The 2021 Mayor’s Student Ambassadors were appointed from 11 countries, representing eight Gold Coast institutions in what is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Over the year the Ambassadors encountered a range of activities which saw them grow academically, personally and professionally within a program that’s designed to build a deeper understanding of themselves, their fellow students and the wider Gold Coast community.
What does it take to become a Mayor’s Student Ambassador? Read on to discover what makes the 2021 contingent such an exceptional group of young people and remember, if you’d like to share their journey with them, just follow their amazing experiences on social media.
2021 Mayor's Student Ambassadors
Milena Calil Mendonca (Brazil) – Diploma of Information Technology, Mindroom Innovation
Growing up in São Paulo was amazing. My neighbourhood is near a mountain range, so it was common to see monkeys, toucans and squirrels on the street. I’ve travelled extensively throughout Brazil with my family, sharing some wonderful moments with my parents and sisters as we ventured across the country by car.
The Gold Coast appealed to me because it’s a small city with a great climate where it’s possible to walk from one place to another, without chaos and with a relaxing vibe. Then when I discovered how good the education options were I knew it was the right choice.
I previously studied Advertising and Marketing in Brazil, then realised that my profile is more analytical, so I needed to focus on a technical area that would still be related to business. This course of study at Mindroom Innovation will allow me to do something that I’ve been dreaming about for a long time – to build my own business! Eventually I would like to become an entrepreneur.
This year I made a resolution to discover something new that would challenge me. When I saw the Gold Coast Student Hub website and the announcement about the Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program I knew that this was exactly what I was looking for. I wasn’t wrong! I’m really looking forward to meeting more people and getting to know my fellow Ambassadors through the program. All the events seem to be unique and some of them I could never have experienced if I wasn’t an Ambassador.
Jongwoo Lee (South Korea) – Certificate III in Carpentry, TAFE Queensland
I’m from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. From the age of 10 I was an elite sportsman right through to university. For the past 20 years I was solely focused on becoming a professional baseball player until my dream was shattered by an injury.
Two years ago while I was staying in Australia I began to think about my English skill level and what I could do for a career. It was then that I began to revisit a past interest in carpentry and assembling things. I had always appreciated how houses were built and their beautiful timber structures and it occurred to me that I would like to build a home of my own one day.
I first discovered the Gold Coast from watching a travel show on TV in South Korea and when I arrived it certainly lived up to my expectations. Over the last few years I visited the Gold Coast many times for both sport and travel and I really liked the harmony between nature and the city. The surprising part for me was how kind people are here. I chose TAFE Queensland because they not only had the course I wanted to study, but also because they have a good reputation for looking after international students.
At the start of this year I set myself some new goals. My English isn’t as good as I’d like it to be and because of that I lack confidence in my social skills, so I thought the Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program would be a great way to help me improve my communication skills. I’m looking forward to the networking opportunities and the leadership workshops from participating in the program and I’m also excited about developing friendships with the other Ambassadors. This is going to be a very special year for me.
Michaela Maag (Germany) – Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery and Diploma of Hospitality Management, Barrington College
I’m from a small village close to Nuremberg in Bavaria. I was an active teenager and did a lot of sports together with my identical twin. She and I did almost everything together. When I was a teenager the idea of an all-inclusive healthy lifestyle became increasingly important to me and I started to get creative in the kitchen and cook for my family and myself.
While I was studying Dietetics at university in Germany I began looking at overseas exchange programs and one of those programs was with Griffith University. I knew a student who had previously done an exchange program with Griffith and she told me that she’d fallen in love with the Gold Coast and just like her, the same has happened for me too.
Griffith is a world-renown university. I love it that teachers and students are on the same level and are focused on the progress of each individual student. When you consider that you can live by the ocean in this beautiful warm climate it’s hard to think of a better place to study than the Gold Coast. I just love the people and the laid back lifestyle here – it took me a while to get used to it, but now I’m happy to say that it’s very much part of my nature now too.
