2020 was a tumultuous year for everyone – including German educators Antje and Jana, our two very first FROEBEL scholars who arrived in Australia just before international borders were shut. On top of being so far away from their loved ones during a pandemic they had to endure two lockdowns of several months in Melbourne. Recently their Australian work experience came to an end and we have asked them to share with us what stood out for them during their time at FROEBEL Fitzroy North.
Dear Antje and Jana, your FROEBEL Scholarship has come to an end, how did it feel for you saying goodbye to your team at FROEBEL Fitzroy North and all the children and families?
Antje: My time at FROEBEL Fitzroy North was very special and it was extremely hard for me to leave the centre. Even though it was a very strange time for everyone due to COVID, I always felt very safe and everyone supported one another. I personally had a few ups and downs and was always cheered up by the team with a hug, some loving words and at times a tissue and a bar of chocolate. I think our team grew much closer during the second lockdown, as we weren’t allowed to see anyone else apart from our housemates. It always felt like being a little FROEBEL family – one I never wanted to leave.
Saying goodbye to the children and parents in the Nursery was very difficult for me. Many of the little ones were just about to learn walking and talking when I started, and when I left months later, they had grown into amazing, independent toddlers. And I was able to accompany them on this journey! I was overwhelmed by the lovely farewell words and gifts from the parents at FROEBEL Fitzroy North – I have never experienced such gratitude and appreciation for the work I’ve been doing. It was definitely not an easy farewell!
Jana: I found it hard to say goodbye to the children in the Kinder room; they’re at an age where they understand what saying goodbye means. In the last weeks before I left they kept asking how much longer I would be at the centre. On my last day at FROEBEL, the children sang our usual goodbye song and “We are Australian” [a popular song sometimes referred to as Australia’s unofficial anthem]. This was when I couldn’t help shedding some tears!
With the help of the other educators, the children designed a book in which each child shared their ‘best place in Australia’ with me. From “at home” to Byron Bay and Albert Park in Melbourne, so many wonderful spots have been covered and I am trying to visit many of them. I was also very sad to say goodbye to the team and the families who supported me so much during my time in Melbourne.
When you arrived in Australia almost 12 months ago the COVID-19 pandemic had only just started. What did COVID-19 mean for your scholarship and travel plans?
Antje: The COVID-19 pandemic definitely stirred up my entire scholarship. I remember that I was sitting on my couch in Germany contemplating whether I should still fly to Australia. Back then things were getting pretty crazy and many borders had already closed. I am so glad I decided to bring my travel dates forward as I was almost the last to get into Australia before international borders were shut. Just as I had checked in my luggage at Berlin Airport, Kerri [the Centre Director at FROEBEL Fitzroy North] called and told me I had to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. I remember asking her: ’Do you think I should still come?’ Fortunately, she just said: ‘Yes, why not?’ – So I boarded the plane and landed a day later and somehow I survived those 14 days in the hotel room.
When I was accepted for the scholarship, I made a lot of plans for the year, but it quickly became clear that everything was going to be very different and a very special experience. Looking back, the second lockdown in particular was an enormous challenge and at times I did consider flying home. I struggled to believe that Melbourne would ever make it out of lockdown again. But I kept telling myself: I won’t leave before I’ve seen a bit more of Australia! And the wait was worth it, I had many great experiences at work for which I am very grateful!
Jana: What I learned over the past 12 months is to never have a fixed plan as things can change within a heartbeat. Being on the other side of the world away from family, friends and my old life during a global pandemic has been a real challenge for me. Due to the restrictions in Melbourne I didn’t feel I was able to ‘settle in’ as much as I would have wanted to. On the flip side this meant I had a lot of time to study for my Certificate III [in Early Childhood Education and Care]. Studying in a foreign country and in a foreign language is not exactly a walk in the park, even though the topics were mostly not new to me.
I am super grateful for my wonderful housemates especially during the Melbourne lockdown. Being surrounded by great people at work and at home definitely helps make it through tough times.
Congratulations again on your Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care which you successfully passed whilst working at our FROEBEL centre! Thinking of the course and its content, what will you keep in mind most for your future career?
Antje: What was completely new to me about working as an educator in Australia were all the policies and regulations – these will definitely stick with me because there isn’t anything like that in Germany. The Certificate III course provided a very comprehensive guide through the various policies. I think it is important and correct for rules and regulations to be laid down in policies which then implements a standard practice at the service. For my future work I will definitely fall back on some of them such as policies about bedtime, nappy change, applying sunscreen and in the event of accidents, as they do not only guide but also protect you as an educator.
Jana: Thanks to FROEBEL for giving me this opportunity! It was a great challenge to study and work at the same time whilst being new to a city. I am so proud to have successfully passed the exam. I learned a lot about policies in Australia and found there are many more standards implemented here than there are in Germany.
Antje (left) and Jana (right) proudly present their Certificate III
What was your personal FROEBEL highlight?
Antje: My personal highlight was definitely my team and how we got through the lockdown periods together. After the Stage 4 lockdown was announced, Matilda, one of my colleagues, hung up little notes all over the centre with encouraging words like “Take a deep breath. You are doing amazing!”. Reading those messages was simply wonderful. I also remember when some of the team had to isolate after having taken a COVID-test and I was the only permanent teacher of the Nursery team left. That was shortly after the second lockdown was announced and I was feeling a bit shaken. The whole team offered their help and everyone tried to support me in the Nursery as much as they could … I had never experienced such a team spirit before!
Jana: My highlight was to see the team stand together when the Stage 4 lockdown was announced. I wouldn’t have coped during this time without the support of the Fitzroy North team, and most likely, I would have returned to Germany much earlier. Going to work meant being able to leave the house and FROEBEL tried to support us by rostering us for as many hours as possible. As a team we always cheered each other up and together we made the best of the situation we found ourselves in.
And last but not least, what are your plans for the coming weeks and months?
Antje: After almost a whole year in lockdown, I am now enjoying Australia as a backpacker. After a few weeks of travelling through Victoria and Tasmania, I’m currently in NSW and will make my way up the east coast – always being mindful there there may be further COVID breakouts and snap lockdowns announced by the different states. I am planning to return to Germany mid year – if the COVID situation allows, I will join my previous workplace and team again at a FROEBEL early learning centre in Berlin.
Jana: Due to COVID-related visa changes I am able to stay in Australia for longer than the previously planned 12 months. I have planned to go surfing at Byron Bay and to obtain the open water diving license at the Great Barrier Reef. I would also like to go skydiving and to explore the Daintree Rainforest. I am looking forward to travelling through Australia and I am very happy to have Antje by my side. We are both so glad the FROEBEL scholarship has brought us together!
Thanks Antje and Jana for having been part of our team at FROEBEL Fitzroy North. You both are sorely missed! FROEBEL Australia will offer the FROEBEL Scholarship for German educators again as soon as travel restrictions are lifted. For more information on the program please click here.