Like many students new to BSSC, Qiaochu Weng found it a little strange to be coming to school out of uniform and calling her teachers by their first name.

However, Qiaochu was not just transitioning from a local 7 to 10 college. For her, coming to BSSC meant a new culture, a language she had studied, but rarely spoken, and an unfamiliar city with shops and products that looked very different to what she was used to in Fujian, China.

Like the other 21 international students at BSSC, telling her family about her first day at BSSC was a conversation via cyberspace.

Australia and Bendigo Senior were familiar to Qiaochu, but not well-known. Her older sister attended BSSC a few years ago and Qiaochu has relatives in Bendigo with whom she now lives.

“My mother’s aunt told my parents—‘Australia is a very good country and Qiaochu would be able to have more free time there. She would be happier and she would still get good grades’.”

Qiaochu began at the college in third term 2018 and is now very much at home with her classmates.

“Our family were originally from Gangtou, deep in the countryside,” she explains. “We moved to Fujian when I was just three years old.”

Throughout her schooling in China, Qiaochu worked incredibly hard to try and achieve outstanding results, but found herself exhausted by the effort required to meet the daunting workload.

“Although I was attending the best school in our city and was in the top class at that school, I was not happy,” she says. “I wanted to be like the really clever students so badly, but my family and I gradually realised it did not suit my personality.”

While she was disappointed not to emulate the top students in her class in China, Qiaochu is clearly a very intelligent young woman. She recently achieved a distinction in the 2019 Australian Maths Competition, placing in the top 12% in Australia and the highest ranked student from BSSC. Not bad for someone who considers herself “not so clever”.

Initially Qiaochu thought she might be expected to do similar amounts of homework to what was expected in the elite class in China—hours and hours every evening—her parents staying up to make sure she stayed awake and finished everything she’d been told to do.

“It made us all so tired,” she recalls.

It came as both a surprise and relief when she realised that students at BSSC are encouraged to have other interests; to socialise, take time to relax and to keep fit. In China Qiaochu rarely took the time to go for a run or a swim. Nor did she have her own phone—another aspect of life that has changed with her move to Bendigo.

“I came alone and was met by my aunt and uncle who have helped me so much,” she says. “At first I was very sad because of leaving my parents and little sister.”

Qiaochu’s parents are very pleased for her to be here, but she sometimes sees sadness in her father’s face when they talk via Skype.

In the early months, the differences between China and her new life in Australia were stark. One thing she recalls was seeing people wearing shorts in the middle of winter.

One of the comforts, however, was the number and variety of birds. They reminded her of the Chinese landscape of her childhood.

“I can remember how the land was so fresh and green and the rivers were so clear,” she recalls. “I remember my grandfather taking me swimming and fishing and my father, who is a good photographer, taking me to beautiful places.

“He also has a telescope and I just loved to look at the stars. I love anything to do with the stars or space.”

Coming to regional Australia has been a great way for Qiaochu to keep in contact with the night sky. She has also rekindled her love of piano; the instrument she learnt from the age of five. As an 11-year-old years she desperately wanted to give it up, but continued—something she is now very glad of.

Qiaochu plays often and finds music a constant source of relaxation and delight. She also keeps in contact with her teacher in China.

“I very much like classical music, but also Chinese pieces,” she says.

In the midst of all the adjustments any student must make when beginning at a new school, the biggest challenge for Qiaochu was not only overcoming her natural shyness, but doing it in a language she was still building her confidence in.

“I was so shy and because of this I spoke very quietly,” she says. “When people asked me, ‘what did you say?’ I thought at first that I was doing a really bad job of speaking English, but it was actually about the volume of my voice.”

A year down the track, Qiaochu has made many new friends.

“BSSC is just like a big family and this makes me feel so happy,” she says.

Qiaochu’s sense of humour and ready smile are evident throughout our conversation. She barely pauses when asked what her favorite subject is. “Maths,” she says with a big grin.

While those who do not excel at maths may find it surprising, Qiaochu says studying mathmatics “makes my heart quiet”.

“It relaxes me,” she says. “Even when I don’t understand at first, I’m very happy to keep working away until I do.”

One strategy she has found really positive is to think about a maths problem as a game.

Rather than getting stressed about whether she has the correct answer or not, or whether she has completed the work to a very high standard, Qiauchu tries to ‘play’ her way through.

Perhaps that sense of play was fundamental to Qiaochu’s success in the recent Australian Maths Competition?

“No,” she laughs, “it was just good luck. It happened in China too sometimes.”

Reflecting on her other subjects, Qiauchu has found Chemistry a little bit more difficult. Not so much because of the concepts, but its basis in language.

She has a translation app on her phone which allows her to quickly check unfamiliar words, but says she has really appreciated the way other students have been happy to help her when she is stumped by language.

Her ‘hot study tip’ is to work hard—“regardless of whether you think you are clever or not.”

It seems very likely that Qiaochu knows how to take her own advice and consequently will have a broad selection of study/career pathways when she moves on from BSSC.

A part of her would love to indulge her interest in space, but there are other competing aspirations.

“My grandfather was riding his bike a while back when someone ran into him and injured his leg very badly,” she explains. “I realised how much I wanted to help him and that made me realise I wanted to do something that brought good things to others as well as myself. I’m now thinking about medicine.”

Meanwhile, the global issue that concerns Qiaochu the most is the consequences of war. She is very clear that the world is in great need of more peace.

“I always find the images from war zones—especially of little kids—so sad,” she says.

“My mother always reminds me that I’m a healthy, happy girl living in a peaceful environment.

“Treasure what you have’, she always says.”