Through the Eyes of an Educator: Melbourne, Australia

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Last week I caught up with a former high school student who happened to be in San Diego, California for a visit. Now a twenty-something graduate assistant and student finding her way in the world, we spent the day discussing travel wishes, living in new cities, dreams, opportunities, and how learning should be fun. Katie was a student and class officer of mine when I took my first trip to Melbourne, Australia, and we reminisced about what a special place it still is for me today.

Welcome to Melbourne!

As her family is heavily involved in public education, we chatted about the ever changing world of teaching and the lives and concerns of students. She said she could never imagine learning anything when it was rammed down her throat and that stuck with me. She remembered in my class and others saying things like, “that was fun” or “I never felt like I was learning, but, somehow I did.” I often felt those phrases were some of the best compliments teachers could be paid. Students having fun, learning as they go, and never feeling ‘forced’ are engaged learners who (we hope) go on to be active participants in life after school. Isn’t this what we want for all of our students? Since all people learn differently, there can’t possibly be one ‘right way’ to learn. Travel provides lessons that confined classrooms can’t. I can’t imagine a better teacher than travel or a better lesson than experience. Melbourne provided both for me.

I married an Aussie from Melbourne. This city has become my second home and one I miss when I’m away. Its wide streets, endless laneways, and four seasons in a day attract visitors year-round. Perhaps it’s the first or last stops on an Aussie continental journey. Perhaps it’s those who follow sport and arrive beaming in January with tickets in hand for The Open. Or perhaps, still, it’s travelers who pop by for a taste of the coffee or café culture or to take in a match at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) known the world over for its spectacle of sport. No matter the reason, Melbourne has something to teach. This city offers education just the way Katie likes it-it’s there in almost everything you see, touch and hear, but never shoved in your face or forced on you in any way. This city provides educational opportunities in its mannerisms, festivals, markets, and lifestyle, leaving travelers to mimic Katie’s words…’I never felt like I was learning; but, somehow I just did.’

The flight alone is a learning experience. For many (depending of course on where your flight begins), there is an instance as the plane crosses the international dateline when Thursday becomes Friday in the blink of an eye. That alone is cause for conversation, and then you land. As always when in a new place, accents abound and new words and phrases tumble through the air. Learning is everywhere. All five senses spring into action trying to catch a bit of the new and different as minutes whizz by. Seated in the southeast portion of the continent, Victoria’s capital is alive with all things sport, coffee, eclectic cuisine, people, and surrounds that teach as many lessons as there are laneways. With the Yarra River running through its city center and festivals of all kinds year ‘round, this city has stories to tell and wisdom to share.

With museums aplenty, there’s always a place to visit to ‘learn something.’ If wildlife and their habitats are your thing, there are more than a few key places to engage your brain. Healesville Sanctuary (about an hour from the city center) provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with Australian native wildlife. Find out a kangaroo’s secrets, chat with a wallaby, and learn all about the life and times of echidnas, possums, and the elusive Tasmanian Devil. Unlike the Melbourne Zoo (which is also a fabulous place to explore and enjoy all animals), Healesville offers visitors the ability to touch and feed native wildlife and talk directly to keepers. And of course, there’s always the scenic vista of the Yarra Valley to take in along the way.

Healesville Sanctuary, Melbourne

Healesville Sanctuary

If furry friends are your things and you have the time, a drive to Phillip Island will delight even the grumpiest of the bunch. Here you are the guests as nature hosts a stunning show each night. Wander the boardwalk with jackets in hand, get to the bleachers above the sand, and wait. As you sit, often in silence, dusk falls over the water and soon the little penguins come in from their daily grind to greet you. Consider whatever your peak hour traffic is and know that this is theirs. On your way to watch one of nature’s cutest commutes, there is a movie to watch and placards to read to learn more about these little creatures. As they make their way to their burrows, they give you the privilege of joining in their journey home as you wander the boardwalk beside them to be sure they make it home safely. It’s an educational memory one won’t soon forget. Who knows, one of your party’s youngest members may decide to work with animals later in life from this experience alone.

If you happen to be traveling with a culinary maven, want to work on maths in a fun environment, practice currency conversion or fancy people watching to learn the ways of culture, the Queen Victoria Market could make your Melbourne list. On its busy days, you’ll hear vendors hawking their wares everywhere, but nowhere is louder than the fruit and veg section. ‘One dollar banana’ rings out above the rest as you discover specific produce known to Australia and talk to stall staff about how to create a most fabulous dish. Practice maths throughout the aisles to figure out how much you’d be spending in your own currency and don’t forget to visit the deli section for a look at tasty treats from here and beyond (who knew Vegemite had so many talents?). If you truly want a culinary travel experience, visit the night market on Wednesday nights in the summer season. Booths disappear and tables and plastic chairs are found in their place. The air fills with aromas and accents and the world is literally at your fingertips. Taste buds soar while cultures invade the entire market. This is where you can decide where to plan your travels based on the myriad of delicious cuisine served. Nepalese dumplings meet American barbecue meet Korean twist potatoes meet Spanish paella and all things in between. Music plays, people eat, differences melt away, and culture and food are the stars. Talk to cooks, interact with others, practice manners, become acquainted with eating with strangers who may become mates for awhile, discover new flavour profiles, and learn to find quiet and joy amongst the beautiful chaos. Learning happens here in this market where, perhaps, you least expect it.

