Allison Gilpin: Alumni Profile

How did you come to be one of CCGS’s first ever exchange students? 

The headmaster of my school (Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh USA) Ham Clark had done a sabbatical at CCGS through a connection with then CCGS Headmaster, Richard Lornie.

During his time in Australia, Ham befriended several school families, including Malcolm and Julie Deall. Julie worked at CCGS and had three children enrolled there: Nicola, Simon, and Dave. Nicola was in Year 10 and the idea was floated that an exchange between our two schools could take place. 

As my mum worked at Sewickley Academy, our family was approached to see if we would be willing to host the first student from CCGS, as the American student was the same age as me. We jumped at the chance and in September 1995, Nicola came over to stay with my family. She stayed for three months until her mum came over to visit and it was then decided that I would take part in a reciprocal exchange along with another Sewickley student. I arrived in Australia in January 1996 and joined Nicola in Year 11 at CCGS. I was here from January – July, even extending my exchange because I loved it so much. 

What was your first impression of CCGS? 

I absolutely loved it. The environment was so welcoming, and I found it easy to make friends. I did think the uniform was super strict! I remember writing a funny email to my parents (we couldn’t call as easily as today) where I spoke about how loud the bird life was and that the school skirt had to be so long.

I also remember having to attend the swimming carnival in the first or second week. That was a completely foreign concept to me as an American! 

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

It goes without saying the connections and friendships that I made, many of which I still have to this day. I joined the hockey team and really found my place. One of the fondest memories was an overnight trip to Orange with the hockey team - all the CCGS teams won, and it was so fun to get billeted for the night and to see a different part of Australia.

In what ways do you believe participating in the exchange program influenced your personal growth and development during your formative years?

Having an Australian father, the exchange was an amazing way for me to experience his heritage and Australian culture and understand better what it was like for him growing up. 

It also instilled in me my love of travel and a willingness to be open to new opportunities. After returning to Sewickley, I went on two further exchanges to Ecuador and Peru. I also taught English in Vietnam for six  months. These are experiences I might never have been open to without my earlier positive experiences at CCGS.  

Ultimately, the memories and experiences I had on my exchange to Australia convinced me to move back to Australia.

You’ve maintained many friendships from your exchange experience. Could you elaborate on the significance of these relationships and how they’ve impacted your life?

As the exchange program was still just starting, my family agreed to host another exchange student while I was still on exchange in Australia. It was great because I was able to form a friendship with that student - Alison Hood - before she came over to the US. I was even welcomed by her family on a holiday to the Great Barrier Reef. Alison then came and spent four months with me on exchange in Sewickley. 

We stayed in close contact and Alison came back to visit me at university. When I lived in Vietnam, I made the trip to Australia to see my CCGS families, which included the Hoods. In fact, it was an invitation to her wedding that got my husband and I to leave New York for a 6-month sabbatical to do casual teaching in Australia. That was fourteen years ago. We never left, and I still see Alison at least once a month!

Left: Allison with her daughter on their respective first days of CCGS. Right: Allison with Alice Gerrish, Alison McLeod and Anna Wise (Class of 1999). 
Left: Allison and her daughter Tillie on their respective first day at CCGS. Right: Allison with Alice Gerrish, Alison McLeod and Anna Wise (Class of 1999).
Your journey has come full circle with one of your children now attending CCGS. What changes do you see now you’re a parent?

It still amazes me that I have a daughter (soon to be two) at the same school I first did an international exchange at all those years ago.

The school has so many more incredible facilities, but when I walk past the office and the picnic tables, memories of my time eating lunch outside in the beautiful environment come flooding back. As I came from freezing weather on the East coast of America, it was a novelty to me that we could eat our lunch outside every day. 

My daughter Tillie has even joined Acacia House, the same as the Dealls, as she sees them as her surrogate Australia cousins. We feel so lucky to be a part of this extended community.