Our International Teacher Exchange Blog

After crunching numbers, playing with the budget, and discussing the enormity of the undertaking, we (my wife, son and I) have applied for an international teacher exchange to Australia. This means swapping jobs and homes with a teacher overseas: I work at his/her school, in his/her teaching position, and we live in his/her house. S/he does likewise here in Canada.
It took two years, but we now have a match and we will spend the 2014 calendar year in New South Wales, Australia!
This blog, for us, serves a few purposes:
  1. a venue for recording our experiences; whether anyone actually reads it or not, journaling is a good way to process stuff that needs processing
  2. communicating to friends and family some general updates
  3. a resource for others considering an international teaching exchange – we have appreciated reading other exchange teacher blogs and gained a broader understanding of the experience to come; this is our contribution to that bank of knowledge
As we continue to prepare and process the experience we’ll share details here. Feel free to share your experiences, ask questions, offer advice.
Categories: Planning for the Exchange | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Teacher Exchange and Canadian Income Taxes

So exchange teachers can claim moving expenses to the exchange location and back again. While I spoke with a few exchangees who did make such claims, I really had no idea what to expect. Now I have everything filed, reviewed, and accepted so I though I’d share the list of what Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) asked for in support of the claim.

THIS IS NOT TAX ADVICE, I AM NOT AN ACCOUNTANT! TALK TO A REAL ACCOUNTANT, DO YOUR RESEARCH. This information is just my experience and should not be used to do anything important. Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer.

I did lots of research on the CRA website, had saved pretty much every receipt, itinerary, etc from the whole year away, and pulling everything together wasn’t that challenging. I scanned all the documents, labeled each item, assembled it into a PDF and zipped it back to CRA via their website. Documents like the Australian Visa, exchange correspondences from Australia and Manitoba exchange coordinators, the housing/vehicle exchange agreements all most of the details (addresses, dates, etc) that were required. We also had receipts for meals, accommodations, etc while in transit. We arranged emails from the friends and relatives we stayed with there and back as required. A few weeks later I received a letter saying they had reviewed everything and accepted the claims.

Below is the text of the letter I received outlining the CRA review and what they required for the moving expenses claim. If nothing else, it will give you an idea about what to save and what to have ready when you file your taxes. Basically… SAVE EVERYTHING and label it as you go. But please, don’t rely on this information, things may change and your experience may be different.


To support your claim for moving expenses, please provide the following information, as applicable:

 – a completed Form T1-M, Moving Expenses Deduction;

– a letter from your or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s employer at the new work location confirming:

– the date you or your spouse or common-law partner changed work locations;

– if you or your spouse or common-law partner were reimbursed for all or any part of the moving expenses;

– the amount the employer paid and if this amount was included in your or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s T4 or T4A slip.

– the complete address of the:

– old and new residence;

– new business or place of employment; and/or

– educational institution;

– the date of each trip, the reason for each trip, and the expenses incurred during each trip;

– the number of kilometres that you drove in the calendar year that relate to the move;

– receipts and/or documents to support the accommodation portion of the travel expenses claimed;

– a statement showing how you calculated the meal expenses;

– receipts and/or documents that:

– support the accommodation portion of the temporary living expenses claimed;

– confirm the length of time spent at the temporary accommodations.

 NOTE: If you lived with family or friends, we need a letter from them confirming the length of your stay.

 – a statement from a lawyer or notary showing the fees paid for the sale and/or purchase of the residence;

– a copy of the real estate listing agreement or the sales agreement for your or your spouse’s or common law partner’s former residence that confirms the listing date;

– receipts for the title transfer or registration of the new residence;

– the net income you earned at the new work location from employment, self employment, or taxable awards (such as scholarships, fellowships, bursaries, certain prizes, or research grants) that have to be reported on your or your spouse’s or common law partner’s income tax return.

 NOTE: If you are self-employed, provide a breakdown of the net (minus expenses) self-employment income earned before and after the move;

 – the amount the employer paid and if this amount was included in your or your spouse’s or common-law

– documents such as a lease agreement, utility bills, phone bills, cable bills, or postal information that show you had established residential ties at your old location in Canada before moving to your new location in Canada;

– If any part of the amount claimed is carried forward from a past year, provide receipts and/or documents to support the total expenses for the move, and if applicable, indicate the year and any amount previously claimed.

