A paramedicine, planning and nursing student walk into a bar… and all walk out with casual jobs. Three students share what they’re doing to pay their way through uni in Bendigo.
There’s no mention of Mexico on a Monopoly board. Likewise Alonso Navarro didn’t expect to find burritos way south of the border in Bendigo’s-own Pall Mall.
“What surprised me most about this place was how authentic the flavours are,” he says of new restaurant Cantina. “I could say without doubt that this is the most ‘Mexican’ restaurant I’ve tried outside of Mexico.”
Alonso is pretty qualified to make that statement – besides hailing from Mexico, he works in the Cantina kitchen and has tried most elements on the menu. “This is the sort of place you could easily find in Mexico city,” he says.
Alonso found Cantina by chance. “It was very funny,” he says. “I had been working with Accommodation Services on campus over summer but that job finished up when classes started. I came into Bendigo with my resume and went to a restaurant in Chancery Lane. They told me about a new restaurant that was opening around the corner, so they sent me around there. They didn’t tell me it was a Mexican restaurant.”
We’re pretty sure the restaurant didn’t expect to find a Mexican walking through the door either. “I’m not sure if that sealed the deal for me but I’m pretty sure it helped,” Alonso laughs.
The Masters of Community Planning and Development student says the last time he worked in hospitality was while in high school. The 29-year old went on to university studies in Mexico before working as a market and social researcher, and a journalist for radio and magazines.
In Bendigo, he’s well and truly back living the student life. “Even though I’m supported by the government in Bendigo it’s not enough to live on, so I have to have a job to cover all the basics,” he says. “At the restaurant I have responsibilities but I don’t have to take the job home with me. I can just be a student.”
Alonso hopes to keep working at Cantina over the next 12 months of studies in Bendigo. Then, he hopes to stay on in Australia to put his new-found knowledge to use.
He says uni aside, this job has also been an education. “The people are very friendly and it’s helped me with my English.” And Spanish. “I now know the words for certain foods I didn’t even know about in Spanish.”
Bianca is working her way through uni at one of Bendigo’s coolest fine dining restaurants, Masons.
“I love the atmosphere here,” she says. “There’s a lot of energy.”
Bianca moved from Echuca specifically to study a Bachelor of Paramedic Practice and Public Health Promotion, only to find she really loves her adopted city. She says this job has helped her get to know the community. After all, everyone loves Masons.
“Some people at uni only know the campus, the place they live and the local Woolworths,” she says. “I live here and I stay here on the holidays. I’m fully immersed in the community and I live a full life here.
“I’ve learnt a lot working at Masons. Last month we all went to see one of our producers and I learnt about their farm. I know all about our local wineries too.
“People from Bendigo come in and they tell me stories. We had the mayor in here a couple of weeks ago. I had my lecturer in here recently. I’d spent the whole week in his classes and then he came in to Masons for dinner. It was pretty funny.”
Bianca works double shifts most Fridays and Saturdays, unless she’s on placement. Next semester she’s got 200 hours of work experience with Ambulance Victoria. Around half will be spent in the city and half in the regions. She says they can be expensive weeks away.
“I get Centrelink and that pays my bills and rent, but it only gets you so far,” she says. “On top of that I need to buy books and uniforms, and our placements tend to include a lot of travel. For me, to be able to put away $100 a week is huge. It means I can go away on placements and I don’t have to worry about being broke or sleeping in my car, which I know some students do. I can rent a hotel room.”
As a third-year student Bianca still has a lot of work to do before she moves from the restaurant to the ambulance. But she’s looking forward to it. “To be a paramedic someone has to have a certain personality, because a lot of bad stuff happens on the job,” she says. “It just suits me. I always had that urge to help people and I always had an interest in biology, so I knew I was going to do something in the health sciences. It was just a matter of choosing what.”
For Bachelor of Nursing student Michelle Tuszewski, a great burger and chips is nothing new, but our coffee culture is something to write home about. “You guys have huge coffee machines,” she says. “At home ours is more like instant coffee, three quarters coffee and the rest milk. I like your coffee a lot better.”
Michelle is studying in Bendigo on exchange for six months, from the University of Windsor in Canada, and working a casual job at our newest View Street café, the very cool Boris Murgers.
“I got pretty lucky,” she says. “The first week I came here I started handing out resumes and I got a job, which has never happened to me. Back home it would take months.”
She’s taking it as an affirmation that Bendigo was the right place to come. And, her stay coincides with Hollywood royalty. Michelle is here at the same time as Marilyn Monroe; the busy Bendigo Art Gallery exhibition in View Street being the reason Boris Murgers was looking for extra staff.
When Marilyn leaves at the start of July, so will Michelle. “My best friend is coming and we’re going to travel up the east coast together,” she says. In the meantime there are essays to write, exams to prepare for and placements to complete at Bendigo Health. The caffeine is going to come in handy.