My university (The University of Wollongong) has connections with more than 140 universities across the globe and students from all over the world have the opportunity to experience the Australian culture and university lifestyle through exchange programs every year. Not just through the University of Wollongong, but through universities all over Australia.
According to Marginson (2012), international education is Australia’s 3rd or 4th largest export industry (depending on the price of gold and the Australian dollar), however, it is also an educational and social experience with immense potential to enrich the lives of all who are touched by it.
While studying abroad is an amazing experience for so many different reasons, “international education is not the rich intercultural experience it could be” (Marginson 2012). International students face so many barriers and challenges throughout their studies abroad.
One of the struggles that international students face is a sociocultural adjustment and/or a culture shock. As an Australian I like to think that we have a pretty laid back culture. For someone who is from a totally different cultural background Australia might seem pretty intense, especially when it comes to voicing our beliefs, sports and our drinking culture.
“A crucial element in the achievement of success for international students is not only
their academic adjustment but also their adjustment to the social and cultural environment” (Kell, P & Vogl, G 2006)
In research conducted by the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion (Kell, P & Vogl, G 2006) found that “some students stated that it was hard to meet Australians because of the pub and club culture of many Australians”. Australian universities have such a heavy drinking culture, which can be quite a shock to international students who cannot drink for cultural and religious reasons. Not being able to get involved in these activities can pose difficulties in getting to know people, because at university, you get to know people by drinking with them.
In 2006, the University of Melbourne conducted a survey examining the cultural stresses of 979 international students at the university. The report stated that “Cultural stress is related to students’ cultural background, their communication skills in the new culture and their evaluation of their perceived academic progress” (The University of Melbourne, Australia, 2006).
The table blow shows the results of the survey as a percentage.
As seen in the table most students reported missing their ‘familiar way of life’. This indicates a longing for familiar cultural norms from international students in Australia.
As Marginson points out, “Australians are often too parochial, trapped within an Australia-centred view of a diverse and complex world”. To be parochial means to have very limited or narrow minded outlooks. As Australians, we tend to look at the world through narrow-minded eyes. We see things through our own points of view and don’t tend to step into the shoes of others. The survey from the University of Melbourne showed that 14.4% of international students felt less important here than what they do back home.
In order to make international students feel more welcome here we need to step out of our parochial views, and “put ourselves in [the] shoes [of international students], and learn from who they are and might become” (Marginson 2012).
Marginson, S. (2012). International education as self-formation. In: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience – International education as self-formation. Wollongong: University of Wollongong.
The University of Melbourne, Australia, (2006). CULTURAL STRESS AMONG INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS AT AN AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITY. [online] Melbourne: Australian International Education Conference. Available at: http://aiec.idp.com/uploads/pdf/Thomson%20(Paper)%20Fri%201050%20MR5.pdf [Accessed 21 Aug. 2017].
Kell, P. and Vogl, G. (2007). International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes. In: Proceedings of the Everyday Multiculturalism Conference of the CRSI. Sydney: Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, Macquarie University.