Grace Bendall: Portrait of a Gap Year Student

by | Nov 12, 2018 | Bush Voices


Grace Bendall /19-years-young /Grew up in Porepunkah in NE Victoria but now lives in Europe


Nineteen-year-old Grace Bendall proudly identifies as a ‘gap year student’, saying it has given her the time and clarity she needed to decide where life could lead.

Among her high-school friends she’s the one ‘out of the box’ — the one who finished VCE and didn’t head straight for university or a job with a local business around Bright, in North East Victoria.

Instead, she set her sights on Europe, holding tight to a long-held ambition to “get out and see the world”.

Yearning for independence and adventure, Grace decided on a gap year but it was to be time well-spent —  time to create opportunity and not just a break from study.

And so it was, at the end of 2017 she wrapped-up her VCE exams and then set about researching to achieve her European goal.

Little did she know it would soon become her European dream; living and working in Italy with a great deal of fun along the way …

Which is where we pick-up our interview with the effervescent Grace Bendall; our Rural Inspire Mentor for November.



So Grace, you finished school, decided on a gap year and ended up teaching English to students in Italy — how on earth did this come about?

Well, yes, it’s interesting. When I finished Year 12 I had a very strong desire to travel abroad but I was smart about it. I did my research looking at overseas work and avenues to get involved with volunteering, which is when I came across ACLE (Associazione Culturale Linguistica Educational).

ACLE looks for native English speakers to spend the European summer tutoring Italian children in English camps. Once I was accepted to the program, I booked a flight to Milan and began my orientation, mid-June. I spent a week in San Remo together with a group of young adults who came from countries all around the world.  After a week of training and making incredible friendships I was sent off to my first camp with a group of other tutors.

I admit, teaching or tutoring was never a career path I’d considered but, through ACLE, what I’m doing is much broader than ‘just tutoring’. Over the Summer, I was able to travel every couple of weeks to cities and towns around Italy with people my age and, yes, it was incredibly fun.

To be frank, I don’t think I could ever truly capture in writing what an amazing experience this has all been.

By taking a gap year and doing this program I’ve been able to travel, meet new people and gain an internationally-recognised certificate (I am now qualified to be an English tutor in any foreign country). There were no prerequisites to join, aside from speaking English, and it didn’t matter if I could speak any Italian or not because the camps are designed to be a full Enlish language immersion for the children. All up, ACLE covered my travel and accommodation expenses and I have also been paid, in the form of a study grant.

I would absolutely recommend this program, this life experience, to anyone finishing VCE looking to do things a bit differently.

Wow. What a journey. Speaking of VCE, this year’s crop of Year 12s are currently in the midst of their intensive end-of-year exam period. What would you say to them, as someone who was in their shoes just a short time ago?

If you want something, work hard and chase after it. And if you’re offered an opportunity that excites but scares you, take it.

Do you think there is too much emphasis on ATARs and university. Or, conversely, do you think there’s not enough?

In the depths of Year 12, I did feel there was a lot of pressure to get a good score, but I also think that’s healthy. If you work to the best of your abilities, you should receive a deserving result. Ultimately, there are so many career pathways these days — what’s important is that school-leavers don’t rush their decisions.

Okay, tracking back now, can you give us a snap-shot of your life growing up in the country?

Yes, so, I grew up in Porepunkah, about six kilometres out of the madness of Bright. As a kid, I was always riding around in the bush, making huts, swimming at the river and hanging out with my friends. Over the years I chopped and changed from different after-school sports like dancing, gymnastics, soccer or mountain bike club.

 Where did you attend school, and did you enjoy it?

I went to Porepunkah Primary School, which was just down the road from home — I really did love that school. All my friends lived around the corner and the park, river and walking tracks were nearby. Plus, our parents felt safe to let us roam and explore.

High school was 20 minutes away from home, which meant I made a bunch of new friends and was then part of a different community. I’d say I had a pretty positive education experience and, I think, I was given opportunities that wouldn’t be offered in a metro school.

So, what kind of student were you?

I was always fairly studious, although my teachers had a big impact on how I performed. If I’m brutally honest, I think some of my high school teachers were very unorganised and unmotivating, which lead to me losing interest in those classes. If my teachers didn’t show a care factor, I became a bit the same.

Did any of your teachers inspire you?

My English teacher in year 9 and 10, Mr Davey, he certainly knew how to inspire us and that’s significant because, beforehand, I’d never really enjoyed English as a subject. He always encouraged us to form our own opinions, share our ideas and open discussions. He turned reading Shakespeare sonnets into a team effort; together we discovered the meaning behind a group of words that we couldn’t initially relate to.  English with Mr Davey didn’t feel like strings of sentences and grammar, it was more like an art class.

Do you think living in a rural community is an advantage or a disadvantage?

I loved the freedom and independence I had growing up.  My parents have always been supportive of me and my aspirations. I never felt it was a disadvantage to live in a small town; if anything, I felt exceptionally lucky.  There’s no doubt that in rural areas we don’t always have direct access to certain educational resources or facilities but, I think, we are supported and encouraged to succeed by our communities.

And, finally, have you realised yet what you “want to be in life” or are you still deciding?

Believe it or not, it’s only been the last few weeks that I’ve had some kind of realisation as to where I want to head in the future. Since arriving in Italy, the relationships I’ve made with my host families and friends have helped me grow a love for languages. Languages bring people together and I cherish all the broken Italian/English conversations I’ve had with the kids I’ve taught and the families that have welcomed me into their homes … so that’s what I want to do — something with language and teaching, which I certainly never, ever would have thought of just a year ago when I was finishing VCE.