This year has been one of new experiences for me. Sleeping in a tent surrounded by kangaroos. Surveying Sydney from halfway up the Harbour Bridge. Trying Vegemite.
But perhaps the most unexpected twist of all came when I was offered work at Rachel's exchange school, Albury North. I live my life surrounded by teachers; wife, family and stacks of friends are in the profession. Suddenly, I was about to get an insight into their world and try to repay the faith Rachel's principal had shown by bringing me into the classroom.
I spent four fascinating days at the school, mainly helping pupils in the youngest classes. What amazed me was how quickly they accepted a total stranger into their daily routine. A balance had to be struck between making little friends and exuding authority. Every child had different needs and characteristics, yet they shared much in common. In a kindergarten class, there is no smalltalk. None of them wanted to talk about the weather or my work background any more than I did. Instead, the most common questions ranged from "how old are you?" and "can I go to the toilet?" to "will you draw me a crocodile?"
Observing the varying styles of the teachers I worked alongside was eye-opening. Of course, their working day stretches well beyond the timetable I carried around in my back pocket. But I took real satisfaction from the short time I spent at Albury North. If I genuinely helped one child, whether academically or just by including someone who had felt left out, then I achieved something new, something worthwhile.
The real beauty of this exchange has been meeting people like the Jacksons. How else would we have got to know this fantastic Canadian family? We count them as close friends.
IN OTHER NEWS...
I dragged myself out of bed at 4am on Monday to watch England v Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. Rachel joined me for the nail-biting climax to extra-time and the penalty heartache.
In this year of so many new experiences, it's oddly reassuring to know some things remain the same as ever.