From sailing down the Nile River to picking up on a British accent, the Deschambault family has done their fair share of indulging in cultural experiences while giving their children an unforgettable education during their two Out of Canada (OUTCAN) postings.
The family’s first OUTCAN posting opportunity came in the summer of 1995 when they were posted to Naharyia, Israel. Lynn Deschambault still remembers the day when her husband first told her the news, especially considering it was the one and only time they were posted near her family in Victoria, BC.
“I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face when Richard came home to ask me how would I like to live in Israel to which I replied ‘I’d love it!,’ recalled Lynn. “A destination such as that didn’t seem like anything but a grand adventure to a Christian history buff like me.”
In no time, Lynn, her husband Richard and their two boys were off to the resort town of Neharyia. Richard was sent to Israel with the United Nations as a Military Observer. The family enjoyed the Israeli culture during their two years in the Middle East. Their sons, Anton and Ryan, were homeschooled during the first year, allowing the family flexibility to travel and explore. The Deschambaults visited ancient sites, including the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, made friends with the natives and sampled local cuisine during their time in Israel. Since the boys didn’t have a typical education during that time, Lynn believes her children were able to learn more through their experiences.
“While they may have not had the usual Grade 6 and Grade 3, Monday to Friday kind of week, they did get a unique, horizon opening experience that many could only dream of. While their friends in Canada were researching the Pyramids of Giza in encyclopedias, we were climbing them and sailing down the Nile. How we explored and traveled and experienced the culture! We hardly touched that math textbook but they knew the exchange rate of an Israeli shekel to the Canadian dollar,” explains Lynn.
After spending a year in Israel, in both the cities of Neharyi and Tiberias, the family moved to Damascus, Syria, after Richard got another opportunity to work with the UN, extending their stay in the Middle East for another year.
In Damascus, the children were able to enroll in an American International school giving them the opportunity to study with children from around the world. Though they were still in the same region, the Deschambault family learned that the two countries were very different.
“[Syria and Israel] are not much further in distance than Deep River to Ottawa but politically a world apart. The boys had to learn the art of careful diplomacy so as not to offend touchy sensibilities,” said Lynn.
In the summer of 1997, the family returned to Canada after two years abroad. Nearly seven years after their adventures in the Middle East, the Deschambaults were once again off to a second OUTCAN posting, this time crossing the Atlantic to England on an exchange posting. With prior knowledge on what to expect from an OUTCAN posting, Lynn knew to bring fewer curtains, more Canadian souvenirs to give to friends and to enjoy every day while abroad.
Once again the children were able to get a unique education particularly when son Ryan’s time at a local technical college made him a bit of celebrity and the latest addition to the family, daughter Julie, began picking up a British accent. “Ryan became rather a celebrity with his ‘cool Canadian’ accent and our daughter Julie was so darling in her little school uniform that I became quite the convert for them,” said Lynn. “We met so many interesting people and experienced so much travel and culture that we had the best time of our lives. In fact, I went through culture shock in reverse when we were posted to Petawawa after our three years abroad. Imagine my dismay when Julie exchanged her little English accent for a valley one inside of three months.”
Though moving to a new country has its perks, there can be a downside if families don’t go in with the right mindset according to Richard. He suggests that those families destined for an OUTCAN should search for up-to-date information about their posting country before leaving, figuring out logistical differences between countries and accepting that your favorite items may be hard to come by. Richard found the best way to overcome these obstacles was by finding a mentor and going in prepared.
“People fear what they do not know; insecurity and uncertainty are big hurdles before an OUTCAN. So you need to get as much information as possible,” he advised. “One needs to be proactive in preparation for the move, by preparing a list of questions and then to proceed to get information. The second issue is to manage expectations. You will not necessarily have the same items as readily available as what you have or are accustomed to. The culture is different as well; you have to move there with an open mind. You are, after all, the one visiting,” explained Richard.
Those families considering or about to go on an OUTCAN posting may find the following tips from Lynn and Richard useful:
- Research, research, research! Use your MFRC’s, libraries, internet, and anyone and everyone willing to answer your questions.
- Leave knicknacks home in storage, you will be buying new ones believe me!
- Leave electrical items in storage, outlets may be different and it would only ruin them.
- Bring lots of coffee table books about Canada and a big map of Canada is useful. We had one on the wall on our landing and we brought guests to it regularly to explain distances and places.
- Have someone at home who is willing to send you items that you can’t get where you are.
- Ladies bring LOTS of formal wear and that means LONG dresses.
- Think carefully before bringing pets as it does limit your freedom for trips and travelling.
- Remember that ordering from Sears is without tax when done from abroad.
- Bring LOTS of Maple Syrup; it’s considered a nice gift when invited to dinner.
- Check out Tourism Canada for free Canadian souvenirs.
- Embrace the posting and the fantastic opportunity. It is a once in a lifetime experience. If you have kids, they will learn more about life, history and culture during the posting than a lifetime of university courses would give them. My spouse surely embraced the ways of the countries we visited and she enjoyed her stay thoroughly.
- Learn the cultural difference and be open-minded. We immersed ourselves in the culture, willingly moving into areas where other nationalities would not. So we were not considered ‘tourists’. Great advantage, because people were not trying to mark up prices.
- Learn a little bit of the main language – the natives love it and appreciate the effort. A little goes a long way.
- Make native friends early on; they will help you in so many ways and they become part of your family. But don’t go too ‘native’; you will have to come back one day.
- Remember, everywhere you go, you are an ambassador for Canada. Your attitude and behavior will affect the perspective the natives have of our country.
by Mishall Malik
**This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue**
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