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Differences between America & Australia

Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences between America & Australia: School holidays

This is one for Captain Obvious but I can’t let this series go without discussing the differences between America and Australia in terms of School Holidays.

We’re off and running–my kids are finally back to school today–Wednesday, September 9 here in LA. They broke off school on June 10. Their last exam was June 8.

Yep, that’s three whole months—one quarter (or one fourth as the Americans like to say) of the year.

Here our holidays have nothing whatsoever to do with the terms. I find this totally weird because it’s different to how I went to school. The kids still find it strange—they have assessments and finish the term one day, then go back to school to start a new term the next day.  Not even a long weekend in between to catch their breath.

Apparently the number of school days in California is 175. This can drop to 170 for Charter Schools (sort of like a private public school but I don’t really get it. If you’re really interested you can click here to find out more). And it can drop to around 165ish at a private school. (Source).

So our year here in America looks like this:

Session one

Starts around Labour Day (I still can’t write Labor) which is the first Monday in September.

I don’t want to add up how many weeks it is cause it’ll kill me.  Let’s just say it’s around about three months.

Holidays

We get two weeks at the end of the year.  They don’t call it a Christmas break here because even though they’re God loving it’s not politically correct to acknowledge the Christian calendar above all others.

Session two

Another few months of school.  Again, I really don’t want to add up the weeks as I find it horrendously long.

Holidays (Spring Break)

We can say Spring Break because it’s a season with no religious connotation.  We generally finish in mid March and come back on Easter Monday, although this year it’s a little different with Easter being in the middle of the holidays.  Here, there is no such holiday as Good Friday or Easter Monday, it’s a “business-as-usual” day for retail and business alike.

Session three

Another god knows how long few months until school breaks up in June and we get to have summer all over again.

Holidays

Hooray! After three long sessions at school we need that long summer break.  I just wish we could break those “sessions” up and the holidays could coincide with the school terms.  Makes much more logical sense.

Year-Round Schedule

There are some school districts that are starting to introduce what they refer to as the Year-Round schedule—pretty much exactly like our holidays in Australia. Not surprisingly, with an entire industry devoted to the summer holidays there are many debates about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

One of my friends who lives in Chandler, Arizona has a year-round schedule and she’s a huge fan. Who wouldn’t be?  Count me in.

Cut over to Australia

Yes, let’s cut back to Australia where we don’t even know there’s a name for our holiday system. We have approximately 200 school days a year, give or take. (Source: many a site as well as the Blog Teaching Challenges.)

To us we have four terms and a summer holiday. Our school year looks a little something like this:

Term one

Starts after Australia Day—either late January or early February

Around 10 weeks of school—sometimes 11 or 12 depending on when Easter falls and let me tell you one day over that 10 weeks is a killer.

Holidays

We get two weeks over the Easter Break, usually starting on Thursday in time for Good Friday. Yes, in Australia we have public holidays for both Good Friday and Easter Monday making it our longest long weekend of the year. We love Easter.

Term two

Another 10 weeks of school.

Holidays

Yippee! It’s the middle of the year and it’s time for a break again. This time the private schools generally get three weeks. Because my two went to single sex schools, meaning they’re at different schools, the three weeks doesn’t always match up.

Term three

Time to get back to the school year for another ten weeks of school.

Holidays

It’s around late September, early October and there’s another break. If you’re lucky enough this one can also be around three weeks long (usually the private schools–the more you pay the less you go is a universal concept I think).

Term four

The business end of the year and generally another ten weeks of school.

Summer holidays

As summer is at the end of the year—December and January—it coincides with Christmas. The private schools usually finish on the first or second week of December giving them six-eight weeks off. There’s no time for camps but being a busy time of year there are plenty of Christmas positions available so many kids work. Then January is traditionally when everyone takes time off work and heads to the beach for some quality family time.

 

Which school year would you prefer?

I know I love my nice neat terms with a break in between to acknowledge the hard work that’s gone on through the term. Then when you come back it’s back to work. I also like the six-eight weeks: it never seems long enough but it is time to get back to school so it’s all good.

