Irene Baldin lives not far from Venice in Padua, a small city in the North of Italy in the Veneto region. She is currently an exchange student studying at BSSC until June 2024.

Always a keen traveller, when the idea of a student exchange came up, she knew she wanted to get out of her comfort zone.

Australia’s landscape and animals had always interested her, and she chose Bendigo because she wanted to be in the countryside.

Irene loves our big, blue skies and our incredible starry nights.

Like Bendigo, Padua has many lovely parks, but having hundreds of acres of natural bushland so accessible has been one of the highlights of her experience.

There’s also less light pollution at night.

“At home we need to go into the mountains to see a starry sky.”

Irene says the air here is cleaner but much drier than at home—making her pasta dough less fluffy!

“People also have this idea that Italy is all pizza and pasta, but I love salads too and I take nutrition very seriously.”

Her first visit to a Bendigo supermarket to visit the ‘Italian’ section was a bit of a surprise and she laughs and says she “almost had a heart attack” to see what passed for Italian food.

She rolls her eyes and says, “Please don’t mention ‘pineapple’ in the same sentence as ‘pizza’. Our pizzas do not have tons of ingredients—it’s usually passata (tomato sauce), mozzarella cheese, olive oil, oregano and a little basil.”

Pizzas aside, Irene has found Aussies very friendly and helpful—even complete strangers—and much less stressed than people in Italy.

“Compared to home, everyone in Australia seems pretty chilled to me.”

“In Italy, school is competitive and work is stressful. I wanted an experience of education very different to what I was used to.”

“When I heard I could go camping as part of a BSSC school subject—Outdoor Education—I laughed,” she says. “I just did not believe it.

“But Outdoor Ed has classes too. In the first class I learnt something about Australian Aboriginal people, and we looked at parts of Australian History. We also focused on the unique landscape.”

Early in first term, Irene joined other Outdoor Ed students and staff on a canoe trip along the Glenelg River to its ocean mouth at Nelson.

“I saw seals, a wallaby, an echidna and a possum.”

Irene was understandably frightened the first time she heard one of the weirdest night sounds of the Australian bush: koalas bellowing out their presence and territorial dominance to other koalas.

But as the group paddled down the beautiful Glenelg River, she says the trip brought them together in a way that felt like they became family.

Outdoor Ed is now one of her favourite subjects.

Irene is also studying French, English, Biology and Maths Methods.

The Italian education system has fewer electives but more subjects. When she returns home her subjects will be Maths, English, French, Italian, Geography, Physics, Art History, Science and Phys. Ed.

“We are expected to do hours and hours of homework. None of my friends have part-time jobs because we haven’t got time for them.

“There are also lots of tests and oral exams and teachers do not supply the extra resources BSSC students receive.”

Irene appreciates the way her BSSC teachers approach topics from numerous angles (including funny videos!) to make sure every student will understand key concepts.

“When I think about BSSC I think of ‘diversity’. All these different students and yet all at the same school. It’s beautiful to see the harmony. It makes me feel at home and want to go to class to be around these people.

“I will be recommending this college to other students interested in an exchange.”

Irene says her host parents have been “amazing” as they made a home-away-from-home for her and took her on trips to Sydney, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast.

However, being on exchange is not always easy. Understandably, she has been homesick at times and has had to rely on herself more. On occasions there has been too much time for thinking which has not always been positive.

“But it has taught me to get out of my head and learn to live in the moment, savouring each experience,” she says. “I’ve also realised that in the past I have been too much of a ‘people-pleaser’. I’m listening to myself more now.

“If I could go back and give my 12-year-old self some advice, I would say: ‘Don’t criticise yourself so much or let others influence you so much’.”

Whilst she doesn’t feel stressed, Irene knows going to the gym, heading out for walks in nature, looking at the sky or spending time in the garden, are all important ways to stay grounded.

“Missing family is huge for me. We have a much bigger family culture in Italy and get together all the time. I am so grateful for my family—for how they have supported me. It’s thanks to my family I’m here.”

Irene is rightly proud of taking on this exchange opportunity and sees it as part of her philosophy that people should never stop learning.

“Talking about my exchange year has made me realise how I’ve already grown as a person since I started this journey. That makes me very happy.”