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Lessons from my nonni – Isabelle Greco

Four life lessons from i miei nonni

Let me tell you a story. Cast your minds back to the 1950s. World War II ended not long ago and although white Australian men were enjoying a post-war boom, many countries in Europe were struggling to recover from yet another military conflict. One man from Veneto decides that he’s sick of the poor conditions in Italy and the annoying brickies he’s training under, so jumps on a boat to Australia. At the other end of the country, a newly married couple abandon the family farm along with forty percent of their village in search of a way out of poverty. In Umbria, the youngest of twelve siblings, abandons her friends and lovers and follows her brother to Australia. Somehow, these four brave, foolhardy, and headstrong people became my grandparents, i miei nonni.

None of them ever completed primary school, as far as we know. They arrived in Australia speaking no English and with not an awful lot more than the clothes on their back. Despite the poverty, racism, and lack of education, they still worked their hardest to give my parents, and now me, all the opportunities they never had. And although I’ll never really be able to explain to them what I study, in part because my Italian is a bit poor and in part because understanding university level maths is hard without primary school, I have still learned so incredibly much from each and every one of them. So, in no particular order, I’d like to share some of these lessons with you.

1. Never, ever, settle.

It’s so so easy sometimes to just deal with something that’s frustrating. Maybe we don’t really like that subject that we picked, or someone we go to school with really frustrates us, or we don’t bother chasing that big dream. It’s so very tempting to treat these situations as something immutable, unchangeable, and out of our control. But listening to the stories my nonni tell, it becomes clear that anything can be improved, so long as you’re willing to take a risk and put the work in. It’s always possible to change subjects, if you’re willing to talk to your career counsellor and your school’s timetabling officer. Your relationship with the person who bugs you can improve by talking to them or, if you’re feeling extreme, by moving countries! You have what it’s necessary to chase that big dream if you’re willing to go out on a limb. At the end of the day, you deserve to live in a way that brings you joy.

2. Working hard will (eventually) pay dividends.

Although it’s important to never settle for less than what you want, it’s equally important to remember that to achieve that dream, sometimes you’ve just gotta work hard. Hearing about my nonni working long hours in a factory/on a farm/as a brickie, and seeing my 88-year-old nonna still working a farm on her own is a testament to the power of putting in the hours to get the results you want. So many things that are important won’t happen in a day, and so being committed to putting in the hours is what will ultimately lead to success. Combining this with the importance of never settling, I’ve learned that finding something you want, and being prepared to do the groundwork is required to get there.

3. Be creative!

If you told me that my nonni are ingeniere I probably wouldn’t be super surprised. Their ability to use anything at hand to solve problems they’re faced with never ceases to amaze me. I’ve seen chicken coops made from old doors, dish racks used to help chickens, and homemade sprinklers. Their resourcefulness and creativity has got them out of many a tight scrape from what I’ve heard and I think emulating this could get us pretty far. It would also help us reduce our waste – turning what could be waste into a new chicken coop, a storage unit, or a tool, not only gives them the perfect solution to their problem, but without any of the waste we’re accustomed to.

4. Love the people around you.

At the end of the day, my nonni are people too, and I am so incredibly grateful for every single incredible thing that they have done. But the reason why they’ve done that, is at its core, because they really truly care. Life would be a bit dry without people around us, and what I’ve learned from my nonni is that the stories they tell most often, the memories that stick with them, are the wonderful times that they had with the people around them. Your year 12 subjects, the awards you get, ant the awards you don’t; at the end of the day that’s not what you’ll be remembering when you’re old and wrinkled – it’ll be the amazing people along the journey.

About Isabelle: Isabelle is lucky enough to be studying maths and French; two subjects that she absolutely loves. When she’s not thinking about French maths, you can find her rereading Harry Potter, fighting for equality, or soaking up some sunshine.