I guess it’s all a matter of what you grew up doing and enjoying. Except that we’ve got it right in Australia!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

PS:  Interested in what others around the world do? Here’s a website that outlines it. Quite interesting.

Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Corner stores or no corner stores?

The difference between my life in Beverly Hills America & inner City Sydney Australia

The second instalment in my series in the differences between America & Australia (Americans & Australians) was spurred on by a recent end-of-year sleepover. With five teenage boys in the house the breakfast request was for pancakes.

“Damn, I don’t have eggs,” I said.

Enter the concept of the Corner Store or Milk Bars.

In Australia …

I would have sent the boys on their bikes or skateboards down the local corner shop to get said eggs. The boys would have got dressed and practically run out the door.

“Don’t forget to take the dog,” I’d yell at them, at which they’d promptly run back, grab the dog and the lead and continue racing out the door.

Sometime later they’d come home with eggs (and anything else I’d requested) and a treat for themselves. As payment. Works for them, works for me.

In America …

We live in the hills of Beverly Hills—down one hill is Beverly Hills “flats” (think the mansions and palm trees) and down the other hills is the “posh” part of the Valley, Sherman Oaks.

To “rush out” just to get eggs I need to hop in the car. (Yes it’s LA, everyone drives everywhere.) There’s no corner store to walk to. I have to go down one of my two hills to the closest “market” (which makes it sound really glamorous but it’s really just American for supermarket).

It’s not too bad, a drive down the hill to Sherman Oaks is around 10 minutes (out of traffic). Except couple that with the fact that you have to park, go in, get the eggs (it’s a big supermarket and the eggs are in the far back corner—good to know if you’re in Ralph’s Sherman Oaks and all you need is eggs), get back in the car and head back up the hill. That’s 30 minutes of my life I can’t get back all because I don’t have enough eggs. Yes, yes, I know I could have given them something else but it’s the holidays and they worked really hard to stay up all night what’s a sleepover without pancakes for breakfast???

I hate the fact that there is no corner store or local “market”. We had one at our local shopping centre it closed down now long after we got here. And even then I can’t send the kids there to go on their bikes, I still have to drive.

Flashback to Shanghai

In Shanghai our apartment was across the road from the international supermarket, CitiShop. The kids were a little too young to send over at the start but towards the end they could go themselves. Plus I didn’t have to get in my car and they had all the treats (like Tim Tams) I needed if I was feeling homesick. I just couldn’t look at the price.

I may be greeted with a smile and helpful “checkout chicks” here in the US but the kids going to the corner shop for me. Priceless.

Nostalgia

Some years later I’m reminded of this post as I stumbled upon an article a friend emailed me. It was from the NY Times where the author gets nostalgic about the long-lost Milk Bar (as it’s known in Melbourne). It makes me so sad to see this “progress”. What cheers me up though is that our friends’ corner shop in Lilyfield is still alive and kicking. It’s one of the first places our kids visit when they go home and my girlfriend is still sending people to “Ramsay’s” to pick up bread, milk, eggs or fresh produce. Long live Ramsay’s!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

PS: It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t ‘fess up to the fact that our corner store shut down shop since we left home.  BUT there is another shop a little further down the road I can still send the kids to AND there’s a new mini Grocer (IGA) that’s opened close by that I can also send the kids to. Do yourselves a favour and support the local corner store, before you need to hop in the car to get bread and milk.  Or eggs, don’t forget the eggs.

Updated 22/10/18
Differences between America & Australia, My LA story, Posts

Returning things (taking stuff back)

The difference between Americans & Australians

I’m starting a new series of differences between Australians & Americans prompted by today’s shopping experience. I’m not talking spelling or speaking but reactions and situations. Join in if you’ve got a story to tell.

Returns Bloomingdale’s style

I bought some candles for a friend whose birthday is coming up. I ordered them online (of course) and opted to pick them up in store because I wouldn’t receive them in time for her birthday dinner.

Cut to the chase I got the candles home and my daughter was snooping in the bag (she is obsessed with candles AND snooping!).

