“So, where am I going to teach?”
This would be the question that plagued me for weeks on end as I carefully weighed the pros and cons of metro and regional living before starting the Teach For Australia program. Living in the city was appealing: close to family, friends and never-ending activities. But moving to the country… it was mysterious. Unknown. And while my rural-born friends told me, over and over, ‘It’s REALLY not that exciting,’ I was intrigued. To me, it was that exciting. Plus, I loved having this classic song stuck in my head every time I thought about moving.
Yup, that would totally be me. Gonna eat me a lot of peaches. Right?
Then I actually moved.
Now I teach in a tiny town called Mooroopna just outside the regional centre of Shepparton in north-eastern Victoria. Two hours north of Melbourne, it’s not completely isolated, but it’s certainly been another world for me, the city gal. It’s nothing like I imagined (I don’t eat nearly as many peaches as I had initially hoped), but it’s filled with the most wonderful gems of human experience. There is so much beauty, and sometimes there’s boredom; but mostly, there are a lot of laughs and cringes. Here are eight of the most surprising things I’ve learned about teaching, and living, in the country:
The biggest attractions of the town will make you laugh, in the best possible way.
In Shepparton’s case, the most famous ‘attraction’ is the display of over 100 painted, life-sized cows that scatter the region. These cows are part of the Moooving (pun intended) Art exhibition, a symbol of the agricultural dairy region. It’s weird because I used to laugh at these cows; now I find myself eagerly asking each visitor, ‘Want to go for a drive and see the cows?!’ Kind of cringey, but fine… they’re actually pretty cool.
Playing local sport will help you make friends, but not always in the way you imagine.
I was so excited to get back into soccer when I moved, so I joined a local ‘Women’s’ team, even more excited about meeting some more local ‘women’ to befriend. Low and behold, female country soccer teams struggle to get players, so I found myself playing with teenagers the same age as the ones I teach. Most of them are around the 15/16 year old mark. That being said, it’s been a blast and I’ve met some wonderful people; my favourite girl on the team turns 14 this year (fingers crossed I get invited to her party).
The weekend trips go up a notch.
Shepparton may be inland, but some pretty cool scenery surrounds us… and by scenery I mean scenic spots to drink wine. Having excellent wineries at your doorstep is still a novelty I’m getting used to, and has made for some incredible day trips, especially when friends come to visit. Take, for example, this winery in Dookie only 25 minutes from my door (pictured: my housemate Tim – a TFA Alumnus – and I, Tallis Winery regulars):
Going to the city becomes a novelty.
Going to Melbourne is now so much more exciting. There are trams (which are now a little scary) and lots of people (even more scary), and it’s such a novelty. I appreciate the things I do there more, like go to the tennis, see a show or eat dumplings. There are no dumplings in Shepparton, so most of my friends in Melbourne have become accustomed to my visits being associated with, ‘And then we’ll have a dumpling feast in Chinatown for lunch…’
Oh also, weekend trips means that your car becomes your best friend. Seriously, I like ‘Lil Red’ more than most humans.
It’s really hard to have secrets… or privacy.
This is a cringe and laugh-worthy one. Living in the country, it’s impossible to leave your house without seeing at least one person you know, especially if you’re a teacher. I used to go to the supermarket in my grossest and comfiest clothes, but after I realised that my shopping outfits were the star of Mooroopna Secondary College’s Snapchat Stories, I started dressing normally each time I went out. Sigh.
Similarly, the awkwardness of a first date will 100 percent be made more awkward when you inevitably see one of your students at the same pub. By morning, the rest of your students will likely have screenshotted Snapchats of said date. Lovely.
It can get a little lonely, but it sure is quiet.
Sometimes I miss the buzz of the city and the lovely humming of my friends chirping all around me. But living out here just gives the people you love a unique place to come visit; showing my friends and family the quirks of my new home has been one of the best parts about this whole experience.
I love the quiet. School finishes, and I relax. I’m home within 10 minutes – there’s no 5,000-hour delay on the Tullamarine Freeway – and straight into unwinding mode. I love that.
You’re going to miss a lot of things, but it won’t bother you too much.
Besides dumplings, there are things I can’t get here that I tend to miss. But mostly, they just make me laugh. One of the first times I went to a local Shepparton pub, I ordered a gin and tonic (pretty standard drink, right?). After about five minutes of conferring behind the bar (I still don’t know what they were talking about back there), a sheepish bartender came back to me, ‘We don’t have any tonic.’ Ah well, a beer it is.
The community is just… the best.
Especially at a tiny rural school, you get to know anyone and everyone. You watch your kids play sport on the weekend. You say hi to them when you see them out. And most importantly, you get to know them and learn so much. One of the most brilliant things has been learning more about the Indigenous history of the area and the culture of the Yorta Yorta people. My kids have taught me so much more than I’ve taught them, even if they don’t know it yet. (Pictured: a mural displayed on my school courtyard painted by Koori students to showcase Aboriginal art.)