Dumplings at Queen Victoria Night Market, Melbourne

Dumplings at Queen Victoria Night Market

Cities around the world often take pride in showcasing history. In Melbourne, there’s the Shrine of Remembrance. If you have a student or family member who enjoys history, Melbourne shares it well. There are museums specializing in Immigration, Jewish culture and of course Parliament, but there’s something special about the Shrine of Remembrance. Tucked in a beautiful park on St. Kilda Road, the Shrine, designed in the wake of the grief of WWI, remembers fallen soldiers of all wars. Open daily, visitors can sit on the beautiful steps of this iconic memorial or spend a moment in thought in this place of peace. An experience to remember is the dawn service on ANZAC Day (the day the Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the beaches of Gallipoli, Turkey during WWI). In the wee hours on the 25th of April, thousands gather to pay tribute and respect to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Sporting candles, torches, and headlamps, crowds huddle together to listen, honour, mourn, respect, and retell events of the past to remember those who gave their all. It’s an incredible gathering showcasing military honour, pride, service, and respect for fellow man. Although at its center might be an event showing the history of military and war, there are far greater lessons learned in being present here than can ever be taught in a classroom. Veterans stand beside civilians, serviceman and women are held in the highest regard, people of all ages drag themselves out in a dark hour, and people come together in support of each other. Sometimes the lessons that aren’t in the textbook are even more important than those that are. This is one of those teachable moments that don’t come around too often.

ANZAC Day dawn service, Melbourne

ANZAC Day dawn service

For the kinesthetic learners in your crowd, Victoria’s capital is the home of sport. Home of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Australian Open, the Formula One, and many other significant sporting events, Melbourne breathes sport. For those that grow up in the land of baseball, taking in a cricket match is a learning experience in itself. Whether a few hours, one day game, or a test match lasting five days, keeping up with the rules of the game is a sport in itself. (Hint: the moment it stops being compared to baseball is the moment understanding begins.) Played mainly in Australia, Australian Rules football combines the likes of basketball, rugby, and a bit of American football to create a game played on an oval field with goal posts whose height resembles that of a quidditch post. This fast moving, collision sport is not for the faint of heart. For those active among us who learn by doing and react best to being in the center of the action, taking a lesson in Aussie Rules, rugby, cricket, or any other particularly Aussie sport simultaneously teaches lessons while creating memories. Learning by doing, trying something new, honing a skill, blowing open comfort zones or even stepping on a pitch for the first time…what more could you ask of educational travel?

Aussie Rules

Aussie Rules

I lived on Collins Street in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business District. Two blocks took me to the Yarra River with the Aquarium and Southbank’s waterfront walkway filled with artists creating every which way you looked. The tram in front of my door could take me to brilliant beaches where the people watching became an activity in itself. And the train station a few blocks away could take me on a journey to Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill, the mountain towns of the Dandenongs, or many other adventures a short ride away. For those interested in geography, the laneways of Melbourne could be difficult to find or follow even with the help of Mr. Google and his trusty GPS system. Dotted around the city, hidden art-covered laneways uncover hidden treasures, cafes and shops that delight even the weariest of wanderers.

DeGraves Street, set between the Melbourne Library and Flinders Street Station, blends eclectic eateries, chain burger shops, and boutique cupcakes with the likes of bookshops, buskers, and budding artists. Melbourne’s laneways hold secrets that they unveil to those who stumble upon them once and can manage to find them a second time.

But the truly adventurous might take a drive for the ages. Melbourne is the gateway to Australia’s Great Ocean Road. Drive on the left (for some a heart palpitating learning experience in its own right) signs remind you where to go as you wiggle through beach towns, pass by roadside fish and chip shops, and perhaps make it as far as the iconic Twelve Apostles. Direction, location, geography, mapping, following directions coupled with curiosity, adventure, and perhaps the ability to ask questions of those who can provide guidance are just some of the lessons met in a day’s adventure.

Australia's Great Ocean Road

Australia's Great Ocean Road

As long as our minds are open, learning can happen anywhere. As an educator and a traveler, it’s hard to ever separate the two. Adventure is just outside our door and can be found in a local grocery market or a far away land. For me, Melbourne merged the two. This far away land became home and its cultures and traditions became part of mine. Language, customs, traditions, foods, and lifestyle have merged with those with which I grew up and become one. If we want, each one of us can become globally minded citizens active in a world with outstretched comfort zones and open minds.

When the world is your teacher, anything truly is possible.

When experiences outweigh things and ‘do good works’ and ‘be good people’ take equal weight with reading and maths, student’s potential and growth soar. Consider learning life lessons instead of compartmentalized subjects. Spend days where travel is your teacher and curiosity your guide. With the help of travel (and Melbourne), this educator found a second home.

 

 

 

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.
 
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert

 

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