“Ew,” she screamed. “This candle has been lit.”

And sure enough it had. No sign of real lighting action but that wick was not white (or clear) it was black.

So I headed straight back to Bloomingdale’s the next morning so they didn’t suspect me of being the mysterious candle-lighter.

“Oh my god,” said the checkout chick (who is actually a bloke but then I couldn’t use the term ”checkout chick”), “that’s terrible. Ew. Let’s get you another one shall we?”

So off we went looking for the same product—but one that hadn’t been lit. Each time he passed someone who worked at the store he’d call out, “Hey Larry—or whatever their name was—look this poor lady got sent a candle that had been … (gasp) lit.”

“No way,” they’d reply in shock.  “That’s terrible.”

It took us a while to find the same product but he looked up the stock and knew there were some somewhere. So off he went digging out the back to try to find more. And he did. And he sent me away a happy—albeit still shell-shocked—customer.

 

Returns Australia style

Let’s imagine how this might play out in Australia…

Me: “Hi, I bought these candles online and picked them up here yesterday but one of the candles seems to have been lit.”

Checkout chick (CC): “Oh,” glaring at me sizing me up to see if I hadn’t in fact lit the candle myself. “Do you have the receipt.”

Me: “Yes,” showing her the receipt.

CC: “And when did you say you bought them? Where from?

Me: Politely answer the question.

CC: “I’ll have to speak to someone about this, wait one minute please,” while walking up and whispering to her colleague both looking at me making me feel guilty like I deliberately lit that candle and took it back wanting a new one.

“OK, mam, this is an unusual situation. We won’t give you your money back we can only exchange and since the candle has already been lit then we can only exchange it for exactly the same product.”

Me: “Well that’s good because I want the candle, I got it home and found that it had been lit and it’s a gift and I really want to give them a brand new one, not one that’s been lit by someone else.

“Do you have anymore in stock? I couldn’t find them anywhere.”

CC: “I’m not sure you’ll have to look around and see if you can find another one.”

Me: “I’ve had a look around but can’t seem to see any. I only bought them online yesterday there should be more here somewhere shouldn’t there?”

CC: “You’ll have to wait while I serve this customer and maybe I can check stock for you. Or you might go back online and see if you can find some more.”

You get the picture? I love shopping here and not being treated guilty before being proved innocent. Plus the prices are better and it’s so convenient online!

 

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Differences between America & Australia, Expat tales, My LA story, Posts

A postcard from Sydney

G’day LA.

A Postcard from Sydney.  I’m still recovering from my trip to Sydney which was a whirlwind.  There’s never enough time to do what you need to do.

One of my highlights was getting back into the early morning rises for swimming training.  (If you’ve been following along he’s on a quest to qualify for the CIF–Californian Interscholastic Federation–made up of private and public schools across California and his coach suggested it was not OK to take two weeks off swimming in the middle of the season). I was so happy to wake early and even more happy that his old school took him in to train with them without question, in face welcome him with open arms. There is nothing more glorious than the site of nearly 100 boys swimming sets when even the sun hasn’t bothered to get up yet.

An hour later we’re on our way to the American Embassy applying for new Visas for another couple of years in LA.

Why would you want to leave Australia I was often asked?  What a great question.  It made me think (and appreciate) …

10 things I love about living in Sydney

1.   Our Beach House (& the unspoilt beaches in general)

Ah yes, our beach house.  Who needs holidays were you have to spend hours on end researching the ins and outs of new destinations when your home away from home is on the white sands of Jervis Bay with uninterrupted views, crystal clear water and unspoiled beaches? It’s the simple things.

It doesn't get much more spectacular than this

It doesn’t get much more spectacular than this

2.   Boats & Water sports

One of our favourite things to do is to head down to “The Shire” to spend a day with our gorgeous friends wallowing away the day.  The kids get to do all things watersports: wake boarding, tubing & biscuiting, Jetskiing, swimming and paddling around and we get to top up our Champagne glass and feed the adventurers when they’re hungry.  Good old-fashioned fun all day.

