite weather conditions.

•           Canada is really big! I have travelled East, South and West and still have not even scratched the surface of this beautiful country.

•           Forgive me, but I cannot really understand the fascination with Tim Horton’s coffee. I even snapped a photo of the cars lined up on a Monday morning …….. Only at McDonald’s in Australia have I seen such a line and that was for hamburgers, not coffee. Sorry, but after a sample of the coffee, I have decided to keep drinking my instant coffee from home.

•           I still hold up the lines in supermarkets trying to count out coins for the cashiers. Yes, I recognise Toonies and Loonies but still am baffled why the ten cent is smaller than the five. Thank goodness, the penny has been phased out or I am not sure I would ever be able to go the supermarket again.

•           Drive Thru Banking- What an excellent service to provide in the cold winters! I have seen people use it in summer too, but I am still of the old school and love to go in the bank and have a chat with a real person.

•           There have also been many conversations lost in translation- sweater vs jumper; bathroom / toilets; shopping cart /shopping trolley; thongs / thongs (much hilarity when I told my students that all Australians wear thongs to the beach! I found out once the laughter stopped that thong means underwear here and I should have said flip flops.)

•           Squirrels and chipmunks delight me as they run from tree to tree. A black bear sighting was a highlight of a road trip and I am determined to spy a moose before I leave! A tour bus driver has even taught me how to call one….. “Here Moosie, Moosie”

I have also discovered that each part of Canada is unique with local sights and nuances. One thing that I have noticed is common throughout Canada however, is the friendliness and welcoming nature of all Canadians. On the East coast, the smell of the Atlantic and quaint fishing villages reminded me of home. In the West, the rugged and majestic Rocky Mountains held me in their awe and in all places people willingly have shared their home and community with me.

 As I stated before, I have been made to feel welcome and part of the community of Brantford. In many ways Brantford has the feel of Adelaide back home. It is a small city with all necessary services but has a relaxed friendly atmosphere. It has been a rare weekend that I have not been able to find something to do both in Brantford and surrounding areas. I loved the spring gardens-Adelaide is known for its green spaces and gardens but Brantford, you do yourself proud! The colour and mass plantings have delighted me since spring and the growth of these flower beds has been phenomenal. I have learned that Brantford is the birthplace of Wayne Gretzky-a hockey player that I had not even heard of prior to coming here.  Interestingly, I asked my students what Brantford was famous for and they said at once Wayne Gretzky but made no mention of Alexander Graham Bell or Pauline Johnson. Just as in Australia, sport seems to be an integral part of community identity. On the subject of hockey, I have experienced a local game but must admit I find it all a bit confusing. Yes, I understand that the aim is to shoot that black thing past the guy with more padding than a bomb disposal technician, but why do you have to slam the opposition into the wall? Hopefully, with a new season around the corner, I will be able to go, cheer with the rest of them and understand what I am cheering about.

So, I return to a new school year after an amazing summer break full of amazing sights and experiences. I have only been able to touch on some of my experiences so far but I hope you have gotten a sense of your country and community through another’s eyes. It is often through new eyes we can become more thankful for what we sometimes take for granted in our own home and community. I, too, am learning to appreciate Australia all over again as I read all about the experiences of my exchange partners living and working back in Adelaide. I look forward to the experiences that are to come and am extremely thankful for all the sights I have seen and the people I have met. Brantford, Canada-eh?  A beautiful and friendly place to be.

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