 NOTE: If you are sending photocopies of cancelled cheques, copy both sides of each cheque unless the front of the cheque has been micro-encoded by the banking institution.

Please send us the information requested within 30 days. If we do not receive a reply, we will disallow the amounts under review and you could have a balance owing.

Please send only one reply. Your reply should include all the information and documents needed to support your claim. Include your social insurance number and the reference number from this letter on your documents. Keep a copy of any documents that you send to us. We only return original documents. We do not return photocopies or facsimiles, unless you specifically ask us to do so.

If you have internet access, you can send your scanned documents to us through My Account. This online service offers secure, quick, and easy access to manage your income tax and benefit information. For more information, go to www.cra.gc.ca/reviews and click on 11 Submitting documents electronically…

You can fax your reply to the Tl Processing Review Section at 705-669-2198. Please note, we are not responsible for misdirected, incomplete, or illegible faxes.

You can mail your reply to the Tl Processing Review Section, Canada Revenue Agency, Post Office Box 20006, Sudbury ON       P3A OA6. We have enclosed a mailing label for your convenience.

Taxpayer information is confidential. If you want us to deal with a person representing you, we must have a letter of authorization or Form T1013, Authorizing or Cancelling a Representative, on file. You do not need to complete a new form every year. For more information, go to www.cra.gc.ca/individuals and click on “Authorize or cancel a representative.”

If you have questions about this letter, call 705-671-0333 for local calls or 1-800-588-8013 for long-distance calls. Our telephone agents are available Monday to Friday (except holidays) from 8:15a.m. to 4:30p.m., Eastern time. To learn more about our review programs, go to www.cra.gc.ca/reviews.



Categories: Planning for the Exchange | Leave a comment

Seven eighths of the year behind us. Six more weeks to go. How many weeks were there in total?

windowslivewriterthetodolistmeme-117feto-do-list-2I print my day plans in two week chunks. The next one I print will have the word “December” on it and my little time management calculator tells me there are just 25 school days left in this year. Last week was final exams and this week we’re tackling final report cards (final reports with half the term remaining?!)

Reflecting on the job, I’m certainly a lot more comfortable with processes now and think occasionally of how much easier a second year would be. I also think about the changes ahead returning to my home school with a new room of faces who have already had several months with my exchange partner. I wonder how this experience here will manifest in my approaches, organization, planning, engagement when I get back. Our two schools are very different and it’s been enlightening to live and work for a year in a system that’s dominated with big data, standards test, and behaviourist philosophies.

On the home front, we’re starting to think about the list of jobs ahead of us as we reset the house, fit in a couple more excursions, and pack (yikes!) for the journey home. We’ve decided on some time in California and Vancouver before heading back to Winterpeg where temperatures will be well and truly below freezing.

There are a couple of social engagements on the calendar with friends and we try not to think too hard about “lasts” but there will be a bunch of them coming up, each tugging at our emotions. We’ll get one last picnic in the mountains with the kangaroos, and another dinner and musical night with our friends. Carlen is off to Canberra with his school for a few days in a couple of weeks, and we’ll take that opportunity to finally visit a vineyard or two.

As much as we would be happy to stay, we’re sure looking forward to a few things when we get home: hugs and visits with our families and friends, cinnamon buns, grated horseradish, perogies and cabbage rolls, hot dogs over an open fire, cheap fuel, fields of canola and sunflowers, the Big Dipper and Casiopia in the night sky (and seeing Orion standing upright!).

Actually, that’s one thing I’ve found interesting and, at the same time, a little unsettling – looking up at the night sky and not really recognizing anything – hard feeling to explain. I’ve always loved the stars and knew where everything was – a sense of place in the cosmos. Here is different – unfamiliar, disorienting. If I think too much about it I can get emotional for some reason. Had great experiences here with telescopes and observing the night sky. Suppose I’ll miss the Southen Cross when we’re back too.