Doesn't get much more fun than this for the kids--and the grown-ups

Doesn’t get much more fun than this for the kids–and the grown-ups

And we can repeat it all again at the Beach House all summer long.

Ahhh the things we took for granted.

3.   Saturday Sport

Yep, seriously.  I never really whinged about Saturday sport: I loved getting up to watch my kids play and participate week after week for their school.  I also loved meeting and catching up with other parents.  So long as we have a coffee in hand (and a good BBQ complete with egg & bacon rolls) Saturday sport is a gift we give our kids.  And everyone knows where they stand: ‘no show’ means immediate detention and if you can’t commit then you’re presence isn’t required at the school.  That’s what you sign up for and besides, there’s nothing more important than teamwork, representing your school and good sportsmanship.

4.   Australian private school and the attitude to educating kids

When the Principal at my kids school here in LA said in reference to changing the girls uniform because they were sick of the short skirts–and they were short:

(I’m paraphrasing) “our job is not to be bogged down disciplining your kids it’s to educate”.  Wait one cotton-picking moment.  Screech those brakes.  Absolutely not.

Together the school and the parents must set boundaries for the kids and show them that if those boundaries are tested then there are consequences for those actions.  And those consequences aren’t changing a uniform because some girls don’t know how short is too short.  Those girls can learn a lesson–the hard way.

That’s how it is in Australian private schools and it doesn’t seem to be how it is in LA’s private schools.  I really miss that.

5.  Picnics in the park or by the beach–with wine (shock, horror)

As we were driving to friends house on our last night in Sydney we drove past the local park on a beautiful sunny Sydney afternoon.  There were groups of mums & kids sitting in circles on picnic blankets; kids playing happily (not without incident though!) and mums with a well-deserved glass of wine in hand.  After all it was Thursday and nearly the weekend.

Many of my best friendships solidified from “Friday arvo park days” or Champagne arvos.  And the best bit: you could walk home and no one has a mess to clean up.

6.  Pubs

Or is it Australia’s drinking culture I miss most? I’m not sure. Every afternoon pubs are crowded with people catching up for a drink or two after work.  Here in LA it can happen but it’s more like grabbing an early dinner then doing a runner once it’s finished.

7.  Everything revolves around a drink

Case in point.  I had exactly 50 minutes to catch up with a very dear girlfriend.  I dropped in to her house and she opened her fridge and there was no wine.

“It’s OK water’s fine,” I said.

“Wait, what time do you have to leave?  Right we’ve got enough time to go to The Three Weeds, have a drink and be back in time.”

With that we both walked out the door.  And guess what? We did it.  And we loved it.  And that’s something I sorely miss about my Aussie mates and Australia.

Back to point 6–there are pubs everywhere it doesn’t take you long to get to your nearest one to catch up over one or two “sherbets”.

8.  Public Transport

Yes! It might be shite because it never runs on time but you know it’s there if you need it (and you need it to head into the city because the cost to park is highway robbery).

But what I love best about the public transport system is the fact that my kids can catch the bus or train to and from school.  Not only does it give them a social outlet but it gives them freedom and a sense of responsibility.  And it means I’m not driving to and from their school two or three times a day or trying to schedule carpool.

9.  Corner shops and everything at arm’s length

You’ve already been to the supermarket but you forgot to buy milk.  I miss being able to send the kids to the corner shop to pick up the milk or bread, or even get me coffee.

The first thing the kids want to do is get on the bikes and ride to the fish & chips shop and get fish & chips for dinner.  Because they can.  All I have to do is handover the wallet.

10.  Bogans

Seriously.  Where would we be without bogans?  Where would we be without the newest breed of bogans of the cashed-up variety?  I’ve forgotten all about bogans living in LA, there really is no other breed quite like them.  Bless Bogans.  For those of you who don’t know what a bogan is… well that’s a whole other post!

