Gina and Amanda are not a comedy duo, but two 17-year-old Greek girls who emigrated to Australia with their families and are turning heads with their talent in the natural sciences.
Diaspora newspapers have described Gina Gahtidi as “the upcoming star of particle physics.” In October she was chosen among another 28 top students from Victoria to participate in the masterclass workshop organized by the Center for High Performance in Particle Physics of the Australian Research Council.
“Gina was the only girl to represent our school at the masterclass, while last year she got the highest mark in physics among her classmates,” says her physics teacher Frank De La Rambelya.
A few of weeks ago, meanwhile, Gina and her classmate Amanda Davarinou, a recent arrival in Australia, represented their school in the SEAMS (Strengthening Engagement and Achievement in Mathematics and Science) program. For three days, they had an opportunity to attend lectures by professors from Monash University.
“I felt so lucky to be able to work with equipment that is not available in Greece. When Gina and I heard about the program we applied immediately,” says Amanda.
Gina’s love for physics began in elementary school. “I wanted to discover why and how physical phenomena occur,” says Gina. For the time being, the two teenagers are discovering new opportunities offered in Australia.
“Who would want to experience the final year of Greek high school?” asks Amanda, who happily accepted her parent’s decision to emigrate from the Aegean island of Santorini to Australia, her mother’s home country, seven months ago. Today, Amanda is a student in South Oakleigh Secondary College and has to wait until January for her summer holidays. But she is very excited about her new school.
“I don’t want to miss a second of life at school. In Australia you have so many choices. From the first year at senior high you can pick your own modules, you can move from a technical school to a university or you can switch universities after your first year,” says Amanda.
Gina’s mother is also Greek Australian. They decided to move Down Under in 2012 because of the crisis.
“I wish we had moved earlier. My two siblings were too young to sense the change but I did. Before we moved here my father was always angry; now he has found his self again. I miss a couple of friends from high school but overall I find it very hard to create strong bonds with people», says Gina.
But it is not always easy to adjust to the new reality. “Sometimes I accidentally speak to my teachers in Greek. I have also founded some Greek habits hard to shake off like carrying an jam-packed backpack,” says Amanda.
Amanda has picked her modules for this year. She is studying Greek, English, higher mathematics, physics and theater.
“Learning by rote will not help you here, you need to have a deep understanding of the material in order to do well,” she says.
Unlike in Greece where “frontistirio” is the rule, only a handful of students in Australia pay for private tutoring to help them with their coursework.
“Instead the teachers offer to help their students voluntarily after school and also organize non-academic activities for them.”
Talking about stress and time-management issues with psychologists is also part of the school curriculum. “All this is available at an average public school,” says Amanda.
Amanda wants to go to university next year to study architecture and humanities as a joint degree. Gina wants to study biology and then become a zoologist.
South Oakleigh Secondary College has a large number of first-second and third-generation Greeks and Greek is taught as a foreign language. “Many students speak to each other in Greek. In the first year of senior high some two-thirds of the class are of Greek origin,” confirms a teacher. “In the celebration of Harmony day, the Greeks charmed us with their dancing skills, especially the boys dancing zeibekiko.”
Gina and Amanda are planning to visit Greece for a long holiday after they enter university. Until then, they will be spending their time at school, in the library or in the parks, looking to the future with optimism.