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Changing Places

Volume 1 Number 9 - July 1994

Malcom Cox & Ian Edwards

In this interview Malcolm Cox and Ian Edwards share their experiences about their job swap they did last year.  Ian and his family moved to Brisbane, Australia to take over Malcolm's job as Education Officer at Mt Coot-Tha Botanic Garden while Malcolm moved with his family to Edinburgh, Scotland to work as Education Officer at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.  

Why did you decide to do a job swap?

IAN:    After ten years at Edinburgh I was ready for a change and a conventional sabbatical was not an option.  An exchange seemed ideal, as I would obtain new experiences but would not leave a vacant seat at home.  Also, to be honest, I had found myself rather over-committed, and a year away seemed like a good opportunity to shed some things.

MALCOLM:    For me, the opportunity to swap jobs gave me a chance to work and learn in a botanic garden that I had come to regard as one of the best.  I felt privileged by the offer, which was not only a professional challenge but also created a unique opportunity to travel.  As a family, we needed to do something different as well.  The change of home and the travel would be something of a family adventure, even though one child was almost three and the other was one year old when we started.

How did you decide who to do a job swap with?

IAN:    Australia was top of my list of places I wanted to go because of the great variety of habitats it offers and because my research in Indonesia made me keen to learn more about Aboriginal plant use.  I had correspondents in Tasmania and Queensland, which sounded exciting and interesting places.

MALCOLM:    Ian was instrumental in suggesting the exchange.  However, had I been the one thinking of possible botanic gardens to work in, Edinburgh would have come to mind quickly because Ian and I had already exchanged letters and samples of our work.  I felt we were similar enough in our needs and interests to be able to sustain a full year's exchange.

How did you organise it?

IAN:    I wrote to the education officers at two botanic gardens and Malcolm Cox, finding himself in a similar situation to me, wanted to consider the idea.  I got some help from the Commonwealth League for Teacher Exchange, who sponsored my exchange.

MALCOLM:    As I was working on secondment at Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens but actually employed by the Department of Education (Queensland), my only option was to apply for a teacher exchange.  This was made easier by the fact that I had already located an exchange partner.  We both would have been happy to just swap for six to nine months, but the Department of Education would only allow a full calendar year's exchange.  In Queensland and in Scotland there are exchange teachers' societies which provide advice and practical support.

How long did it take?

IAN:    Twelve months from the first letter to my flight to Australia.

MALCOLM:    The ten months or so spent in planning took us both through an established process used for teacher exchange.  This involved interviews, waiting for decisions, detailing our possessions, planning finances and completing home renovations.   Filling in the forms and going through the checklists was worthwhile.  We had a better idea of what to expect, because the process had been refined by years of job-swapping by teachers.  It is probably fair to say that the amount of planning time needs to be at least the same as the exchange itself.

Did you encounter any problems?

IAN:    Yes, a few.  I am not a registered teacher, which was a concern of the Queensland Education Department.  In the end they agreed that 10 years teaching experience was adequate to work with teachers and pupils at the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Garden.

MALCOLM:    In planning, allowances had to be made for the fact that I was not working in a school.  Teacher exchange automatically meant taking leave during school holidays;  I was working in an advisory role and would normally take just four weeks leave per year.  However, Ian's conditions were similar and we were able to operate on the principle of meeting the requirements of our exchange employer first and applying for leave with our real employers retrospectively at the end of the exchange.  My wife, Judy, had to give up her part-time job for the year, but tried to look upon it as an opportunity to spend time with the children, and do and see new things.

Were your expectations of the job swap met?

IAN:    Yes, by and large.  I have been able to learn a lot about Australian plants and environmental education 'down under'.  It is difficult for a white person with so little time to get much first hand experience of Aboriginal culture, because of centuries of mistrust.  Anybody wanting to study ethnobotany would find it much easier in Indonesia or Borneo than Australia.

MALCOLM:    Overall, the year gave me new insights and work experiences, and certainly new ideas to work on back at Mt Coot-tha, coupled with a renewed enthusiasm for the task.  I was able to feel more or less part of a team.  I had a substantial budget and professional freedom to work with it, and I felt I was able to do the job well enough.  As a family we had a very different sort of year, seeing many new places and doing things that would not have been possible at home.  The new setting was hard for my wife, being at home much of the time, in a strange place with two young children, without a job or the sort of support network I was enjoying at work.

How did you find fitting into someone else's job?

IAN:    Malcolm had done a splendid job of making my settling-in period easy.  Queenslanders are very warm and generous and I had very few problems.  Not having a budget was a novelty and restricted what could be achieved.

