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Cultural sensitivity and you: How to avoid cultural taboos in a multicultural society

Trinity College Foundation Studies

Mon Feb 13 2017


The international student community in Australia is so vibrant and diverse that it should come as no surprise that values considered respectful or disrespectful can vary from culture to culture.

In with so many different people living in Melbourne, you perhaps might have found yourself saying something something culturally rude or inappropriate to the wrong person in the past.

But have no fear — you’re not the only one! In a society crowded with international students from different cultures and backgrounds, you’re bound to step on a few toes but what’s really important is that you try not to do that again!

And if you need some help, here’s what you should do and avoid according to international students themselves.


Without a doubt, Chinese students are among the largest groups of international students in Australia. According to the Department of Education and Training, Australia welcomed nearly 50,000 Chinese students in 2016.

According to Aaron Zhang, a Trinity College student of Chinese background, Chinese people value mutual respect above all else. Therefore, he believes that he should be corrected whenever acting inappropriately, and he would expect the same thing from other people.


Malaysia is a melting pot of different ethnicities, so their familiarity with handling different cultures should come as no surprise. The largest ethnic groups in the country are the Malays, Chinese and Indians.

While interviewing Anne*, a Chinese Malaysian student, she mused that people often assumed her to be from China based on her looks.

While this assumption isn’t completely wrong, considering Chinese Malaysians are descendants of those from mainland China, she and other Chinese Malaysians identify themselves as Malaysian which is completely separate in terms of culture.

Misconceptions about Malaysians are plentiful, but Anne, like many other Malaysians, don’t often make a big deal out of it. As long as one acknowledges that they’ve made a mistake, all is forgiven and forgotten!


Let’s shift the focus away from the traditionally ‘Asian’ countries, and take a good look at South Asia!

Once again, we often make assumptions about someone’s personality based on their looks; only this time, it’s a big ‘no-no’!

Student, Anab, is often mistaken for Pakistani when he actually belongs to the Indian ethnicity, and historically, these two ethnic groups have not been particularly friendly with one another. It can be considered offensive to some, so this is where mistaking one’s nationality should not be taken so lightly.


*Anne’s name was changed for the story, at her request 

This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via