Categories: On Exchange | Leave a comment

Beginning of the last school term

Term four is the last stretch of our exchange year. At this point we feel completely at home here, have some good friends and some involvement in the community. The list of things we want to do is still long and we know we can’t do it all, but we have done a lot. Many times we reflect and marvel at all the things we have been able to do in the last 10 month; it seems unreal at times that this is actually our life!

We arrived back from Thailand in time for the Open Day at the Siding Spring Observatory where we got to tour the inside of Australia’s largest telescope. As part of the Orbital Swing Band, Carlen and I also played two 2-hour sets out on the lawn. ABC Radio National program, “Science” was there and recorded a very tiny bit of our performance and used it for the intro to their episode on the observatory. You can hear it HERE if you want. The following day we attended a talk with Australian astronaut Andy Thomas who described a day in the life of an honest-to-goodness space man! Monday was a holiday making the first week back a short four day week.

More and more people (friends and students) are commenting that out time here is running out. It’s hard to think about having to leave – of course we dearly miss our family and friends, the familiarity of our cozy home and the community that surrounds it, but we’ve established some roots here too which will not be dug up, but stretched across the planet and will always be part of us.

It’s nice to hear the kids at school say they’ll miss me, or want me to stay – it was a hard slog at the start getting through the crusty exteriors but it happened eventually with most of them. Another reason why it will be so hard to leave – relationships like that, that are so hard won, are hard to leave, though social media will make it easier to maintain some ties and see which paths these kids decide to take in the future.

Financially the year has been a bit “spendy” with the balance sheet well and truly in the red but nothing too overwhelming. Thankfully (and with good planning) we were in very good position to begin with so the next couple of years we will adopt a more frugal life style choosing school holidays in the local campground rather than jetting off to Thailand, or New Zealand, or the Great Barrier Reef as we did all in this one single year. No regrets for sure, and the optimist in me sees the time ahead as an opportunity to develop even more skills at living simply. We have also commented many times this year about being a tourist in our own homes. How many Winnipegers have photos of themselves at the Legislature, or the zoo, or the Forks. We’d like to see our own home through the eyes of a tourist and appreciate all the amazing things on our own doorstep.

In other news, I’ve been continuing with my Masters coursework while here and enjoying the chance to really use technology tools to work on group projects. Earlier in the year, from Australia, I was having weekly online video conferences with my project team from Pennsylvania, California, Florida, and Virginia. Was a challenge coordinating time zones and collaborating using today’s digital cloud technology. Also appreciated the very positive encouragement from my professors and looking to submit one of my research papers for publication, which is exciting.

Carlen is enjoying school and doing quite well. He wrote the national standards test (NAPLAN) this year and as much as we dislike the emphasis on testing and question the value of the data gathered, not to mention the expense and commercial industry that accompanies it, we smiled at the results confirming what we already knew… our son’s a bright young fella.

Alicia has dug out her crafting supplies and enjoying sitting at the table by the window making all sorts of beautiful cards. She has also been experimenting with more cheese making, working with kefir, and keeps us all well fed and organized around the house.

As of the day of this posting, we have been off on our adventure for 305 days – a long time but it has passed quickly. When we think of all the things we have packed into this year it is truly amazing and we are ever grateful for the experience. Don’t like to count down the days because it feels like you’re wishing away the time, so we’ll count up… don’t have the tickets home yet, but we’ll be close to 370 before we make the transition from a hot Australian outback summer to the cold Manitoba prairie winter. Until then…

Categories: On Exchange | 1 Comment

School Holiday in Krabi & Koh Samui, Thailand

We spent a couple of days in Krabi in a funny little hotel. The rooms were nothing to write home about (although, in a sense, that’s exactly what I’m doing) but the place had a pool and was within walking distance of the markets and water AND it was only about $25 per night. Krabi is a much smaller, more quiet and laid back place.

