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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and Ph.D.'s: Sabbaticals
July 14, 2010 - 4:37am

When I was midway through 10th grade I became “foreign correspondent” for my high school newspaper. This title I achieved because my family moved to Australia for nine months while my father took a sabbatical at the Australian National University in Canberra. So I started 10th grade over again at school there, where I enjoyed basking in the relatively popular international image of Americans (those were good times). Somewhere I have a copy of the four or five stories I sent back – one in particular I remember interviewing my peers about their impressions of Americans. The words Mickey Mouse, cowboy, movies, blue jeans, and Hollywood stick in my mind.

That actually wasn’t my first extended stay in Australia. An Australiaphile, my father took our family every three years for a six month sabbatical which he extended to eight or nine months by adding in vacation time and because he had a 10 month faculty position. Each time we went I remember the wrenching feeling as I left friends in the states, and then left friends in Australia coming back. But since we always went back to Canberra, we became part of a circle of friends there and it was a pretty quick transition after each move.

In fact, moving back and forth came to be one of those things I took for granted. As did so many little things that as I kid I never thought much about, just accepted and learned. The strict British system of education (draw margin lines on the left margin of your workbook with the red biro and use a ruler!) An entirely different set of flora and fauna (which included waking in the mornings to loud, insistent screechings of large flocks of white cockatoos). Doctor Who on TV instead of Star Trek and the Brady Bunch (we didn’t have a TV but we watched at friend’s houses). I wonder, as the majority of families I know have two working parents, whether the phenomenon taking a sabbatical away from one’s home institution is less frequent now. Perhaps, because many jobs now allow for telecommuting, it’s as common as ever. I hope so, because even though temporarily moving your family is extremely difficult for parents, living in another country is really a wonderful experience for kids.

My father kept up and cultivated colleagues so even now my parents spend three months of the year teaching at the University of Western Australia in their “retirement” Down Under. This year, we decided to join them for a mid-winter month in Australia. We leave on Saturday. Today, my husband and I decided that we will not bring our laptops, we will leave as much of our American work at home as we can and will focus on experiencing the country with our kids (although we’ll probably be spending time in internet cafes). In a moment of nostalgia for Australian schools, I contacted of a friend of my parents who teaches 2nd grade in Perth, where we’ll spend two weeks. We set up email contact between my kids and kids of similar age at her school, and have arranged for my kids to do a day-long school visit. I’ve now regaled my children with stories of school in Australia (most of them involve buying such delicacies as sausage rolls and vegemite crusts at the school “canteen” for lunch). They are a bit apprehensive, but it’s good for them. Maybe not quite as good as a sabbatical abroad. But still pretty good. I’ll check in when we get back!


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