Tell us a little bit about yourself and your achievements to date 

I am Paola Pinzon from Colombia. Before coming to Australia two years ago I was studying Performing Arts at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, which is the city I am originally from. My degree lasts four years of which I have already done two.

I came to Melbourne two years ago following my dream of learning English because it is a requirement to obtain my degree and venturing to live in another country. For this purpose, I enrolled in Impact English College where I studied General English from Pre-intermediate level to advanced level.

Afterwards, I enrolled in Cambridge Certificate in Advance English Exam Preparation. My community involvement in Melbourne has been in its great majority through Christmas On The Streets, also known as COTS which is a not-for-profit organisation supporting men and women experiencing homelessness. I was lucky to meet this organisation one day while walking through the city of Melbourne in July 2019 while a group of volunteers were doing their work.

Since that moment I have actively participated as a volunteer. This has been a great opportunity to recognise how we can support each other especially through the most challenging times.

By the end of 2020, I received an email from one of my teachers suggesting that I should apply for 2020 Victorian International awards in the category of International Student of the year – English language training. I decided to apply motivated by the fact I could receive support to continue my studies in Australia through this recognition from the Victoria government. It was a pleasant surprise to be able to attend the nominees meeting held in Melbourne CBD and of course my joy was even greater when I received the email saying that I was the winner on December 22.  I have the honor of being Study Melbourne Ambassador for 2021, from this position it is my desire to contribute to the community, use my talents to be supportive around me and learn from the extraordinary abilities of others.

What are your goals for the future?

When I was in Colombia I was study Performing Arts. I have always been passionate about theater, for me it represents a setting to tell stories of everyday life where we reflect our humanity. As a study Melbourne Ambassador for 2021 is my desire to develop strategies to encourage students to participate in performing arts.

Currently, I am studying Certificate IV in TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Others Languages). Afterwards, I will start a Diploma in TESOL at Australian National of Business and Technology. Obtaining this certification will allow me to continue travelling around the word to learn about other cultures and share my own. Once I finish my Diploma I will return to Colombia where I will complete my degree. Later, I would like to travel abroad and study a postgraduate program in Theater For Young Audiences.

How have you gone about making new friends and building your networks in Victoria?

As international students it is a challenge to arrive in a new country leaving behind our family and closest friends with whom we have even grown up but in the same way we decided to travel because we want to experience another culture, meet people with a point of view and ways of doing things different from us.

Australia has a special quality when it comes to making friends; no matter what nationality you are, it is likely that you will find a large community of compatriots here. Therefore, for me the key is to find a balance between maintaining contact with the people from your country and risking to participate in activities with people who are not. For me, this was a challenge at the beginning because my level of English was not enough to full participate in a conversation, but I discovered that there is no other way to improve your communication skills.

I started participating as a volunteer in Christmas On The Streets because I felt identified and connected with the work they did and it is always a great atmosphere, I have great friends from there. Additionally, in my college I met people from different parts of the world who helped me understand that friendship is universal and depends on the openness you have towards others.

Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for students who are thinking about studying in Victoria?

I would tell them that the multiculturalism that they will find in Victoria and in Australia in general is difficult to find in another country in the world. This means that there is a great gastronomic variety, and it is likely to find streets that will transport you immediately to another country.

Additionally, it is not a secret that Australia is a paradise when it comes to natural landscapes from the Outback with its iconic Uluru to the famous Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Summarising, dare to come to Victoria, you will grow as a person and expand your professional opportunities.