When Yvonne started at Keilor Downs College nearly two years ago, she was full of nerves. The then 15-year-old Chinese student had only visited Australia once, but the other students quickly made her feel welcome.
Yvonne is one of 38 international students who have made Keilor Downs College their home this year. The school has been hosting international students since 1996 and during that time has educated between 400 and 500 students from countries including Vietnam, Germany, Korea, Chile, Nepal, India, Macedonia and China.
'The other students were as curious as me to meet people from another culture. They asked me lots of questions and it was great to learn about their childhood experiences too,' Yvonne said.
'It is a really supportive, nice environment and my new friends and teachers helped me a lot when I started.'
Principal Linda Maxwell said the school works hard to ensure students settle in smoothly and make the most of their time in Australia, including an orientation day before they start and regular excursions.
'We make it clear that we want them to have a full experience and we build in special activities to make sure they join in and are part of our community,' Linda said.
'We choose a buddy from their home group who looks after them and we take them on excursions to Philip Island and the footy to learn a bit more about Australian culture.
'There are no issues of racism or religious angst here; we're a big happy school.'
With over 40 nationalities represented at the school, and in the local community, Linda said it's easy to take their multiculturalism for granted.
'Having international students at our school builds a bridge between us and creates better understanding. It also reminds us of what we love about Australia and makes us conscious of what we pride ourselves on,' Linda said.
'Some of these kids come from rural Vietnam and China and it's their first time in a big city.
'Many of our kids are second generation and it reminds them of what their parents went through when they came out.'
A special lunchtime Harmony Day festival will be held on March 21 for staff, students and parents to come together and celebrate their diverse cultures with music, performances and food from around the world. Rehearsals are in full swing with students working together on their routines.
'K-pop (Korean pop music) is big amongst our kids. Last week I looked out the window and saw the international kids teaching our kids K-pop dancing,' Linda said.
Students from Keilor Downs College will be among 300 students from 82 Victorian schools attending an International Student Welcome Reception at Government House tomorrow.
For more information on internationalising schooling, see: Internationalising Schooling