Catalina Blandon didn’t like the American dream, so she boarded a plane to Melbourne.
The Colombian had done her research, and knew the weather was going to be unpredictable. She had also read that there were a lot of koalas and kangaroos and that the residents were friendlier than Sydneysiders.
She initially thought she would only stay for six months to study English, but the 27-year-old has remained in Melbourne for three years and now calls it home.
Ms Blandon, who is completing a business diploma at a private college, is among about 175,000 international students who are bolstering the state’s economy.
The Andrews government is celebrating new figures which show that international education in Victoria grew by $600 million in 2015.
This brought its value to the Victorian economy to a record high of $5.8 billion, making it the state’s largest service export.
Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Malaysian students make up the bulk of Victorian international student enrolments, which grew by 12 per cent in 2015, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
International Education Minister Steve Herbert said the government’s push to attract more international students was paying off.
“With some of the world’s best universities, a vibrant city lifestyle and unique cultural identity, it’s not hard to see why Victoria continues to be a premier destination for students,” he said.
Following a reshuffle in June, Mr Herbert became Australia’s first state-based international education minister.
He has visited China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Chile since the Andrews government came into power in a bid to strengthen ties with key markets.
There has also been a surge in Colombian students choosing to study in Victoria, with a 14 per cent increase in 2015.
There were 4745 students from Colombia studying in Victoria last year, compared with 58,064 Chinese students.
Ms Blandon said that while many Latin Americans chased study in the US, she decided it wasn’t for her.
“I went to the US many times and felt that I was judged because I was Latin. I found Melbourne more welcoming,” she said.
She works casually at Colombian cafe Cento Mani in Flinders Lane, where she serves overseas students who crave the tastes of their homeland.
“I want to stay here,” she said. “The quality of life is so much better and the work, life and study opportunities are much better.”
One-in-five Australian university students are now international students. Victoria played host to more than 30 per cent of all international students in Australia in 2015, up from 29.8 per cent the previous year.
The Andrews government expects that this growth will continue, with data showing that international student enrolments in Victoria were 14 per cent higher in June 2016 compared with the same time last year.