MALCOLM:    I felt I had the support, leadership and confidence that I needed from the RBG, Edinburgh, particularly from the right quarters.  Ian had shed some tasks (for which I was ultimately grateful), left some opportunities open, and left some new work in Secondary Biology to be carried on (which turned out well).  Alan Bennell, now head of External Affairs, helped me work out a programme at the outset and helped me refine and focus it during the year, so his support and tolerance were greatly appreciated.  I don't know whether some helpful people were being polite or generous because I was a visitor, but many of them seemed to go out of their way to assist where they could.  I had to be careful to not take on too much, to ensure that I had some family time.

What did you enjoy most?

IAN:    Twelve months of sunshine;  training and working with the Volunteer Guides;  walking in the rain forest all day and being able to have a decent shower and meal in the evening; and seeing a lot more of my family!

MALCOLM:    On the work front I think I most enjoyed being a 'participant observer' in such a distinctive setting.  As a participant, I found that perhaps the most memorable part of the job was setting up and organising the Secondary Workshops that Ian had left in a near-complete state.  It gave me a particular insight into the Secondary curriculum and into how botanic gardens can develop resources tailored directly to the school curriculum.  The most memorable event had to be the BGCI Conference in Gran Canaria - the people and exchange of ideas would have been enough anywhere but going to the Canary Islands made it even better.  At the family level, our family discoveries of Scotland will make happy memories for many years.

Did you miss anything in particular?

IAN:    Yes, working as part of a team.  The post at Mt Coot-tha is a bit isolated, while at Edinburgh I always have colleagues to share ideas and enthusiasms with.

MALCOLM:    Initially, bright skies and sunshine were replaced by relative darkness and constant cold, and we also missed family and the familiarity of our own home.  When swapping jobs and homes you often wonder how this or that is going.  It is essential to 'let go' of these things during an exchange, and be prepared to pick them up when you return.

How did you feel about returning to your country/garden?

IAN:    I tried not to think about it!

MALCOLM:    I knew I would settle quickly back into my job, though I expected to miss certain aspects of the job in Edinburgh.  After a full cycle of seasons I was just becoming aware of how the institution works.  I had to adjust to the idea of finishing my 'temporary job' and picking up my own job again, but that is an integral part of the job exchange.

What were you looking forward to on your return?

IAN:    Since being away, the Education Centre, a dream of about 10 years, has become a reality.  I'm looking forward to seeing these resources develop and to see the new facilities being used by people of all ages.

MALCOLM:    I was looking forward to seeing the changes and growth at Mt Coot-tha, particularly in the Herb collection and the Demonstration Garden.  I don't pretend that I'm about to revolutionize my work with new skills and ideas, but I'm enthusiastic about putting some into practice over the next year.  I hope I have exchanged some accumulated stresses and habits for a new outlook and energy that will help make new things happen in my 'old' job.

Have you any advice for people considering an exchange?

IAN:    Go for it!  But try to get the best possible match.  (For example, if you want to swap homes as we have and have a family, make sure you exchange with someone who has a family house).  It is essential to maintain regular dialogue (FAX has been extremely important for us) on both domestic and work matters.  Try to consider the other person's (family's) needs at all times throughout the exchange.

MALCOLM:    Exchange is stimulating, safe and cost-effective.  It was good for us at a time when we both felt we needed the change, though it should be just as valuable for botanic garden educators who haven't reached that stage yet (to help them avoid it!)

By simply swapping jobs, homes and cars we made it financially possible.  Extra travel expenses - accommodation, fuel - can build up, particularly with young children.  In our case we spent much more than we had anticipated, although  we have now had a better insight into Edinburgh and Scotland than the average tourist.

The teacher exchange tradition warns against swapping cars, but we did.  We were fairly lucky in that there was no tension or nothing major happened.  However, I can see how car swaps can create anxiety unless you think "It's just a car" or "It could have happened with any car".

When partners and/or children are involved in exchanges, extra consideration has to be given to their needs;  they don't automatically have the stimulation and support that comes with a job swap, so they cannot have too much help.

You have to consider your exchange partner as a friend, and treat them and any family members in that light.  After all, they are sharing your home and work, minding your pets or opening your mail.  These are some of the many incidental things that could be a strain on some people but are made much easier by mutual trust and a friendly attitude to the exchange.  It's only worthwhile if you see opportunities, not if you keep seeing the problems.

Useful Address

Commonwealth League of Teacher Exchange
Commonwealth House
7 Lion Yard
Tremadoc Road,
Clapham SW4 7NQ
(For UK and Commonwealth country educational exchanges)


Malcolm Cox et Ian Edwards ont organisé un échange de poste pendant une année. Ian et sa famille sont partis pour Brisbane en Australie afin de prendre le poste de Malcolm Cox comme Chargé de l'éducation au Jardin botanique du Mt Coo-Tha. Malcolm est lui parti pour l'Ecosse, à Edimbourg, pour occuper le poste de Chargé de l'éducation au Jardin botanique royal d'Edimbourg. Ils ont trouvé la formule très intéressante sous plusieurs aspects et nous font part de leurs expériences dans cet interview.

