BSSC student, Sophie Castle, is in the midst of her 13th year of education after spending half of 2022 in Germany on student exchange.

Although her family has visited Germany numerous times, being there without family for an extended time brought some challenges.

Sophie’s time away also meant she missed some important events—like graduating Year 12 with her closest friends and attending their 18th birthday parties.

Her host family live in the tiny village of Wietstock—population about 142 and comparable in size to Sedgwick. It’s located in Germany’s far north-east state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern near the Polish border.

“My host family were so lovely to me. I had four host-siblings aged from two to thirteen years, and seven-year-old Vika was devastated when I left and wanted to know when I was coming back.”

“Germany is like a second home for me,” she says. “I get homesick for Germany when I’m in Australia and homesick for Australia when I’m in Germany! I know I’ll always go back there.

“I enjoy German food too,” she says. “There’s bread with every meal and breakfast was always bread, meat and cheese.”

Sophie’s Christmas photos of the German countryside covered with snow are beautiful, but being away from her family at that time was the most difficult part of her experience.

“I was so homesick my host Mum even offered to help send me home. I also had a couple of times I was actually unwell—and was looked after so kindly.

“The day of BSSC’s Graduation the school bus didn’t turn up,” Sophie says, “so I walked back to my host family and live-streamed the whole thing.”

The flip side is how strongly she connected with her host family and the fantastic new friends she made—especially after the disappointment of an exchange in 2020 that was cancelled due to Covid.

The school Sophie attended, the Greifen Gymnasium, was in Ueckermünde, a half-hour bus trip away.

“I walked to the bus at 6.30am each morning and always worried about the wolves, wild pigs and badgers I was told lived in the forest—especially in winter when it was dark—but I never saw any of them.”

At Greifen Gymnasium there was no choice of subjects. Students studied German, English, Biology, History, Geography, Philosophy, Maths, Chemistry, Art, Music and Sport—volleyball.

“I have to admit,” Sophie says, “while my German probably improved, their English was far better than my German and most people usually spoke to me in English.”

Sophie recalls feeling some teachers saw her as a bit of an extra but others really looked out for her and often gave her work in English.

She also enjoyed the familiarity of free dress code and being able to leave the school during the day.

Now settled back in Bendigo, Sophie is missing friends who have graduated BSSC, but when she weighs it all up, she has no regrets about her six months in Germany.

She’s also enjoying being with her family and reconnecting with her large group of friends.

“My family wants the best for me and has always been my biggest support, and my friends are always there for me—I even feel like some of them are like family!”

She’s tackling her 3/4 subjects—German Language, English language, General Maths, Outdoor Ed and Allied Health and has a plan to study nursing once she graduates.

“I think I’d like to study away from Bendigo to experience another place and I really have no idea which area of nursing I want to pursue—I expect my placements will help me decide.

“It would be great to be able to have a conversation with my future self. I want to see what happens and where I end up.

“But it could also be frightening to learn about who is, and who is no longer, in my life,” she muses, “so maybe I wouldn’t want to go too far into the future.”

In contrast, if Sophie could go back and have a chat with her 12-year-old self, she’d say not to be too naïve about life experiences.

“But I wouldn’t tell her too much, because you learn so much from the experiences you have.”

Sophie is enjoying BSSC and loves being able to use her study periods however she needs to. Sometimes that means she uses first period to get extra sleep.

“It’s how I de-stress during the day too,” she says. “I’m really good at naps.

“If I had to choose a word to describe the college I would say, ‘free’ because of the subject selection range so you can study what you love. It’s like doing a course tailored especially for you.

“I also love the way we are treated as adults—with respect—at BSSC.”

Sophie’s study tip is to do as much homework at the college as you can.

“There are great places for study—like the Language Centre which is always a quieter area and this means home can often be a break from study.”

Sophie’s life is more fun by her love of cricket. She has been a cricketer for many years and always enjoyed it. She’s presently batting and bowling for the Strathfieldsaye Jets—although she says she wishes her stats were a bit more impressive.