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Melbourne Beginnings: Viriliana Hernandez

Presented in partnership with Study Melbourne, this annual storytelling competition is open to all international students living and studying in Victoria. This year, entrants were invited to write or create a visual work that shares their Melbourne story.

Winners will be announced at a virtual award presentation ceremony on Thu 21 Oct. Book your place here.


Vocational Education & Training  Shortlist

One Day I Woke Up in Australia by Viriliana Hernandez

One day I woke up in Australia and I was in a café drawing coffee hearts. How did this happen? Well, it all started with a dream – a dream to be bilingual.  Jumping on an aeroplane and crossing the globe was a great way to begin  realising that dream. This is how my story began.

After 25 hours of flying, I finally arrived in Melbourne. My heart was beating, and my legs were shaking but it didn’t matter. My excitement about my dream coming  true was greater than my fear of the unknown. I took a deep breath and walked through the airport door. “The lived experience would be so much better than any  language book or online course”, I thought.

For sure it has been a great experience, but I admit it I have often wondered: “what am I doing in Australia?”.

In the first few months, I felt overwhelmed as I confronted the daily reality of  learning a new language. Frankly, my English was like a baby babbling as I learned words from rock music and movies.

Many times, I was in awkward situations where everybody was talking in English, and I didn’t understand what they were saying. It was embarrassing. So, to avoid embarrassment I just smiled or said “yeah”.

Oh, how I wanted English to open itself up to me, I was starved of the enjoyment to comprehend.

Soon, I realized my English classes weren’t enough, I asked myself if I should just speak baby English all the time? I wanted to be shameless enough to practice and improve. So, I got a job in a coffee shop.  I had never worked in a cafe, and I didn’t drink coffee. But I did it to overcome my shame of speaking in baby English.

On my first day, I thought, “Oh God maybe this is a terrible idea”. But it wasn’t. I  had a lot of fun because my colleagues and costumers were friendly, funny, and  patient with me

I made many mistakes and had embarrassing moments, especially when the handsome customers asked for a coffee. I would get nervous and mess up basic things that I knew how to do. Still, they would buy their coffee and give me a lovely smile or make a joke that I didn’t quite understand. I often thought: “if you understood Spanish, we would laugh a lot.”

I let go of my insecurities and daily conversations became less overwhelming.

Then, after a while, I realised I was communicating in English, and I was in love with Melbourne’s rich coffee culture. I have become part of it and learned about the pure pleasure of making and drinking coffee, and the latte art that is often too pretty to drink.

So, my baby English was worth the embarrassment. I love painting hearts in my coffee as I talk with Australians. Now I am bilingual, and I like this new person coming far from home. And yes, I love koalas.