I have the desire to learn even more about nutrition here in Australia. The commercial cookery gives me the perfect opportunity to deepen my knowledge and learn all about food preparation, different cooking methods and how to prepare all kinds of dishes superbly. In addition to high-quality culinary training, I need to know the principles of my employers. The core values of the Barrington College, which are integrity, mutual respect and diversity, customer service and accountability, match with mine. Customer service in particular is important for my professional career.
I wanted to become a Mayor’s Student Ambassador to learn as much as I can about the Gold Coast both as a student and a person living here. Through active engagement, I want to improve my personal and professional skills and be able to use these new-found skills to improve the student community on the Gold Coast. I want to build a network; a network that I would not be able to build without being part of this program. I have a big passion for sustainability, especially environmental sustainability, and supporting local businesses. I want to get in close contact with businesses on the Gold Coast and share their greatness with many people. I also want to form friendships with like-minded students from all over the world. All these opportunities will help me to shape my goal of making my environmentally-friendly vegan café into reality.
Jess Shefford (Australia) – Bachelor of International Hotel and Tourism Management, Bond University
I was born and raised on the Gold Coast and over that time have watched the development of the city and have seen first-hand how much tourism has impacted the Gold Coast. I have experienced the Commonwealth Games, seen tourist attractions become extremely popular and have watched our economy grow significantly.
While the city has changed so much over the years there is no other place I would want to live and study than right here. The Gold Coast has retained its beauty with an unbeatable lifestyle while providing so many opportunities.
I’ve been surrounded by tourism my whole life and have developed a passion for the industry. Despite the impacts of COVID-19 I believe the tourism industry will boom in the next year or so and I want to be a part of the recovery process!
I wanted to become an Ambassador because I’m proud of my city and I have a strong desire to make an impact on the place that I love. I’m really looking forward to discovering more about my hometown while meeting and working with like-minded individuals as I build my professional networks. The Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program will help me to grow personally while helping me to further my career aspirations in the hospitality industry.
Chamudi Samaratunga (Sri Lanka) – Bachelor of Law, Bond University
I was born in Sri Lanka, came to Australia when I was 7 years old and then went back to Sri Lanka. Then I came back to Australia with my family in 2012 because one of my parents got an offer to do their PhD here. Growing up in Sri Lanka I was very fortunate compared to most people in my country. Things changed when the civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil erupted around 2009. It was a really scary period where a lot of people lost their lives. Mum and Dad brought us back to Australia to give us a better chance to succeed in life.
When I finished high school I had my sights set on Bond, I didn’t really want to go anywhere else for university. I chose to study law because I want to make a difference. Growing up in a third world country I saw so much injustice and ever since I was little I wanted to be an advocate for my community. Law allows me to help people regardless of one’s socio-economic background.
Living on the Gold Coast I love the sense of community, the beach, the hinterland and everything in between. After growing up in a very traditional and conservative culture it’s taken awhile to adjust to the laidback lifestyle here. It’s a city full of possibilities with so many opportunities than I ever thought could have existed.
I wanted to become a Mayor’s Student Ambassador to share my culture and learn about new things. I want to be a voice in my community and to advocate for the things I believe in. This program is an opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than myself because it allows me to give back to the community. This program is really special and unique and I hope to meet like-minded individuals who want to really make an impact.
After graduation I hope to be a corporate/commercial lawyer while also volunteering my time at community legal centres. I am passionate about policy development, constitutional and administrative law and international relations. I volunteered at my community legal centre last year and it would be extremely rewarding to go back there as a lawyer to help my community. Hopefully one day I can open my own firm.
Mikhail Eremeev (Russia) – Master of International Tourism and Hospitality Management, Griffith University
In Russia there is a common mindset where people think if you are successful, popular or rich, then you must have wealthy parents. I don’t have such parents. I come from a very humble background and while this has been a long journey I have big dreams and I believe that Australia, and the Gold Coast in particular, is a place where those dreams can come true.
