17-year-old Italian national Alessandra Bergese fulfilled a life-long dream in Batemans Bay – and her hosts, the Hill family, are encouraging others to open their hearts (and homes) to exchange students.
“I wanted to come to Australia because I was interested in experiencing a completely different culture, and I wanted to go the furthest away from Italy, to experience something different,” Alessandra said.
“It’s always been my dream.”
She’s not the only Italian student in the Eurobodalla in 2018 – Marcello Orsenigo also made the journey down under, and stayed with the O’Keefe family.
Alessandra’s host mother, Rebecca Hill, said having an exchange student enriched the whole family, and Batemans Bay was an ideal destination.
“We just love the experience,” she said
“We’re originally from Wollongong, but are down in the Bay now, and what better place to bring students to? It’s absolutely fantastic.”
The family has hosted students from Japan, Indonesia and Italy. Rebecca’s daughters, Shania, 16 and Stephanie, 14, say a stint overseas is on their bucket list – but they love hosting students too.
“We get to learn about their countries and their culture, and we get to share our culture with them and what we know,” Shania said.
Alessandra said one of the biggest cultural differences was the laid-back Australian approach.
“When I first arrived the challenging part was to adapt to the lifestyle, because it is completely different, but my host family helped,” Alessandra said.
“In Australia people are more relaxed, and they’re all friendly and welcoming.”
Alessandra said the six-month trip was: “The biggest experience of my life.”
“One of my favourite memories would be when we went to Sydney, because I’ve always wanted to go to Sydney, it’s been my obsession.
“We stayed in this beautiful hotel with a view of the Opera House and the bridge, and I started crying; it was amazing.”
Host father Bruce Hill said hosting students forged connections with families around the world.
“I would recommend it,” he said.
“With the Japanese, Indonesian and Italian students we’ve had, it’s been a very good experience.
“To speak to their parents, we’re part of their family and they’re part of our family. It’s a worldwide family.”
The trip was through the World Education Program (WEP). Organiser Jackie McArdle said the group was always looking for families keen to broaden their horizons.
“We work to find host families who are willing to open their homes and their hearts to exchange students,” she said.
“They just have to fill out some forms and do a police check to make sure everything is fine.”
To find out more about the program, head to: https://wep.org.au/