What would possess an Australian family to travel 15,445 km to exchange lives with an individual for an entire year and go live in a country where the cold was a shocking surprise?
Adventure. Education. A desire to spend quality time together while discovering another culture…
This is what Peter and Sonya Elek, residents of Perth Australia, set out to do. They embarked on this adventure in June of 2013. Their research for a teacher exchange for Peter, an elementary school teacher, focused broadly on Canadian opportunities and soon the best option was to pack up Jacob and Dylan, 9 and 7 at the time, and for Peter to trade home and job with Ms. Bonnie Spurrell, a Notre-Dame Elementary School teacher. Sonya, a musician and music teacher, was told that she could lend her talents locally.
Their extensive research did not prepare the Elek family for the brutal temps of the 2013 winter. Arriving on December 27, their first Canadian shopping adventure was to acquire winter clothing. The boys and their father had never seen snow so this was the more pleasant aspect of the epic winter they experienced.
Life was rich and busy for the Eleks. Peter settled in his new teaching position, where he found both administrators and teachers friendly and welcoming. Sonya’s talents found a niche in the Black Gold Community Band and Piatta Forma where she discovered her love of singing and was impressed with the size and quality of that Leduc choir. She also joined the Salem Manor Volunteer Program, while the boys happily settled in their new school, making friends quickly. Hailing from a city of 1.5 million people, Peter particularly enjoyed the “small town feel” of the city of Leduc.
Jacob was in Miss Gilbey’s Grade 6 and enjoyed Astronomy and class parties. Musically inclined, he started playing the trumpet in grade four back home and was fortunate here to find an instructor to come teach him at home.
Dylan was in Miss Jalbert’s Grade 4. A young dynamo, he enjoyed artistic projects. He even took knitting classes with his mother, and proudly shared this with his classmates! Both boys admit that they will miss their Canadian friends, and like their parents, will keep in touch via email.
The Eleks have traveled as much as possible throughout Canada, mostly in the summer. They visited their good friends in Toronto and happily discovered Niagara, the Maritimes, Vancouver Island, Calgary and Drumheller. Their adventurous spirit took them dog sledding in the Rockies, snowshoeing and skiing at Rabbit Hill where Mr. Elek’s small injuries were thankfully covered by their temporary residents’ medical insurance, a must to obtain when living in another country for an extended period.
The Eleks have stayed in touch with Mrs. Spurrell, who while living in their home is also enjoying their family dog. They all agree that the time spent together, the sports and increased physical activity they’ve enjoyed here has made them closer and stronger as a family. Travel is enriching for kids as well as for adults and this bold adventure has created for them a huge collection of precious memories!
There are many types of professional exchange programs on the global scene: firefighters, teachers, athletic coaches … one only has to do some research, fill extensive paperwork, and pray for an ideal match. It certainly worked out for the Eleks…and hopefully, for Bonnie Spurrell as well.