A friend of mine told me about the Gold Coast about ten years ago when I got the travel bug after my first overseas trip. I didn’t know anything about Australia at that time, but she suggested that I would love the Gold Coast and she was right! After my first trip to Australia in 2013, I always wanted to return. Some of my friends in Russia ask me if I still like Australia after all these years and am I still passionate about the Gold Coast. In my heart, nothing has changed, I love this city, it will always be my home. It was love at first sight.
I joined the Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program because I wanted to challenge myself with something new. I’m passionate about setting a good example for others. I get many messages from my friends and even strangers saying that I motivate them by my achievements. I want to continue being that example, so I’m always looking for bigger and bolder challenges.
I’m really excited to have this amazing opportunity to meet interesting people, build my network and experience something I wouldn’t have done without the Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program. I want to be a part of something unique, something generous and meaningful. As an ideal achievement of the program, by the end of the year I want to have built my own professional startup team with developers, designers and sales managers. I am ambitious enough to believe that we will have sufficient investment funds to build a fully operational product and in doing so be awarded as ‘Startup of The Year’ and see myself listed in Forbes 30 Under 30.
I want to create my own company which will deliver amazing services or products, be surrounded by well-known entrepreneurs and to constantly learn about technology and business. When I get older, I want to be an inspirational speaker and teach students how to achieve their own goals.
Echo Zheng (China) – Merrimac State High School
I am from a small city in China called Meishan, but I had my middle school in Chengdu. My hometown and Chengdu are very beautiful cities, both are famous for their historic buildings and cuisine. I came to the Gold Coast because I wanted to learn more about different cultures.
I heard about the Gold Coast from my agent, who said the Gold Coast is a good city for studying and exploring. She said if I want to go to a place where I can study and have fun, the Gold Coast is one of the best choices I could make. To be honest she gave me lots of study options, including places in the UK, USA and Canada, but when I read up about all that the Gold Coast had to offer I knew this was where I wanted to be.
I hadn’t travelled overseas before and my English isn’t great, so I was a little bit scared before I came here, but to my surprise the people here are very friendly, and they do reduce my anxiety, although English is still hard for me. I really like the flexible and leisure lifestyle here. I would say this has to be the best place for anyone who doesn’t want too much pressure in their life.
I applied to be a Mayor’s Student Ambassador to challenge myself and step outside of my comfort zone. I’d also like to make friends with students from all over the world. I’m really looking forward to the team activities because I think this is a good opportunity to see my ability to communicate and interact with others and also it allows me to know more about my new friends. If you want to really know a person, you shouldn’t just talk to them, and you should try to work with them. I hope I can learn more skills from the program to deal with relationships and make progress in my English. I believe this program will bring something unexpected and meaningful to me, so I’m very excited about the year ahead.
Sushant Karki (Nepal) – Computer Science, Griffith University
I come from a small Nepalese city called Pokhara that’s known for its natural beauty. It really is a sight to see when you open a window to be greeted by the surrounding majestic mountains. It may sound unusual, but my one wow moment was when I got to see the horizon for the first time. Maybe that’s why I still feel like I’m home whenever it rains. Pokhara is a place small enough to stumble on with your mates when you’re out but also big enough to find somewhere to go together afterwards. Standing by the calming Phewa Lake with a drink in one hand and dumplings in the other while a random guy plays his guitar beside you would make a great Friday evening in Pokhara.
I’ve been influenced by technology from an early age. My family used to own a cyber-cafe back when DC used to be popular and instruction manuals came on a floppy disk. I remember, back then, pretending to have a job creating business posters on MS paint. I think the skill of computing gives a lot of creativity in the hands of a person. Whether it is creating a game you like or a software that solves a problem, you get to build something from the ground up. Technologically the world is about to go through another change and it will be driven by data analysis. I see the potential of this technology to analyse human behaviour on a scale never done before and that’s why I’m studying data science.
