Snow a new experience for Aussie exchange student

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Will Filipski, left, is playing host to Lachlan Maunder, who is visiting from Australia for about two months.

In the midst of one of the worst blizzards in recent memory, 16-year-old Lachlan Maunder’s flight was touching down in Calgary for a nearly eight-week Rotary Short-Term Exchange.

A resident of Jimboomba, Queensland, Australia, not far from Brisbane, Lachlan had seen snow “only in movies.” He’s certainly seen his share of snow now, one of many firsts he’s experienced early in his stay in Canada.

“The snow’s kind of fun but the cold can be annoying,” Lachlan says, having arrived in time for -40 C wind chills. Fortunately, he enjoyed an early Christmas celebration in Australia before leaving home, and a cousin from London gave what might be the best gift of all – a heavy winter coat.

Lachlan is attending classes at Calgary Christian Secondary School with his exchange host, Will Filipski, a Grade 10 student who stayed with the Maunder family for most of last July and August.

Lachlan has just completed Grade 11 and this exchange is happening during his summer break. While he’s not expected to complete any classroom assignments, he’s been tagging along to classes with Will or Will’s twin brother Chip. He’s welcome to participate in class, or quietly work on other things, like his iPad.

In his first two weeks at the school, he’s noticed many similarities in curriculum. Will’s class is studying Romeo and Juliet, something Lachlan studied last year.

He’s observed many differences in school as well. Calgary Christian Secondary is home to an ethnically diverse student population, more so than Lachlan’s school. With about 400 students Grade 7-12, it’s also less than half the size of the school Lachlan attends.

“This school is about as big as my grade,” Lachlan says. The campus is also quite different, with classroom space spread outdoors in separate buildings with no congested hallways.

 “There are paths that join the buildings but when it rains, it leaks where they join,” Lachlan says. “Sometimes you’ll have a waterfall to get to your class, but it doesn’t rain very often.”

Will takes Spanish class at Calgary Christian. In Australia, the second language instruction is offered in Japanese.

Lachlan says his school is also faith-based, but he finds a far deeper infusion of faith at Will’s school.

“We have three or four masses every year, and half the kids don’t care about the religion side of it,” Lachlan says. “They’re just there for the school.”

“The kids here actually care about it,” Will agreed.

At home, winter might bring low temperatures of -5 C, and Lachlan says there’s no “going to school in the dark and getting home in the dark.” The weather was an impressive part of Will’s visit to Australia.

“There’s no wind; that’s the main thing,” Will says.

“But you have no humidity here,” Lachlan counters. “It hangs around 60 per cent (at home).”

Early in his visit, Lachlan has already taken in some iconic Canadian places and activities. The family received Flames tickets from a friend, and not to just any game. The Flames played the Boston Bruins, bringing Jarome Iginla back to the Saddledome for the first time since being traded.

“The crowd went absolutely crazy,” Will says.

Aside from the atmosphere, Lachlan was struck by one thing: “The players wear armour!” Not even football (rugby) players in Australia wear that kind of protective gear, he says.

The boys also attended a corporate Christmas party at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, staying up till 2 a.m.

Lachlan joined the Filipskis in cutting down a Christmas tree, an activity also new to Will, made even more of an adventure with a flimsy rope and Lachlan’s tying of a sheepshank knot.

Will’s parents, Terri and Chas Filipski, say the benefits of being a host family include the opportunity to explore and learn about your home country and forge friendships with another family far away. For Will, the challenge of travelling abroad alone at just age 15 was an opportunity to push out of his comfort zone.

“He seems more mature and assured of himself,” says Terri. “He has always been fairly independent, and now at almost 16, he is well on his way to becoming an independent, responsible adult.”

As part of the exchange, the teens have to make presentations to Rotary Clubs in their communities, sharpening their public speaking skills, Terri says.

School Principal Jason Kupery says the exchange provides benefits for many students at Calgary Christian.

“Having international students really sparks curiosity within our student population,” he says. “Seeing someone as young as Lachlan take that courageous journey across the sea inspires our students to travel themselves.”

The journey for Lachlan continues with plans for skiing, snowboarding and skating, taking in the Calgary Zoo lights display and visiting an ice sculpture competition. Lachlan heads back to Australia Jan. 23.