Out, Down Under, and Back
Hi, I’m an ex-expat child – having been brought up in Brussels from
aged 2 to 12, before we more or less settled ‘back’ in the UK.
The year I turned twelve I went to three different secondary schools
in three countries on three different continents in a year. Actually
for most of that year I managed not to be at school at all – sound
good? Not quite so good in reality.
The plan was to leave Belgium, where we’d had three consecutive three
year postings and return to Australia – as my father was a journalist
for the ABC (the Australian version of the BBC). We packed up the
house, let the cat go live on a farm, said tearful farewells to my
friends at the big international school, then moved to London for a
couple of months.
My father was covering someone’s job before we got to Sydney – so that
was my first experience of being a bored preteen in a new city with no
friends and no school. Anyone we did know was at school. I read a
lot of books, half-heartedly did some workbooks my mother had got hold
of, and we waited until we could get started in our new lives.
Two more months while we took the scenic route around Asia on our way
to Australia – my parents needed a holiday. I was a bit over the
whole ‘holiday’ thing. When we finally landed in Australia, I was
hustled into an education testing centre, still jetlagged, to do an IQ
test to see where I would fit in the Australian school system.
My results meant I finally had a school to go to – after the longest
summer holiday ever – North Sydney Girls’ High. For four weeks.
Before the summer holiday started (got to love swapping hemispheres).
Uniform was bought – deathwatch tartan – summer dresses (with very
handy hidden pockets) like the ones you’ve seen on Neighbours and Home
I came into school – towards the end of the school year – just after
all the exams. The girls were friendly, interested in my time off
school and my English accent, but much more interested in the fun two
weeks they coming up as a reward for their exams - non-school uniform
and non-curriculum. New school uniform went back in the cupboard as
we watched films, tie-dyed t-shirts, walked across the Harbour Bridge
– and then started the summer holidays.
During this time my parents had been busy. My father had settled into
a new job, my mother had found us a home and was getting it ready.
And then a new job came up – in London. Dad got it. We were due to
move back again in March. Mum told the school. They waved us goodbye
– there were other (more long-term) children waiting to come, so I was
Another two months spent trying to kill time and get out of mum’s way
while she packed. I discovered that a school bus pass (valid for
trips to and from school only) would get you all the way to Bondi
Beach from central Sydney if you told a bored bus driver you had a far-
fetched dentist appt.
and another girls’ school. This time a couple of weeks before the
Easter holidays, no uniform, and not quite such friendly girls. I
turned up with an Australian accent, and a severe case of emotional
Longterm this last move wasn’t the most successful. My father got
embroiled in office politics in his new job, my parents’ marriage fell
apart, and I suffered with bullying. I do sometimes wonder what would
have happened if the life we’d started living in Australia had
continued, but – but – then of course I almost certainly wouldn’t have
met my husband and had my children.
My children go to the local school, with their local friends, and
although we have had the chance to live abroad for periods of time,
I’ve always resisted it. My children’s school caters for army
children, a third at any one time, and there are comings and going,
sometimes in the middle of term, sometimes at the end of a year, and
new children sometimes appear – almost randomly. If this happens in
your school, think of that child, and the parents who have been
running themselves ragged getting everything organised - and invite
them over for a play and a meal they don’t need to cook. It could be
the beginning of a beautiful friendship