Bona fide bogans: Kath & Kim (Image taken from The Daily Life)

Bona fide bogans: Kath & Kim (Image taken from The Daily Life)

What are 10 things you miss about your home city?  Or what are 10 things you don’t miss!  Would love you to share.

xx It Started in LA xx

Wine o'clock
Differences between America & Australia, My LA story, Posts

A tradition with my Aussie girlfriends

It’s Friday afternoon, the kids have been picked up from school and you can feel the tension start to ease and the prospect of the weekend start to creep in.  Not even the thought of what’s for dinner can wipe the Friday-afternoon smile off my face.

Three to five of my closest friends are safely, comfortably propped up on one side of my kitchen island bench.  I’m holding court on the other side.  There is wine.  There may or may not be nibblies (usually limited depending on whether we are weight watching) and the kids are running around like lunatics outside just as happy it’s Friday and there’s no school for two whole days.

Friday afternoon drinks

It’s open house.  A text goes out earlier in the day.  Anyone can instigate it and everyone is strongly encouraged to participate.  Sometimes it starts at lunch, other times after school but wherever it is whenever it starts there’s one thing for sure I miss this Aussie tradition like nothing else.

Sometimes it’s a quick drink, other times we linger.  And, best of all, it can still happen on a Thursday and will generally always happen on a holiday eve.  (Actually in all seriousness it can happen anytime but we do try to contain it to once or twice a week).

It Started with after-work drinks

Remember when you were a free agent and you’d have a “few drinks” after work?  Is that an Australian and British thing is that something the Americans do too?

Well it’s all fine and good when you’re a free agent but it doesn’t mean we  mums don’t get to enjoy the ritual either.

And so households around Lilyfield, Rozelle, Leichhardt and Balmain (and everywhere else in Australia) would be the new venue for “after-work drinks”.

The magic ingredients

Friday afternoon drinks are seriously one of my favourite things to do.  The perfect recipe is:

  • my closest girlfriends
  • within a 5km radius (ie walking distance)
  • kids of similar age
  • a nearby park so the kids can let loose.

Actually when the kids were younger we would all walk to the local park.  We’d pack snacks for the kids and grown-ups and a bottle or so of wine.

The best is when we kick on to someone’s house and feed the kids and the dads come to pick the mums up.  Or perhaps catch a cab because they, too, have caught up to us.

Ahhh .. life in Sydney’s inner west never felt so good.

Reliving the tradition here

Tomorrow is a holiday here so I sent the following text to two friends as we’ve all been trying to find a date to catch up.

Idea! Let’s celebrate the day off tomorrow with a glass of wine.

In my mind (with my built-in knowledge of how things work re Friday afternoon drinks) I knew exactly what I was doing: calling after-school drinks.

Still not seasoned in the “Aussie way” I think I confused my girlfriends.  They even wondered if this was in place of our dinner plans.  Of course not! After-school drinks is an easy alternative if you’re finding it hard to plan a girls’ night out.  It’s an easy option for anything–a catch up before the night starts and definitely NOT in place of any other catch up–family or single.

I’ve spent so much time on this Blog talking about the cool things we do here in LA and what it’s like to acclimate that I forgot a few important things: indoctrinating my US readers on all things Australian.

So, this blog post is dedicated to after-school drinks across the pond.  Here’s cheers to one of the greatest Aussie traditions of all times.  Here’s hoping I can covert a few people in my neck of the woods.  And, it should suit LA down to a tea with its eat & run mentality: Drink & run. Perfect!

Shana Tov & Cheers!

xx It Started in LA xx

Easter
Differences between America & Australia

Easter in Oz v US: big chocolate eggs v little plastic ones filled with candy

I posted a status update on my Facebook page about a very special moment in time at dinner the other night: “that” conversation.  No, not the one about sex, the one about Santa and the Easter Bunny.  We pretended the kids didn’t know the “truth” while they “lived the lie” knowing that once we have “the chat” and come clean Christmas and Easter would never be the same again.

We couldn’t believe we were having the conversation–the kids telling us stories of times were we’d been so obvious and the time my mum said (practically as soon as the kids went to bed), “So should we put the presents out now?”

To which I (apparently) replied, “No, they won’t be asleep yet”.

