‘International education is not the rich intercultural experience it could be’ – Simon Marginson (2012, p.1)
Blessed with natural beauty and unique wildlife, Australia is a land of opportunities, rich with egalitarian values and multiculturalism. Thus it is no surprise that Australia rates as one of the most population educational ‘hubs’ for international students. Australia ranks third in the world for international students intake, thus enabling it to educate 9% of the world’s cross-border territory students. While on the outset, these statistics sound great, it is quite evident that not all international students experience the same positive university experience most domestic students share. Barriers such as language, racism, culture, housing, employment, transport concessions, loneliness, homesickness, financial difficulties and many more, prove to be a hinderance for most international students.
According to Kell and Vogl (2007), major factors inhibiting international students from experiencing a rich Australian university experience include language and culture. As they state, ‘while academic success may heighten a student’s confidence, social and cultural adjustment can be important factors that lead to this academic success (Kell and Vogl 2012, p.3). In particular, international students struggle to comprehend English because of the Australian accent (Kell and Vogl 2012, p.4). This is understandable considering International students —from, for example, China, India and Indonesia — learn English with an American accent (Kell and Vogl 2012, p.4). This is different to the distinctively slurred, nasal, high-pitched Aussie accent (Kell and Vogl 2012, p.1), accompanied by shortened colloquial words and slang terms. Thus, while international students want to integrate, understand and experience the Australian culture, such issues naturally affect the confidence of international students as they struggle to understand and interact with local students.
This also indicates how coming to a foreign country can prove to be culturally overwhelming, especially for students who regulate their lives around cultural, religious and social practices. For example, Kell and Vogl (2012, p.6) claim that international students struggle to meet and build friendships with Australian locals due to the ‘pub and club culture’ of Australia. This is explained by two main reasons:
1) international students cannot afford to go out and drink and;
2) many students cannot drink for religious and cultural reasons.
Such cultural changes and practices cause many international students to feel homesick as they miss their own cultural and linguistic settings (Sawir et al, 2007). Thus moving to a new country with a different culture deprives students of the social and familial support network they once had in their homeland.
The cumulation of these factors result in social isolation, causing many vulnerable international students to feel quite lonely (Marginson 2012) — a situation which appears to be endemic to the international student experience. For example, on January 12, 2005, police in Canberra discovered the badly decomposed body of a 25-year-old female Chinese student. Her body remained in the flat for seven months before her death was discovered. This story sadly demonstrates how such extreme loneliness can result in students to become virtually invisible —even from institutions — in some situations.
Furthermore, Simon Marginson (2012) suggest that there is an active and conscience reaction of Australian students towards international students which further strains their relationships. As he states, local students appear to be disinterested in international students as they are ‘too parochial, trapped within an Australia-centred view of a diverse and complex world’. Furthermore, it seems that international students are simply ‘otherised’ because of the view that ‘we are culturally superior to the home countries of international students’ (Marginson 2012).
In fact, the 2009 violent attacks in Melbourne and Sydney on Indian students led to suggestions that Australia was racially intolerant towards international students. These attacks naturally sparked controversy and tensions between Australia and its second largest education exporter, India. Australia developed a bad reputation in India, with 1.2 billion Indians thinking Australians are dumb, drunk, and racist (ABC, 2014). These incidents also costed Australia billions of dollars as there was a significant drop in the number of international students intake post 2009. In particular, Visa applications from Indian students dropped from 79, 759 in 2008-09 to 37, 958 in 2009-10.
In closing, while Australia is a great educational ‘hub’, the positive university experience is not thoroughly enjoyed by all students. Improvements can be made through acknowledging these problems and increasing our awareness of different cultures. This can be achieved through education and the establishment of support groups and networks. At the end of the day, everyone deserves to have a positive university experience. But no matter who you bump into or walk past, make sure you communicate through the universal language of sharing a smile!
ABC, ‘Dumb, Drunk & Racist’, ABC, viewed 10 August 2014, < http://www.abc.net.au/tv/dumbdrunkracist/about/>.
Australian Government, ‘Analysis of Australia’s Education Exports, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, viewed 10 August 2014, < http://www.dfat.gov.au/publications/stats-pubs/analysis-of-australias-education-exports.pdf>.
Australian Government 2014, ‘Why Study in Australia?’, Australian Government, viewed 10 August 2014, < http://www.studyinaustralia.gov.au/global/why-australia>
Kell, P and Vogl, G (2007) ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’ Everyday Multiculturalism Conference Proceedings, Macquarie University, 28-29 September 2006.
Marginson, S (2012) ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, Lecture delivered at the University of Wollongong, 21 February 2012.
Sawir et al 2007, ‘Loneliness and International Students: An Australian Study’, Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol.20, no.10, pp.1-33, < http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/people/marginson_docs/JSIE%20online%20Sawir%20et%20al%20loneliness.pdf>.
Sydney Morning Herald 2005, ‘Murdered student’s body found after seven months’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 March, viewed 10 August 2014, < http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Murdered-students-body-found-after-seven-months/2005/03/07/1110044301351.html>.
Waters, J & MacBean, N 2009, ‘Anger grows over Indian student bashings’, ABC, 29 May, viewed 10 August 2014, < http://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-05-29/anger-grows-over-indian-student-bashings/1697904>.