Distance no barrier to students’ friendship By Ainsley Paton

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Several weeks ago, my family and I had the pleasure of hosting a Canadian exchange student, Sofia, in our Mount Eliza home and showing her around Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula. Sofia is from Quebec, the French-speaking part of Canada, and is in her last year of high school. She didn’t know anyone who had been to Australia, but having seen pictures of our white sandy beaches, towering cities and stunning bushland she knew she had to go. 

Coming from a Canadian winter to an Australian summer was a culture shock. Like many people who have never been here, she imagined it would be 40C every day, kangaroos would be wandering around the backyard, and everyone would be a surfer. She was delighted that wherever you go on the Peninsula you’re only a short drive from the beach, and although we visited many beaches such as Mills, Mothers, Frankston, and Canadian Bay, Mount Martha was her No.1. “It had beautiful beach boxes, not a lot of people running around, the water was very clear, and the sunset was incredible.”

During her five weeks with us, she attended school with me at Woodleigh and participated in all my classes. Sofia noted differences between our school and hers, such as how much more relaxed it is here and “how many trees there are!”. Before school started back and on weekends we went to such destinations such as Chadstone, The 1000 Steps, Phillip Island, Bushrangers Bay, Arthurs Seat, Peninsula Hot Springs and of course Bunnings. On her last day of school we also went up to the reserve and farm at the back of school to feed kangaroos and emus and play with the friendly goats. Although I had visited the majority of these places before, I was able to view where I lived through a different lens, and it made me realise how lucky we are to be living in an area where a short drive one way takes you to the bustling city centre, and the other way to serene bushland overlooking the bay. 

We were both surprised at how close we became and how quickly you become comfortable with someone you’ve never met before from the other side of the world. Spending 24 hours all day, every day, with someone for a whole month really fast-tracks the bond. 

Sofia told me that during her time here she learnt that while on exchange you can’t hold back. “You have to go for the things that scare you and do it. Face your fears, socialise, make friends. The best times were all spent totally out of my comfort zone. It made me realise how many things you can miss out on if you don’t just jump in.”

She said she would absolutely recommend the exchange program to anyone who had the opportunity. It may be scary, “but it makes you see the world from another angle, and it makes you see how different things are in another country, and you get to meet people from so far away, and it just makes you want to go back as soon as you leave”.

Sofia said that if she had to give advice to anyone going on exchange, she would say: “It will probably only happen once in your life, so you absolutely do not want to have any regrets. So do everything.”

Ainsley Paton is a Year 10 student at Woodleigh School and completed work experience with us at Mornington Peninsula Magazine.

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