Well, we’re back home in Australia. We’ve finished our exam, said goodbye to our Austrian lecturers and our Australian fellow students, and flown halfway around the world back to summer here in Oz.
Our last week focused on wrapping up our learning around inclusive education. On Monday and Tuesday we were presenting in groups on a number of different education systems from a variety of different countries. Then we held a mock ‘World Summit on Education’ and used what we had learnt in the last three weeks to put together a number of priorities for education and some new structures to help countries move towards inclusive education.
This exercise was a lot of fun and it was nice dreaming up an ideal education system; however, it also reinforced to me how much power over schools and learning lies in so few hands. As we were listing our priorities, we were free to focus only on the students’ needs, without concern for budgets, political needs, social factors and all the difficulties faced when trying to improve a variety of education systems across vastly different countries and cultures.
On Wednesday we had the day free to study for our exam and get some work done on our essays (‘papers’) that were due after we got home. I took a break from study in the afternoon and a few of us walked to the city park. It was a warm day for Graz (a whole 6 degrees!) and there were families and kids and dogs out playing in the still slightly frozen park. The sun at dusk (so around 3.30pm) was beautiful and I realised that my time in this Austrian city was almost at an end.
Thursday was the big day – exam day. We all did our best and sighed with relief when it was over. A number of us stayed back at the university to keep working on our essays, before we had a wrap up class that afternoon. We gave feedback and talked about the subject, which parts we found useful and what else we’d wished we had covered. This is the first time the university has run this course for International students, and were eager to get our feedback.
That was almost the end of our official activities. Thursday night we went out for drinks and to enjoy Graz while we could. Friday morning was devoted to packing and preparing and eating our leftover food. A small group of us went on one last adventure, getting the train to St Peter’s and going for a walk in the icy woods, even coming across a slightly magical grove with a frozen pond. Before long it was time to get ready for the farewell dinner with our lecturers and activities coordinators and to say goodbye.
At the farewell dinner we gave our teachers some small koalas as a token of our thanks and we even demonstrated a singing ‘A Land Down Under.’ I was certainly going to miss our Austrian hosts, and was sad to say goodbye to Edvina and Georg particularly, our academic coordinator and our activities coordinator.
Then we had the sad task of saying goodbye to each other – our fellow Australian travellers. Some of us were leaving bright and early on planes and others were catching buses to various other cities later in the day. Some of us were continuing to travel and others were heading home to Australia and a return to study and work and ordinary life. I got the bus to Vienna, stayed there for one last night in Austria then flew out the next night. That was that. Back home, and my big Austrian adventure was done.
I learnt so much on this trip, both inside and outside of the classroom. Many of experiences I had in Austria will stay with me for life. The Inclusive Education course has certainly given me a new perspective on many things, and will change how I approach inclusion in my own classroom as a teacher. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to do this program, and can’t wait to put everything I’ve learnt into practice.