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Pet lions and Louis Vuitton handbags: Are all international students massively rich?

Trinity College Foundation Studies

Thu Sep 27 2018


One of the biggest misconceptions of international students is that they are all massively rich. While it does take a certain amount of financial ability to study overseas, not all international students are rich. However, due to the influx of international students that can flaunt their wealth, all of us tend to be stereotyped as crazy rich international students.

Last year, VICE ran an article detailing the experiences of five students in Melbourne detailing how hard it is to make friends and that locals all think they are rich. Such assumptions are also rampant overseas, according to this article by The Pie on international students in the United Kingdom and their perceived wealth.

As for international students in Australia, in 2017, more than 490,000 students moved here to pursue their dreams, resulting in a 14 per cent increase than the previous year. Although they contribute $6.5 billion to the local economy, most report not being as rich as everyone else think they are. To gather some anecdotal evidence, we spoke to two international students to see what they think.

An 18-year-old Chinese international student was asked about her thoughts when others assume that she is rich.

“..For people to think that way is stupid and disrespectful,” she states.

She then addressed the fact that her parents worked hard for her to be able to attend such a prestigious school and it’s annoying that such cruel generalisation has led to her parent’s time and money invested go “unrecognised and underappreciated.”

She later also mentioned that most international students she knows aren’t at all rich but they tend to pretend they are because it makes them feel “more comfortable” when they adhere to a stereotype, rather than feel like an outcast.

Another student, hailing from Singaporean spoke about having a part-time job.

“Most of my friends have to uptake part-time jobs which can get really tiring for them to manage time between school and earning money to be able to live comfortably,” she mentioned after being asked about her experiences as an international student.

Many view her as living off her parent’s money, and these impressions also lead to other judgments against her from local students and how it affected her social life.

“People think of you as a brat making it harder for them to approach you.”

Contrary to the stereotype, many international students work multiple jobs to afford living abroad and they are also often the most exploited. Most work for less than minimum wage as recognised by a report by  The University of Sydney’s business school, featured here in an article by The Sydney Morning Herald.

In addition to less pay, they also face other forms of exploitation such as verbal abuse. International students are also less likely to report workplace exploitation due to fear of visa complications and language barriers.

To further understand the issue from a different standpoint, we also consulted a local Australian student. There has been a meme going around the internet concerning this issue, some might think it’s harmless but when this student was asked about it, he considered it an act of bullying towards foreign students because they are made to feel “like they are less of a person for having more money.”

On the flipside, local students were also being stereotyped. The local student added that people assume that Australian students are all “broke and living week by week,” and while it’s ok to make jokes about yourself and others, generalising and making ‘memes’ out of people’s situation just portrays how “jealous locals are, hence the memes and stereotypes.”

There still isn’t a definite measure of the level of wealth most international students have, but the Dean Associate at Trinity College was able to provide insight into the number of scholarships and students applying for them each year.

Trinity offers 3000 students the opportunity to study at one of Melbourne’s most prestigious colleges, yet only 1500 students accept the offer. It also offers 50 per cent tuition fees scholarships, which all of the 1500 students are considered for, however, are only given to high achievers in each intake.

He continuously assured that Trinity is trying to increase the rate of scholarships offered each year as many are struggling with the payments.

“Last year, we had 30 scholarships, this year we had 60,” he states.

When asked about the number of students who study at Trinity with private or governmental scholarships, he replies, “There are very few governments that give foundation scholarships.”

When later asked about the stereotype and the extent in which it is true, he replied by highlighting the fact that most international students certainly aim and do get a full scholarship when they move on to undergraduate courses since “fees are substantial.”

He concluded by saying that we must remember not all international students come from wealthy backgrounds, but their families have “prioriti[sed] their child’s education,” which is why they do end up studying in an expensive world class universities like those in Australia.

As we are constantly threatened and are negatively affected by stereotypes and misconceptions, one should be more aware of the facts before making assumptions. Many international students are just like any other student, they get financial aid, scholarships, and work part-time jobs to be able to afford living abroad. Others may be rich but most certainly don’t have pet lions and don’t buy new Louis Vuitton bags every day.

With all this in mind, what do you think? Are all international students rich anyways, or are we all different?

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