Year 12 student, Khatima Qorbani, arrived in Australia in 2017 from Pakistan where she had lived since her family fled Afghanistan when she was just a few weeks old.

“I was so sad to leave my friends,” she says, “but as I got older I realised my parents’ decision to move to Australia came from their desire to give us better opportunities.”

Like many others in similar situations, Khatima not only arrived carrying this sadness, but she was then plunged into a confusing new world.

“I felt so lost, especially in the early days,” she remembers. “I was very culture-shocked and didn’t want to speak because my English was not good.”

Khatima discovered that English taught in other countries does not always prepare newcomers for distinctive accents or colloquial language.

“It was such a huge difference,” she says. “People shorten words and then there are certain subjects—such as Chemistry—that require a whole new language.

“When I was in Pakistan, I was considered quite confident, but I’m still rebuilding that sense of confidence.”

Khatima was greatly helped by one of the support staff at Eaglehawk Secondary College when she first arrived.

“She explained everything for me and every day she encouraged me,” Khatima remembers. “We could chat about anything.”

Khatima gradually made some great friends. Many of them came on to BSSC and are even in the same classes, making her transition to BSSC much smoother.

“We are really close and support each other,” Khatima says.

She considers the college a place where students can think about and discover their future and get the support they need to follow their pathway.

“If you want to do your best, this an ideal school,” Khatima says. “But it’s up to you!”

Khatima aims to do three to five hours of study daily, including a review of everything she has done in class each day—a practice she believes makes SACs easier.

“My teachers here have been very important,” Khatima says. “They make me think from different perspectives and encourage me to keep a balance between study and taking breaks.

“Some have been especially supportive—much more than I ever expected a teacher would be. Peta Godfrey has gone out of her way to help me with my English studies.”

The lockdown in 2020 was very difficult for Khatima. She found it incredibly hard to stay motivated and being alone in exactly the same place every day brought a monotony to her studies that she found very uninspiring.

It was during this time she was encouraged to apply for the 2021 National Youth Science Forum (NYSF).

“My sister, Liloma, had attended in 2018 and she said it would be a life-changing experience for me,” Khatima recalls.

“So I did some research and realised it fitted in with my subjects and was a way to explore possibilities for the future.”

Applying for NYSF was a step into unfamiliar territory and Khatima was not sure she was ready for it.

“It’s like wanting to apply, but feeling so scared,” she recalls. “I especially remember what a big deal it was for me to do the NYSF interviews. At some point I just thought ‘go for it’.”

Joining the Student Leadership Team (SLT) was yet another opportunity for Khatima to push the edges of her comfort zone. It’s now something she really enjoys.

“It’s good for me to take risks like these,” Khatima says. “Though it’s hard at the time, it builds character and confidence to talk with people I don’t know—as well as giving me new experiences. I’m so proud I’ve been involved with these things.”

Even though Khatima attended NYSF from her desk at home—thanks to the pandemic—she describes the experience as a great way to ‘go inside science’ and see the opportunities that exist.

Despite everything being via a screen, Khatima managed to connect with other students who share her love of science and respect for the importance of studying hard.

“Some of them seemed so mature, they made me feel like a little kid,” she says.

The greatest inspiration, however, came from the scientists and academics who presented at the forum. They were from across Australia and the world and left Khatima with a determination to keep pursuing science.

“Hearing the journeys of people who are now leaders in their field, but who had so many difficulties to get there, made a big impression on me,” she says. “They talked about how important it is to take every opportunity you can.”

Khatima is considering applying for Biomedical Science and making a post-graduate decision about a specialisation. She also dreams of being able to do some more travel in the future.

“Maybe I’ll be more certain about my path by the end of VCE,” she wonders with a smile, “but right now I’m just grateful to be here, to be healthy, and to have the opportunity for further study.”

If Khatima could go back and talk with her 12-year-old self—a young girl who was about to move across the world into a totally unfamiliar country—she would say:

“Don’t be too scared of what’s going on… don’t get too stressed about things. You will regret being so worried about your studies that you missed some good times, so enjoy those good times too. Life is all about change and discovering new things.”