We took an excursion to the James Bond island, the place used for filming some scenes in The Man with the Golden Gun. Included in the trip was a visit to a floating village, a buffet meal, an optional canoe through some caves, a swim near a waterfall, and all transportation. It was a nice day and we appreciate the opportunity to meet other fellow travellers. On the tour was a family from Spain, a girl from France and a couple from England. Carlen quite enjoyed the English couple’s company – they had lots of stories to tell of their diving adventures and many travels. We had a nice visit with the French girl and swapped photo-taking services at each location.

Our stay in Koh Samui was also very relaxing. We splurged a bit on a resort (though even then, the prices were extremely reasonable!) on the beach with a beautiful pool and nice restaurant. The staff were all so wonderful and made us feel like the first and only guests in the whole place. There was a nice buffet breakfast included and the dinner meals were spectacular. The setting was amazing with tall palms on a sandy beach with forested hills off in the distance. The highlight of our resort stay was when our dear son used some money he had saved up and arranged a private dinner on the beach in a little thatch shelter. While he wanted it for just mom and dad while he would eat off somewhere else, they set the table for three and we enjoyed an amazing meal together as a family. So thankful for all our experiences and the generosity of our boy. What a treat, what a treasure.

Alicia wanted to have an overcoat made and called a tailor with great reviews. They picked us up, took us to the shop for the measurements, drove us home. Then brought the coat to the hotel later for a fitting, then back for alterations. They dropped the finished coat at reception quite late and when she tried it there were a couple little things not quite right. She emailed and they came late that night to pick it up and had it corrected and delivered by the time we woke up in the morning. Quite spectacular service. ( I hope that everyone in the work chain has a fair wage and reasonable working conditions.)

Another long boat tour to a location used in "The Man with the Golden Gun", a floating market, and a temple with lots of monkeys.

In the coastal town of Krabi, Thailand and the ferry ride to the resort island of Koh Samui.

Wrapped up the Thailand trip at a beach resort on the island of Koh Samui.

Categories: On Exchange | 4 Comments

School Holiday in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our second stop in Thailand was in Chiang Mai. The hotel was just north of the old city square down a little side street that was quiet the evening we arrived. In the morning though, the place was a hive of activity with dozens of stalls set up on the sidewalk with fresh produce, and cooked food vendors. I picked up a big bunch of fruit that saw us through a couple of days for less than $3 CDN.  We got quite good at conversions with $1 Canadian dollars = ฿30 Thai Bhat.  Food really is quite inexpensive here and so much of the produce is very fresh. Dragon fruit almost everywhere, pineapple, coconuts… you name it. A 750ml bottle of beer for ฿50. Even a healthy sushi feed for the three of us was only about $25.

The hotel room was beautifully decorated but had a whole end glass wall through to the toilet and shower area. While it had strategically positioned frosting it still felt a little weird dealing with the day’s processed meals in view of everyone else in the room. The place had a nice pool and we had the whole place to ourselves as I don’t think there were any other guests at all in the hotel. It is low season at the end of September so the crowds were much smaller than usual apparently.

We booked a cooking class at Basil Cooking which was great fun. They picked us up at the hotel, then another young couple from England and we were off to the market. Our guide told us about some of the vegetables, spices, herbs, and rice we would be using. After some time to poke around on our own, we were off to Basils for the class. They prepared just enough for the class to move smoothly and for us to make several things and cleaned up after us too so we could sit and eat our creations. Everyone was impressed with the end product and we shared amongst ourselves to sample a little of everything. We came away with a cookbook of everything we made and some motivation to try some of the more interesting things we see in the grocery store produce section.

I did plan on getting some clothes made in Chiang Mai and we were swept up again in a whirlwind tour by tuktuk which included the tailor’s visit. I like to think we got a good deal and I don’t know how much it would have cost back in Canada to have everything I’m getting made to my measurements, but I’m not unhappy with the experience. They’re good salespeople and everyone seems to have a “promotion” just for us, just for today, ordered by the King himself. Went for measurements and to select design and fabrics, then back in the evening for a fitting. The rest will be shipped to Canada for us when we arrive, if all goes well. Fingers crossed.

Northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai - beautiful ancient temples and amazing street markets

Markets and Thai cooking class.

More temples; such beautiful spaces.

Categories: On Exchange | 1 Comment