I just updated my other blog with some pictures and events from this past month, including M’s 4 month birthday summary. These last 4 months have flown by! It helps that we’ve had a lot of guests and church events to keep us busy, in-between the sickness and school and …. I don’t even know what else. But at night, when all the kids are in bed and John’s working, I’m left to check off things on my to-do list. I also get to think about the big difference between America and Australia, now that we’ve been here almost a year and a half.
This homeschool conference I attended last weekend helped put things in perspective for me. Homeschooling in the States is pretty common. Chances are almost everyone reading this blog know at least one family who is homeschooling. All of my sisters-in-law have done it or are doing it, and many of my friends are taking the plunge. I always said I would never wade in those waters, but as E gets closer to attending Kinder (as it’s called here), we’re weighing our options and our best one so far is homeschooling (gasp and groan). It’s been around for so long in the States that it’s not a shock to hear of families choosing that option for their children. Here, however, it is still very rare. Although it’s apparently going through a boom at the moment (someone at the conference said there are 15,000 registered homeschoolers in ALL of Australia, and that isn’t counting the ones who aren’t registered), it still is nothing compared to the amount in the States. When asked by those around us what we are planning to do with our kids, they look shocked and very skeptical when I say we’re considering homeschooling. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say that their worries could be more because we’re foreigners, and homeschooling may not help integrate us into life here as much as sending our kids to school would, but I think there is an element of shock for the actual act of homeschooling itself. We would be the first family in our church to homeschool their kids, and the homeschool community in the Illawarra region, although present, is definitely not large. There are no co-ops available so I would be responsible for every subject. There are homeschool get-togethers at parks for the kids to socialize with each other and for mothers to have a community, but that’s pretty much it. It’s slim pickings for homeschoolers in Australia. Plus, the laws in some states (including New South Wales, where we are, are insane! We have to register with the government and then they send a representative out to look over the curriculum, make sure it meets their extensive requirements, and to evaluate the learning environment. If you pass, you can either get a 6 month, 1 year, or 2 year license to homeschool and then you will need to be reevaluated when that license expires. Oh, the joys of a nanny state.)
Looking at America and Australia is like a Tale of Two Countries. They were both founded at about the same time and by the same country, Britain (I’m obviously simplifying history here, as I know America had more than one founding country, as well as Australia). However, the people founding them couldn’t have been more different. America started (in some colonies) as a way for people to gain religious freedom. They were educated, competent, hard workers, and eager to create a new life and community in a new world. Australia started as a convict nation. Britain sent their castoffs here as a punishment, to be guarded by people who were cruel and hated by many. The church in America served as a way to bring people together and created opportunities for the new arrivals to integrate into the culture. The church in Australia was a part of the oppressive force of the leadership, meant to keep the convicts down.
This plays out so much in how these two countries are different, even today. We live near Wollongong, a city with a university, so we have many uni students who attend our church. One big complaint of theirs is that many of their uni profs don’t speak English. They are continually frustrated by the fact that the people meant to teach them can’t even speak to them clearly in their language. That’s not as big of a problem in the States. I’m not saying it’s not there, but there are far more English-speaking professors in America. I think this stems from the fact that Americans want to better themselves with education (thus, more Americans become college professors, whereas in Australia, not many go on to become professors). How many people do you know who have not only a college degree, but a graduate degree as well? It’s pretty common for friends to go on for further education after they’ve graduated from college, especially if you’re going into law, medicine, or business (which is a large majority of people). That is definitely not the case here. We haven’t met many people at all with graduate degrees. It’s not a popular route to take. Most people around us are “tradies,” or blue collar workers, and proud to be so. It stems from the wariness Australians have of white collar workers or highly educated people. Those were the people who ruled over them in their convict days, and, I’m serious, this isn’t made up or a generalization, it’s a “tall poppy syndrome.” They are wary of those who think too highly of themselves. Australians don’t like fame, don’t like to gloat over their education, don’t like to be the best at everything. It’s the exact opposite in America, and I think it stems from how the two countries were founded.
This difference is shown in many ways here, but one way is in religion. First of all, Australia is a secular nation. Even though many people in our town go to church, I almost never hear any mention of Christianity when I’m out and about. I mentioned it in a previous blog post that it’s just not done. Religion has been something you keep to yourself. I did, however, just read a new study that came out that stated Australians are more open to religion than previously thought. However, one way they would be turned off to a religion is if a famous person became a spokesperson for that religion. That is SO different than in America. Look at all of the famous preachers in the States! And all the celebrities who claim to be a part of one religion or another! What do you do if you want your church to be well-known? Get someone famous to be the mouthpiece for it! Yeah, that’s not the case in Australia.
There are so many other big differences, but these are a few that have caught my attention lately. I don’t have a preference for either culture, although, since I have a graduate degree, I wish it counted for more out here because of all my blood, sweat, and tears that went into that MATS, but that’s just a pride thing. And I’m good at pride. It’s kind of a staple sin for Americans. That’s the advantage to living in another culture–I can see more clearly my pet sins, sins that I can “get away with” in America but sins that come to the surface and glare at me here in Australia. I know it goes both ways and I’ll develop new pet sins here, I’m sure, but as it stands, I’ve enjoyed stepping out of my culture and into a new one, one that shows me more ways that I am a fallen creature, desperately in need of Christ’s forgiveness.