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Share your views: Is it ok to be in Australia but not have Aussie mates?

Vivian Tan

Tue Apr 23 2013

International students

IT’S a topic that often comes up in discussions. Do international students tend to stick to themselves? Why? And is that a culture that needs to change? Vivian Tan explores and invites you to join the conversation.

Do you identify?

Alison Chang has a story many international students may identify with.

Now returned to Malaysia, she looks back at her semester-long exchange program at Monash University and reflects on her struggles settling into life on campus.

It had been a lot harder than she thought.

“I adapted quite quickly to the university life in Malaysia as compared to Melbourne,” she says.

“I felt more secure in Malaysia because it’s home after all. In Melbourne, I was pretty much alone at the beginning.”

She found it daunting to be the only Malaysian student in her class. She often felt out of place and found it challenging to be as outspoken as the rest. As much as she yearned to participate, she would hold back because she was afraid of what her classmates might think of her.

“It was difficult talking to local students… I think it’s mainly to do with the difference in culture,” she says.

“They like different food, music, and hung out at places that were new to me.”

She also found their tastes in music “weird”.

“They were into the whole dubstep scene. Some liked heavy metal too. As for me, I’m guilty of enjoying mainstream music”, she says.

Related story: The trouble with getting along – is it us or them? 

Related story: Local and international students – who should make the first move?

“Don’t give up and keep trying”

Catherine Nguyen acknowledges the difficulties many international students face fitting in, but encourages students to “not give up and keep trying”.

Raised in Vietnam, Catherine moved to Melbourne in 2008, and after high school, was was surprised to discover many international students at university were isolated and found it difficult to engage their Aussie peers.

Wanting to improve the experience of international students in Melbourne, she joined the Australian Federation of International Students, and  now gives regular talks to students at TAFE during orientation.

She says international students are bound to encounter bumps during their course of study in Australia, and in addition to feeling homesick, for some – it’s the first taste of living independently.

While there’s a tendency to want to put on a happy front, Catherine says the best thing students can do for themselves is to reach out, and realise there are networks and resources available to them.

“Melbourne is a good hub for international students,” she says.

She also challenges students to be open to embracing a new culture, and to see it as part and parcel of the overseas student experience.

What’s the overseas student experience been like for you? Is it okay for international students to be in Australia but not have Aussie mates? Are cultural barriers to blame? What will help? Share your views with us in the comments section below.