Nikolai knows what it’s like to have no one in your corner.
“Striving for higher education as a former foster kid can often feel painfully lonely and pointless,” he explains. “When you have no family cheering you on, encouraging you to push further or consoling you through your struggles, you have to rely on yourself. That isn’t easy.
“Some people make new families to make up for the ones they never had, or replace them with deeply valued friends who become a family. But often, it’s just you against the world, trying to find a glimmer of meaning in what you’re doing or hope that it’s for a better future.”
It took Nikolai a long time to discover what he loves doing. He dropped out of high school in year 9 and enrolled in a cooking school, while hoping to gain entrance to the International College of Hotel Management – “My dreams were to work and travel the world,” he says. The College required an ATAR score so he enrolled in an independent school to complete years 11 and 12.
“When I eventually did get into ICHM, I found that the conservative culture of high-end hospitality was not suited for me, so I went on to find what I really enjoyed doing,” he explains. “It took a few years, some study and introspection, but I think I have found my calling in visual arts.”
Representing history through visual art
Nikolai is studying a combined Bachelor/Advanced Diploma in Visual Arts through Flinders University and TAFE South Australia. He is in his third and final year of the course, but hasn’t ruled out further study in future.
“I am fascinated by history and I hope to use my artworks to introduce and recontextualise historical figures that many people either haven’t heard of, or haven’t given a second thought,” he explains. After experimenting with many different mediums, he has selected printmaking as his specialty – this and art history are his favourite subjects.
“Initially when I chose printmaking as my specialisation, I did so because the aesthetics of traditional printmaking translate well to modern tattooing, which was my initial career goal after this degree,” he says. “However, throughout the course of the degree, I have learned about the many possibilities and opportunities available to emerging artists and this has shifted my goals somewhat.”
Now he’s set on using his artworks “to share the historical and culturally specific stories behind people, places, and even objects of history.”
The impact of a scholarship on goals
Winning the scholarship was a pivotal moment. “I think I was in shock for a couple of days afterwards,” he says. “It took at least an hour to fully kick into my head that I had actually won the scholarship. I felt seen and supported in a way that I never thought I would.”
“Excitement, joy, shock, pride, I had many emotions that day. But overwhelmingly, I just felt seen. I know that might not seem significant to some readers, but I think many foster kids would understand what I mean when saying that.”
He also received a boost of confidence. “It made me reconsider what I thought was possible for my academic career,” he explains. “Going on to do my honours, a masters degree, international study, all of these now seem within the realm of possibility after winning this scholarship.
“To each and every person who has gone out of their way to donate to the Sisters of Charity Foundation, I would like to offer a deeply sincere thank you. The work that you support creates opportunities for a group of people who are often not given much thought or consideration.”
How Nikolai will use his scholarship
In an ideal world, Nikolai would like to use the scholarship to buy the materials and equipment needed to establish a print-specific home studio so he can continue producing artworks from home after his degree.
“However, the realities of being a former foster kid without familial support studying full time means that these funds will simply allow me to study and meet my basic living needs,” he says. “Food, medication, bills, transport, materials needed for my courses that aren’t provided by the schools due to government cuts…
“I very deeply understand why so few people who have survived foster care choose this path, and to any out there pushing through it all I just want you to know that you aren’t alone, and there is help. Just reach out for it.”
About the Tertiary Scholarship Program for students with an out-of-home care background
Out-of-home care is a statutory care arrangement for children under 18 who can’t live safely at home with their birth families due to chronic child abuse or neglect.
The state government becomes their legal guardian and places the child with an alternate caregiver: a foster carer, relative, or someone in their social network. They might also live in a group home under the care of paid staff, or independently in a private rental situation.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation Tertiary Scholarship Program provides financial support so recipients can afford study expenses (course fees; textbooks; technology; and attending workshops, networking events and internships) as well as the cost of living on their own with no parental support.
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