I enrolled at Griffith University because I could study computer science while majoring in data science and AI. The Gold Coast is such a convenient city for students. There is a lot of natural beauty to discover through hiking, climbing and water sports that are never far from reach. This city has a lot to offer, and it is easily accessible. These are the factors that impress me most about the Gold Coast.
As an international student the Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program appealed to me because it could help me with my personal growth. I want to experience the opportunity of being a Gold Coast student to the fullest and I want to unlock more adventures inside the Gold Coast while seeing the city through a different lens. The Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program is also an opportunity for me to network, make new friends and build my social abilities. I’m really looking forward to developing a better understanding of aboriginal culture, engaging in the local community and developing my leadership skills.
Kyrra Wilks (Australia) – Biomedical Science, Bond University
Growing up on the Gold Coast I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by lots of family, which meant many big family events. My childhood consisted of a lot of art – dancing, painting, music and performing, as well as time at the beach, hikes in the bush, and being involved in the community; for example, donating to local businesses and volunteering at nursing homes for my Gold Duke of Edinburgh experience. I attended Coomera Anglican College and absolutely loved the culture of the school. I made some incredible friends over the years and had a number of amazing opportunities through school, such as debating competitions, musicals, academic excellence and leadership.
I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was around 5 years old. Over my life I’ve had many positive experiences with healthcare, including personal experiences with my family. It was these experiences that reinforced my passion to pursue medicine as a career in order to contribute to the field and help not only individuals, but whole families.
I have travelled to a number of different countries, but there is nowhere like the Gold Coast. The incredibly relaxed culture, the people, the beautiful beaches, the landscape, and of course the incredible educational institutions. The Gold Coast is well renowned for its high-class education and teaching and after completing school here, I was eager to continue my tertiary education at this same high level. Bond University has an amazing campus and the ability to live, study and work in a city which is so diverse and accepting is almost too good to be true. There really is nowhere else I would rather be.
I became a Mayor’s Student Ambassador to share my love and passion for this city. I want to be able to share my experiences and encourage others to come to the Gold Coast to study, experience the culture and form connections here too. I’m extremely excited to form networks and lifelong relationships with people from all different backgrounds through the program and take these friendships into the future. My personal goals are to develop my confidence, particularly in communicating with a range of new people, develop my networking skills, practice media skills and training, meet exciting new friends and finally, give everything a go – you only regret the opportunities that you don’t take.
Thilinika Wijesinghe (Sri Lanka) – PhD in Education, Southern Cross University
I hail from Colombo in Sri Lanka. Life as an only child in a family with no siblings around was a different one. My parents were my closest friends. My paternal grandmother lived on the outskirts of Colombo and we would visit her every weekend. This is the place I started a lifelong relationship with nature. Spending my young days running on rice fields until the crops were harvested, enjoying delicious food prepped by my grandmother, and reading endless books sitting on a branch of a tree are some of the special moments I remember. My maternal grandmother gave me the artist's flair – she used to teach me to sing, dance, and paint. My mother ('Amma' in Sri Lankan local Sinhala language) was my inspiration for becoming a writer. Her guidance led me to follow a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism at a very young age. This indeed enabled me to find myself. My father ('Appachchi' in Sri Lankan local Sinhala language) taught me that life is all about moving forward with courage and not giving up, and this he showed through example.
I've always been passionate about teaching. When I commenced my journey as a teacher, it gave me endless special moments to cherish working with children and young people. So when it came to deciding on my PhD, education was my priority. I wanted to learn and delve deep into new aspects of education to contribute to the field actively. I would say my PhD. research is my life's worth of experiences all collected into one study; one that involves children, drama, nature and the future. I am indeed lucky to have two experts that lead the field of arts and environmental education at SCU who mentor me incredibly, Prof. Lexi Lasczik and Prof. Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles.
The quality of education, the people and lifestyle Australia has to offer has always fascinated me. I saw my friends achieve success and reach great heights. This led me to think about my plans, and that's where all this started, that's where the transformation happened. And what better place than the Gold Coast to study in a relaxed environment? You don't even feel like you are here for study; it's become more of a lifestyle now.
The Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program appealed to me because I love that adage ‘team work makes the dream work’. When I heard about the program I thought it would be such an excellent opportunity to be part of a fantastic team. To make a difference, to invite more friends to join us on the Gold Coast just as I did a couple of years ago. I’m looking forward to all the special moments we (the Ambassadors and the team that guides and works with us) get to experience, to all the memories we are about to make, and all the wonderful activities we will do as a team. We are already a well-connected team, and I'm optimistic that 2021 will offer the most remarkable openings to connect even more. Every opportunity we get is a chance to learn, and this is one unique program.
Jade Mellor (England) – Certificate III in Carpentry, TAFE Queensland
My life in the West Midlands in England was wonderful. I enjoyed spending time with my family and friends, but there’s always been something within me that has given me the urge to want to travel and explore. In 2013 I came to Australia for the first time, which included a road trip from Cairns to Sydney over 18 days – but it wasn’t enough, I knew I wanted to see more.
In 2016 I pushed my boundaries a little bit further by applying for a Working Holiday Visa to see what it felt like to be living and working the normal day to day life here, and the Gold Coast had my heart from the very start. Unfortunately I had a family member fall terminally ill during this time and I had to shorten my stay, but it made me more determined that this would not be my last visit.
The following year I took a life changing decision to accept an offer of potentially becoming free of epilepsy through brain surgery. Up until then this had been a huge restriction on my career ambitions due to health and safety. The operation was thankfully a success and in August 2018 I was declared seizure free which opened up so many opportunities for me. The idea and dream of living in Australia was still in my mind so I began researching options of studying carpentry and I randomly saw an advertisement which promoted studying in Australia. I never even knew this was an option! My eyes just lit up at the idea that I could live both my dreams in one step.
I became aware of the Mayor’s Student Ambassador Program when I attended the Gold Coast Student Excellence Awards last year and after speaking with a few of the tutors and students I had some encouragement to apply. By pushing myself out of my comfort zone I want to go that extra mile to improve my communication and public speaking skills while opening up more opportunities in my career. As an Ambassador I want to become more involved in the Gold Coast community while also making the most of the experiences within the program.
Sujin Kim (South Korea) – PhD in Psychology, Griffith University
I grew up in the hustle and bustle of Seoul in South Korea, which is one of the fastest developing countries in the world. From my country’s perspective there is a common perception that you go to university, get married, start working and deliver a baby at a specific age. It can be convenient and safe if I follow the route those social conventions set, but my family insisted that I could be self-directed and respected what I want to achieve in my life.
When I came to Australia in 2012 for a working holiday, I heard about the Gold Coast and visited the city at that time. I fell in love with the Gold Coast at first sight. The longest beaches I had ever seen were so fantastic and memorable - it was the best city I had visited in my life. Later, when I decided to study overseas, the Gold Coast was the first that came into my head. I feel that I am meant to be here.
Living here is wonderful. You can work hard during the week and then on the weekend you can be relaxing within minutes in the city’s natural beauty of the hinterland or on the beach. The most amazing thing that I encounter here are the people. I’ve met some of the most beautiful people from all over the world here - they are my precious assets and treasure. Getting to know them has broadened my knowledge about the world and through those conversations I’ve become a better person.
It’s an honour to be chosen as one of the Mayor’s Student Ambassadors. I’m excited to meet new people, hear about their life stories and their thoughts about the world. I want to share my experience and joy with other Koreans to show them that the Gold Coast is a world-class education destination. My personal goal is to broaden my networks through the program, explore the Gold Coast with wonderful people, share experiences together and have fun!
Nikol Slynkova (Czech Republic) – Marine Biology, Griffith University
Growing up in an inland country for a girl who loves the ocean was quite hard. I’ve always felt this connection to the ocean and living in Prague made me feel like something was missing. I was constantly changing schools and I wasn’t a particularly a good student. When I couldn’t study marine biology I ended up studying chemistry for pharmaceutical production as my high school major.
