BSSC Year 12 student, Shiyu, is a long way from her family and home in Fuzhou, the capital city of the Fujian Province in South East China. Parts of the city date back to 282 AD, but today it is a bustling industrial hub of 7.6 million people.

Shiyu’s family live on the eighth floor of an apartment with her grandparents, two floor above.

“My parents did not follow the one-child policy, so I have two younger siblings,” she says. “We are very different to each other but my mother has always wanted us to follow our interests. For example my sister does dance and art. One thing we all had to do was our chores.”

Until mid-2017 Shiyu attended Fuzhou Number Two High School.

“School in China is set up quite differently,” she says. “For example, everyone has to have eight subjects and there is not so much choice. I found physics a very heavy load—I was terrible at it!

“When I was in middle school my father asked me if I would like to study abroad, but I didn’t feel ready. So, when I asked about it at the beginning of 2017 my parents were not surprised and were happy to support me.

“One thing I wanted was to be out of the city. I’m a person who is easily distracted and big cities are very noisy and have so much going on. Being in Bendigo allows me to live a more organised and quieter life. But I expect I’ll eventually live in a big city like Melbourne.”

Shiyu experienced what most of us do when we are in a completely new environment: it took time to make new friends.

“Everything is different,” she says. “We have grown up in different places with different languages. Even the news and the celebrities are different.

“I learnt English from Year 3, so language was not such a problem, but because I was shy, I found it embarrassing to sit next to someone and not be able to start a new conversation.”

Shiyu has been living with former BSSC teacher, Rosalie Lake, since the end of 2017.

“I feel I can turn to her with any problem and it helps that she knows the college well,” Shiyu says. “I miss my family and friends in China, but we use Webchat or message each other whenever something interesting happens. I know they are supporting me and although the distance is great, we are actually very close to one another.

“I also work part-time and hope to keep doing that because I don’t want to put too much financial pressure on my family. This year I’m aiming to buy a really good laptop.”

Last year Shiyu managed a full Year 11 study load plus two VCE subjects.

“I was able to cope with that,” she says, “but now, just a few weeks into Year 12, the workload looks very demanding.”

Shiyu’s friendship group has also radically changed this year.

“Last year I hung out a lot with international students who have since graduated,” she says, “so I have a goal to make new friends as well as getting a good study score. My study group works well and we help each other.”

Shiyu’s favourite class is English and she has found her teachers “so patient and caring”.

“They help each of the international students with their particular challenges,” she says. “I also find Psychology very interesting. My other subjects are Maths Methods and Chemistry.

“But I know life is not all about study. Try to keep a healthy balance, although I can be lazy,” Shiyu admits with a grin. “I go often to the gym, or swim. I know it’s important to get a good night’s sleep.

“When I was younger I learnt the traditional Chinese instrument, the gucheng. I think playing an instrument is a good way to reduce stress. These days I listen to music (pop, blues and western classical), but I wish I’d kept playing the gucheng.”

Shiyu is still not sure what she wants to do after she finishes VCE, though she does know she would like to live and work in a country where women have equal opportunities and where there are many options for women.

In line with this, Shiyu identifies Feminism as a global concern.

“There are so many stereotypes and even in China there are expectations about roles—such as women being responsible for the housework and raise the children,” she says. “I was lucky in my family because my grandfather, who is from a very poor background, had to look after his younger siblings and he has always shared responsibilities with my grandmother and cared for her. So I have grown up with his example and I admire it.”

Asked what advice she would offer her 12-year-old self, Shiyu is quick to respond… “Keep playing an instrument because it is a great way to de-stress. Study hard for English because in a few years you will be studying abroad and will really need it. And, take care of your health… get plenty of sleep.”