I think it explains my daughter’s meltdowns over the last few Christmases when we had confirmed for her the dreaded truth but she couldn’t let us know we had.  She was acting up because what she wanted to be real was turning out to be a big fib after all.

It was such a gorgeous conversation but it was also melancholy that we were entering a new phase in our family life: the kids were indeed getting older.  Still, as one friend put it, “It doesn’t mean it can’t still be magical.” True enough.

Passover

This Facebook post turned into a comparison of traditions around Easter.  For many people here in 90210 they don’t celebrate Easter rather Passover–the freeing of the Jews from Egypt.  Over eight days they can’t eat bread or cereal (basically anything that can rise or has risen).  They start with a feast on the first night at sundown and the following night there is also a feast.  And I’m not quite sure what goes on the remaining six days.

Easter in OZ v US

But those who celebrate Easter should do so in roughly the same way here in the US as in Australia right?  Apparently not.  Firstly, apart from Lindt chocolate bunnies there are hardly any chocolate Easter Eggs. That turned out to not necessarily be the case.  I put my heart and soul into researching this topic and found some larger eggs but by and large the eggs here are small.

The eggs are either “candy” or plastic.  The plastic eggs are filled with candy and coins and scattered around the yard for the morning Easter Egg hunt.  There are lots of Easter-themed candies and marshmallows and a few little eggs.  Naturally being America all the chocolate companies put out Easter specials so you get Reece’s peanut butter eggs and Snickers eggs and even Kit Kat bunny ears.  Sadly for my family NO Red Tulip Bunnies.

Family favourite: Red Tulip Bunny

Family favourite: Red Tulip Bunny

Even in China after the first year we managed to find chocolate eggs.  (The first year we were there I arrived just before Easter weekend.  I had smuggled loads and loads of Easter Eggs in my hand-carry and cases to make up for the fact that it was our first Easter away.  My daughter confirmed during our chat that that was THE best Easter EVER!).

Lucky for us we had a Marks & Spencer’s which eventually started carrying Easter Eggs but before that we were forced to the international hotels for their Easter eggs for guests and expats alike.

Hot Cross Buns

The thing that surprised me the most was the absence of our beloved Hot Cross Buns.  I think it’s something you just take for granted.

Missing in Action: Hot Cross Buns

Missing in Action: Hot Cross Buns

Not unlike Christmas decorations once Valentine’s Day is done out come the Hot Cross Buns (actually someone reminded me pretty much on Boxing Day they come out!).  There’s nothing better than the first batch of Hot Cross Buns but then by Easter you’re kind of over them.  Right now, from where I’m sitting having had none this year I’m craving them–so much so that I’m attempting to make them.  In fact, through Facebook a number of us Aussies living in America are collectively craving them.  Imagine, fresh from the oven, butter melting over them (tons of butter!) and a cup of (real) coffee or tea.  Look what I’m doing to myself.

Easter morning traditions

In Australia and across Britain we hunt eggs Easter morning then eat ourselves silly on chocolate and Hot Cross Buns.

Here in America eating is more central to Easter.  Like Christmas and Thanksgiving there’s a “set menu”.  A new branch of Ralph’s (supermarket chain) opened (an opening we’ve been hanging out for) and I wondered why they had stocked so much ham.  It was like Christmas in Australia.  Turns out everyone has ham for Easter; it’s the thing.  I could fully do that one.

It got me thinking that apart from Hot Cross Buns there’s no “set menu” in Australia.  As we’re usually on a long weekend we’re often away.  It’s also often the last chance we get at being at the beach so we probably just have a Barbie (BBQ), feast on seafood and generally be out on the boat or on the Beach (or a bit of both).

Like at home Easter varies from house to house but these seem to be the main differences:

  • Chocolate eggs v plastic eggs filled with candy and coins (perhaps greenbacks in 90210?!)
  • Hot Cross Buns and anything goes v Ham as part of a shared meal and lots of variations on eggs, such as deviled eggs
  • Longest weekend of the year v Friday off if you’re lucky or in some states no days off.