My mum told me about the Gold Coast after she visited a friend here years ago. When I discovered I could study marine biology here it was inevitable I would come here and soon after arriving I fell in love with this city just as my mum did before me. It’s an incredible place to study and it’s so relaxed that everyone seems to be constantly on vacation. It’s the perfect place to live.
I applied to become a Mayor’s Student Ambassador because I want to share my journey and inspire others to study and live abroad and show how wonderful the Gold Coast is. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity to meet students from different institutions while building my confidence and social skills. I’m really looking forward to getting to know my fellow Ambassadors and the experiences we’ll share together throughout this year’s program.
Gabriela Damaceno (Brazil) – Master of Philosophy, Bond University
I was born in Sao Paulo, the biggest city in South America. Like many other families, when my parents had a day off, we used to go to water parks or the beach and outdoor sports were always part of our routine. I am into swimming and cycling, my brother and mum into beach volleyball and my dad loves ocean-related sports. My mum is a real estate agent and my dad is a retired policeman. They didn't have much chance to have a formal education when they were growing up, but they were always determined to provide the best study opportunities they could afford for their children.
After I finished high school I moved to Florianopolis, an island in the south of Brazil, to study journalism. It was there that I discovered my passion for people's stories. During my five years of university I had the chance to cover the World Cup of Solar Boats in the Netherlands in 2012 and 2014 and be part of the Public Relations team of World Surf League South America. My final project at university was a TV series about the popularisation of surf in Brazil. One of the best ESPN reporters was on the panel and after the presentation he asked me what I was planning to do next. Like any other new graduate I was ready to jump into any opportunity. He mentioned that he had a friend who teaches screen and media on the Gold Coast and that I would love the course and the city. Eighteen months later I was on an aeroplane, ready to embark on the best and most exciting adventure of my life.
I love spending time outdoors and that is exactly what Gold Coast is about. For me, it’s priceless on a Sunday morning to watch families at Nippers' events on the beach or at the markets. The Gold Coast is also the home of Billabong and the World Surf League, among other surfing entities. I'm a big fan of these companies and it wasn’t hard to figure out that there’s a good reason why they all call the same city home. Aside from that it’s an amazing city in which to live and study – the institutions are incredible and there are many job opportunities here.
Being a Mayor’s Student Ambassador will provide me with the opportunity to connect and network with like-minded people. I want to engage more in the student community and I want to learn more about the Gold Coast and what it has to offer. I also see the program as a potential platform where I can share my thoughts about job opportunities on the Gold Coast. International students, especially those who don't speak English as their first language, think that job opportunities are limited, but that isn’t true here. From my experience it doesn't matter what your background is, the Gold Coast is a region of amazing opportunities. I work in a multinational company based on the Gold Coast doing what I love to do: tell stories and share valuable information. I want to inspire people to follow their career dream, no matter what.
Oscar Porter (Australia) – The Southport School and Diploma of Business, Barrington College
I was born on the Sunshine Coast, started my schooling in Sydney and have spent the last 10 years on the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is just a great place to live, there’s lots to do and the climate is good all year round so there’s lots of opportunities with study and sport, which I’m particularly passionate about. I also love good food, so I’m lucky this city has so many great restaurants to choose from!
With my family relocating to country Queensland, I had the opportunity to stay on the Gold Coast and become a boarding student at The Southport School. This ensured I could keep playing for Gold Coast United Football Club, stay close to my existing friends and make new friends while finishing school in a renowned academic and sporting environment. Outside of TSS I’m also studying a Diploma of Business at Barrington College which will offer me greater career opportunities beyond school.
I applied to become a Mayor’s Student Ambassador because I saw it as an opportunity to become involved in something at a community level while also representing my school and school aged students more broadly within the Ambassador group. On a personal level I want grow my understanding of, and confidence in, civic engagement and leadership through the program. As an Ambassador I’m looking forward to the opportunities that build my network outside of school and sharing some amazing experiences with other students from around the world.