When BSSC student, Zac Rivas Morao, was 11 years old his family moved from his home in Caracas, Venezuela, to Bendigo hoping to find greater opportunities and a safer community.

“We could all speak English and chose Bendigo because house prices in Melbourne were so high,” Zac remembers.

It was a world away from Caracas—not only geographically.

“In Caracas, many families don’t have a backyard and the streets aren’t considered a safe place for children to play,” Zac says. “I’d go to school from 7am to midday and would tend to just hang out inside once I got home.”

On his arrival in Australia, Zac was blown away by the freedom kids have.

“It was amazing to see children wandering around unsupervised,” he remembers.

Zac’s first language is Spanish. Despite being fluent in English, he discovered that the Australian accent, combined with our tendency to speak quite fast, made communicating exhausting.

“I would lapse into Spanish without even realising it,” Zac recalls, “or start giving simple yes-no answers because it was so tiring to concentrate so intensely for so long.”

During his first year, Zac also remembers being bemused by people’s extreme reactions to ‘first world’ problems, like power outages, that were everyday occurrences in Caracas.

Food shortages, fuel shortages, difficulties accessing medical treatment and frequent power failures are just a few things that make life complicated for Venezuelans.

The British Medical Journal described Venezuela’s health system as being in crisis even before the pandemic arrived and in conversations with family still living in Caracas, Zac is not hearing the levels of concern about COVID-19 many Australians express.

“In Australia, COVID is ‘the’ big deal, but in Venezuela there are so many other serious political and social issues that impact people every day,” Zac explains. “They are pretty chilled about the pandemic.”

When COVID arrived in Australia, Zac could hardly believe the level of hoarding—especially the toilet paper.

“In Venezuela why would you care about toilet paper when food is in such short supply?” he asks.

Zac’s now been in Australia for almost six years and, looking back, feels proud of how he’s adapted to the changes.

“I’m grateful for the experiences of living in two different societies and being able to speak two languages,” he says. “But I also know that everything I’ve achieved is dependent on the great support I’ve had from family and friends.”

Now settled into BSSC he describes the college as a positive, friendly community with great teachers.

“It’s been welcoming and fun, he says. “I would recommend it to anyone.”

While Zac has found the COVID lockdowns rather lonely at times, he says teacher support made it much easier academically.

“Avoiding distractions is a big factor for me,” Zac reflects. “I’ve realised I need to clear my mind of distractions before I do my homework or any important schoolwork.”

Studying Music Industry & Performance (electric guitar) has led Zac to discover that music—something he thought would always be a side-interest in his life—is what he would like to pursue as a career.

At BSSC he’s met others who share his passion for music and is now part of the band, ‘Bizarre Trip’ along with Reuben Agass, Jack Brown and Elijah Fraser. The band can sometimes be seen playing lunchtime gigs in the Ulumbarra Plaza.

Zac is also enjoying Studio Art Painting and Drawing and says his teacher, Elise, really invests herself in her students, which he appreciates a lot.

At the beginning of the year, inspired by his own experiences of being in new situations, Zac took the time to introduce himself to all the other students in his class. He smiles at the memory.

“I know how it feels to be shy and unsure,” he says. “It seemed like a good way to make us all feel comfortable together.”

Zac believes the encouragement BSSC has given him with his art has helped him find more love for the things he’s passionate about.

AS a consequence he’s drawing more—exploring the world through highly detailed artwork—and putting in two practice sessions each week with ‘Bizarre Trip’.

Zac also writes poetry and some of his poems have become the lyrics of the songs the band composes.

“Music helps me to be more true to myself,” he explains. “I feel like music is a way to make change happen.”

If Zac could speak with anyone in the world, alive or dead, he’d love a conversation with former lead singer of Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, about the role of artistic expression in politics. Zac also names Jimi Hendrix as a hero.

“He wrote poetry with his fingers on his guitar,” Zac says.

Zac knows he wants to pursue his artistic and musical talents in the future, but he’s still not settled on how this pathway will unfold.

Though, if he could travel back through time to speak with his younger self, Zac knows exactly what he would tell him.

“Don’t just do what others tell you to do just because they think they know what’s best for you. Find a group who accept you for who you are. Stick to what you love at school. Be kind and don’t be too shy to help others.”