BSSC Year 12 student, Alicia Bertani, believes one of the biggest problems in the world is a lack of appreciation for diversity. In Alicia’s opinion, diversity is always something to be celebrated. It’s the point of difference between herself and others that is a place of connection for her.

“If everyone studied at least some sociology perhaps we might all understand that diversity is unavoidable and in fact should be respected—and even enjoyed,” Alicia insists. “We are all so influenced by the society that we grow up in and instead of being annoyed or offended by the way someone else approaches something, we should try to understand where they are coming from.”

So what is it in Alicia’s background that might lead her think like this?

It all began in South Africa.

While Alicia acknowledges all that Nelson Mandela achieved for South Africa, she believes he was unable to bring two very different cultures into harmony.

“My parents could not see that changing in our lifetimes,” she says.

Alicia’s parents decided their daughters would have more opportunities elsewhere and came to Australia when she was ten years old. At the time, Alicia and her sister felt like they were being wrenched away from their friends and family.

“I now see that it was the very best thing they could have done for us,” she says. “There was no reason for them to move for their own benefit. I think it was very selfless of them.”

Her first impressions of Australia—of which she had absolutely no knowledge prior to arriving—was that lunch and recess were the wrong way around at school.

“In South Africa the first break we had was lunch and then a recess later,” she laughs. “So there I am, eating my lunch at morning recess with one of my new friends asking me what I’m doing!

“I was also intrigued about the strict rules around seat belts and bike helmets.”

While security and personal safety remain major concerns in South Africa, considerations such as wearing a bike helmet were considered trivial compared to other risks. Alicia said it took her mum a long time to feel okay about Alicia and her sister playing, unsupervised, at their local Bendigo park.

“There was actually a park just around the corner from where we lived in South Africa, but we never went there—it just wasn’t safe.

“I don’t think Australians realise how much freedom they have when they go out, but also freedom in terms of the opportunities that made my parents decide to leave our home. I do miss my extended family who are all still in South Africa, but I’m glad we are here.”

Initially attending White Hills Primary, Alicia then moved to Bendigo South East College and signed up to study Mandarin when she was in Year 7. An impressive choice given she was already fluent in Afrikaans and English.

It was in this class that she first heard about the scholarships for students to study in China, but the end of Year 12 seemed a very long way away.

Then, in Year 9, Alicia was lucky enough to participate in a six-week student exchange to China.

“I just loved it,” she says. “My host families were amazing and I found everyone I met so fascinating and welcoming. The night markets had absolutely everything. The street food was delicious. I learnt some stick martial arts.

“One of my host mothers would go down to the market every day and buy all this fresh produce and create the most delicious sauces to go with it. I just love being immersed in a different culture—a different perspective.”

That same year she was again reminded about the scholarship.

Two years later, Alicia came to BSSC and elected to study VET Mandarin 3/4 in Year 11… and decided to apply for ‘that’ scholarship to China.

Usually there is only a single BSSC student who applies. However, at the end of last year, four students expressed interest. So Juncai Lin offered to tutor the students outside of their other class time—and his efforts have certainly paid off. All four were successful.

You can read more about the other BSSC students awarded this scholarship in eNews:

So, as Alicia now prepares to move to China for a year, her fascination with diversity is inspiring her to gain a deeper understanding of Chinese philosophies and culture. She is also watching YouTube clips to find out as much as she can about day-to-day life in China.

“BSSC has worked really well for me,” she says. “I like being in charge of organising my time. I’ve been very happy here.

“Socially I’m what you’d probably call a ‘floater’. I love hanging out with lots of different people. I find pretty much everyone interesting—and if they have a controversial view, well, I want to talk with them.”

Alicia is happy with all her subjects and grades, but her favourite is Sociology. Through this subject she has greatly deepened her understanding of the profound influence of culture on people’s perspectives—and expects she may very well continue to be fascinated by this for the rest of her life.

In line with this, she hopes her long-term pathway will lead to studying Asia-Pacific studies at ANU and go into a role that will allow her to live in many different countries.

“Change excites me, so I’m really looking forward to my future experiences.”

Right now, her major focus is completeing Year 12. Alicia studied Biology 3/4 as well as Mandarin 3/4 in Year 11, which has given her the chance to pour more energy into her present Year 12 subjects: Sociology, Legal Studies, Maths and English.

She confesses that she would have loved to have dipped into philosophy or psychology, but there is only so much even a very enthusiastic student can take on.

Outside of school, Alicia has a long history of being very sporty—volleyball being a favourite. But she has also played netball, football and a number of other sports. This year, in deference to her studies, she is not participating in any formally-organised sport, but has kept up her part-time jobs at two popular Fish and Chip shops: Mick’s near Lake Weeroona and the Retreat Road Takeaway—no doubt an income that will help pay for her upcoming flight to China—the only cost she incurs in taking up her scholarship.

Alicia is also involved in a church group who do lots of volunteering. One of these projects is providing a breakfast club to a number of 7 -10 colleges. The group sets up before school and makes pancakes to give students a delicious and warm start to their day.

When Alicia looks back to when she was in Year 7, she wishes she had realised ‘the world really is your oyster’ and that she could do anything she really wanted to.

“I would love to go back and say to myself: ‘don’t be afraid of rejection or needing to work a bit harder to get what you want. Don’t let failure or disappointment make you give up on something you really want to do.’

“If I had realised this, I would have probably tried a wider variety of things. Alyssa Lai is a great example of someone who is very good at this.”

Now that Alicia does know this, the results are there to see.

However, if life unfolded in a way that meant her own children’s opportunities were limited, would she, as her parents did, move to a completely new country to benefit them?

Alicia considers the question for just a moment. “Yes,” she says firmly.  “I would.”