Who better to sum up a typical Easter feast than Martha Stewart so I’ve linked her suggestions for you to have a sticky beak (click on Martha Stewart highlighted–Blog reading for Dummies).  And if you click through you’ll see one of the desert suggestions is our very own Pav.  There you go!

I love learning about the differences in our cultures, especially that we all basically came from the Brits many years ago at different times through different reasons and from different classes yet we’re so uniquely different.

Back to the long weekend

In Australia we love a good long weekend so the Easter four-day long weekend is like hitting the jackpot in Vegas.  You can imagine my surprise then when I discovered it wasn’t really a long weekend here in the US.    It’s not until you move or travel overseas that you realise how lucky we are to have a four-day long weekend.

Many countries obviously don’t celebrate Easter.  When we lived in China I remember thinking how surreal it was that Good Friday–traditionally a day where NOTHING is open at home–was business-as-usual.  Again, you’d expect a more religious Nation like America to have time off for Easter off.  No long weekend here.  Some schools get Friday off (not all) and many offices (like Mr H’s) are business-as-usual on Friday, let alone Monday.

So enjoy your long weekend (if you’re lucky enough to get one).  My kids want to take a day off for “religious reasons” good luck with that kids.

Happy Easter everyone & Happy long weekend Australia & the UK. Bastards ;).

xx It Started in LA xx

Australian schools v US schools
Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Mind, body & spirit: the difference between Australian & American private schools

I’ve been trying to articulate the difference between Australian and American private school and couldn’t seem to put my finger on it.  Until now. So I thought I’d take a stab at comparing school in Australia to LA.

If you’re moving (anywhere but especially overseas) and you’ve got kids then school is possibly the biggest factor to nail down.

One of the questions I often get asked is how schools here in the US compare to Australia (and some ask how they compare to International School in Shanghai).  The immediate assumption is that schools are better here (or maybe there’s a bit of colonial paranoia creeping in?) .  I, of course, beg to differ.  Here are some examples of the differences in the systems.

SUBJECT CHOICES:

Australia adopts an all-encompassing approach to education, ie they offer art, drama, music, maths, english, science, geography, PE AND sport.  Boys schools even offer woodwork and Design & Technology (D&T) and the girls schools also offer Home Economics and D&T.

America adopts an all-encompassing approach to education in that they offer art, drama, music, math, english, science and geography.  But you have to choose two electives out of art, drama or music.  There are many more great electives to choose from like Theatre, Dance and Video Production but you still have to choose.

America’s school mantra is: Academics are king.  Must.  Get.  Into.  Good. College.

Australia’s school mantra is to produce all-rounded kids (except where schools have an academic leaning and they say so).  My son’s school refers to it as mind, body & spirit.  Many schools mean the same thing but just articulate it differently but I think it sums it up perfectly: Challenge their minds, build their bodies and develop their spirit. The bottom line is by the time they leave school they have produced a well-balanced young man.

HOURS:

The typical school day in Australia is 8:30 – 3:30 (or combinations around that).  In America my kids start school at 8:30 and finish at 3:00.  On Fridays they finish at 2:00.

SPORT:

In Australia, sport is not PE.  PE–otherwise known as PDHPE (Physical Development, Health & Physical Education) as the name suggests encompasses lots of things, not just physical education.

Sport is sport.  Time set aside for this too–often more at a boys’ school because of the need for them to run around–but it involves choosing a competitive sport.  They train once or twice a week during school (sometimes after or a combination of both) and there’s a “no-cut” policy (a term I’ve only just really learnt) in that everyone gets to–has to–compete against another team (hopefully) on their own level.  Here Sport is part of the PE timetable.

(I met a lady who left our school here in the US because she didn’t like that our school has a no-cut policy.  She wanted her kids playing among the best competing among the best.  I challenged her asking why sport could not be played by everyone as long as 1) they played sport and 2) they played on a level similar to their own.  We never did finish that conversation.)

Everyone’s games are on Saturday.  As much as we bitch and moan about it it’s easy to work a schedule around keeping Saturdays free for sport (and, for a large part, club sport works around this too).  Here the games are all over the place at different times so if you have commitments outside school it makes it tough.

EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AT SCHOOL:

This is possibly where schools are closest: they have band, choir and orchestra and schools put on plays (and musicals here).  But for boys many of the private schools in Australia offer Cadets.  It’s a military thing through and through.  I remember the boys going home in their cadet uniforms when I was growing up and I wasn’t sure about it but now that I have a young teenager I mourn his absence from the program.  It not only teaches discipline but it gets them out in the great outdoors cooking for themselves and to quote the boys, “fending off brown snakes”.  There are so many elements to this one program that teaches so much.

Both my kids had top-class swimming programs at their schools where they swam before or after school for a nominal fee as often as they wanted.  I would drop them to school at 6:00 and 7:00am and once they’d finished their training they’d head to school via the cafeteria for breakfast.

While we’re lucky enough to have a great after-school swimming program here I have to pay for it.  There’s no thought-process that offering programs like that here produces good swimmers that would be good for the school’s reputation.  To promote their schools in Australia they use academic results and sporting achievements; in America it’s which (Ivy-League) Colleges graduates get into.

Great promise of opportunities

One of the thought processes when we decided to move here was to give the kids a great experience and be able to participate in a whole host of activities.  You know? Like on TV?  I’ve watched Glee and 90210, there’s something for everyone in America.  Pitch Perfect was on TV the night we had to make our final decision whether or not to move and there’s the “fat Australian” girl doing good in her American College.  I want to sign up for that.  I want my kids to have that opportunity.

But I had my doubts American schools could live up to the all-rounded approach of Australian schools and sadly, as always, I’m right.  Don’t get me wrong I think the kids’ school is great and a really good choice for us.  It’s probably (sport aside) the best choice for us and our needs.

So, in a word how do I sum up the difference between American and Australian schools?  Choice. Flexibility.  All-encompassing.  OK that’s three (technically four).

But, that’s not it.  That’s not what I was looking for.  It hit me this morning as I was going through my morning routine of checking social media and emails.

That’s when it hit me. Like a light bulb moment.  It was photos from my son’s school’s Facebook page of the Track & Field House Championships.  Aha!  They don’t have that here.  They don’t have an outlet for kids to race each other in a swimming carnival at one end of the year and participate in track & field events at the other end of the year.  That’s the best bit about being at school.  It’s Teamwork.  Pride.  Competition.  Bonding.  Participation.  (Another dimension to “spirit”).

The number one difference between American private schools and Australian private schools is that American schools don’t provide an opportunity for kids to don a yellow, teal, blue, red or purple (or whatever other colour parents have to go searching all over town for) and compete against each other.  For kids of all ages to share one thing in common: to win for their house.

I feel better now.  Let me leave you with the top three reasons why (private) school is better in Australia:

  1. The (compulsory) swimming carnival and track & field carnival.  Being part of a house and competing for your house’s name on that shield. (Spirit).
  2. You get to start school* doing a whole host of subjects and you don’t have to choose electives til later on in your school life (somewhere around year 10).  (Mind).
  3. You have to compete in a sport whether you’re good or bad or somewhere in between.  Sport (especially team sport) teaches so much about winning and losing, teamwork, sporstmanship, pride and healthy competition.   (Body).

I can’t speak for public schools as neither the kids or my husband and I have ever attended a public school.  That’s why this article is specifically about private schools ( I should probably go further and say private schools in LA).  When we went to make an appointment to visit a public school we were told there was an information night offering tours of the schools and that’s all their resources would allow.  Never mind we weren’t in the country when those nights were on.  I wonder if American public junior/middle high schools are the same as the private schools.  Being part of the LA Unified School District I’m not about to find out.

BUT… Colleges here tend to be more like private schools in Australia.  I think.  I haven’t got that far yet.

Ahhh … LA.  Let’s see if we’re here long enough to find out.

xx It Started in LA xx

* High School or Years 7-12 as it is in Australia, known here in America as Middle School & High School. Struggling to know what the grade levels in America are all about? I’ve got the answer here for you!

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