Autant Ian que Malcolm ont ressenti que le temps étaient venu pour un changement. Ian initia les contacts avec plusieurs jardins botaniques en Australie et Malcolm répondit. Ils trouvèrent les deux une aide précieuse auprès d'organisations s'occupant d'échange d'enseignants dans leur pays respectif. Ils furent aussi soutenus par leur Jardin botaniques.

Malcolm pense que les bénéfices majeurs qu'il retire de cet échange sont: une expérience professionnelle motivante, une opportunit‚ de voyager, une chance pour sa famille de vivre une nouvelle expérience, une chance d'être une observateur participant dans une institution de haut niveau tel qu'Edimbourg et (en première place sur la liste de Malcolm!), sa participation au IIIème Congrès International de Las Palmas! Le temps de Brisbane, ses amis et sa famille lui manquèrent mais il voyagea à travers l'Ecosse plus que le touriste ordinaire.

Ian voulait trouver à travers cet échange, de nouvelles motivations professionnelles après 10 ans à Edimbourg. Il y a réussi. Il a appris à connnaçtre la flore australienne et l'éducation environnementale en Australie. Il a apprécié les 12 mois de soleil et le travail en forêt tropicale humide (avec l'avantage d'une douche décente et d'un bon repas à la fin de la journée). Ian a surtout apprécié le temps supplémentaire passé avec sa famille. Un autre plaisir fut de former les guides bénévoles et de travailler avec eux. Il espérait pouvoir entreprendre une recherche sur les usages traditionnels des plantes utilitaires chez les aborigènes. Il ne put mener à bien ce souhait. Ces autres espérances furent par contre largement comblées.

Autant Ian que Malcolm admettent que cet échange ne s'est pas fait sans problèmes, mais il ressentent l'expérience comme très valable et intéressante. Leurs conseils pour d'autres collègues qui chercheraient à faire un échange sont de rechercher à faire concorder au maximum la situation et l'habitat des deux candidats, de prendre une année pour plannifier et correspondre, de profiter des organisations locales d'échange entre enseignants, de traiter le partenaire d'échange comme un amié de considérer les besoins de l'autre à travers l'échange et de se concentrer sur les opportunités et non sur les problèmes.


Malcolm Cox y Ian Edwards organizaron un intercambio de trabajo por un año. Ian y su familia se trasladaron a Brisbane (Australia) para asumir el trabajo de Malcolm como responsable de educación en el Jardín Botánico Mt Coot-Tha y Malcolm se trasladó con su familia a Edinburgh (Escocia) para trabajar como responsable de educación en el Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. El intercambio fue gratificante para ambos en muchos sentidos y comparten sus experiencias en esta entrevista.

Ambos, Ian y Malcolm, piensan que el tiempo es correcto para un intercambio. Ian inició contactos con muchos jardines botánicos de Australia y Malcolm le respondió. Ambos encontaron apoyo en las organizaciones de Intercambio de Profesorado en sus paises. También los apoyaron sus respectivos jardines.

Malcolm piensa que los principales beneficios del intercambio fueron: un reto profesional, una oportunidad para viajaré una posibilidad para su familia de tener una nueva experiencia, la posibilidad de ser un "observador participante" en un centro tan distinguido como Edinburgh y el II Congreso Internacional de Educación de BGCI en Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (máximo en la lista de Malcolm). Hechó en falta el clima de Brisbane y la familiaridad de amigos y parientes, pero consiguió ver más de Escocia que un turista.

Ian hab¡a estado buscando un nuevo reto profesional después de llevar 10 años en Edinburgh y pensó que un intercambio de trabajo le podía ofrecer lo que buscaba. Podría aprender acerca de las plantas y de la educación ambiental en Australia. Le gustó los doce meses de sol y trabajar en el bosque tropical (con la seguridad de tener una ducha decente y una buena comida al final del día). Ian valoró especialmente el tiempo extra que podía disponer para estar con su familia. Otro placer fue el enseñar y trabajar junto a los Guías Voluntarios. Ian había estado esperando investigar el uso de las plantas por los aborígenes pero se defraudó, aunque pensó que sus otras perspectivas habían sido alcanzadas.

Los dos admiten que el intercambio no habría sido posible sino como un reto pero piensan que la experiencia fue definitivamente valorable y agradable. Sus consejos para otras personas que estén buscando un intercambio son: conseguir la pareja que ofrezca mejor posibilidad de situación y casa, estar casi un año planeándolo y en contacto por correspondencia, utilizar las organizaciones de intercambio de profesores locales, intentar pensar que tu "intercambio" es como un amigo/a y considerar sus necesidades para el intercambio, y por último pensar en las oportunidades no en los problemas.