“Sunny days, surfing and endless beaches, Australia can give you a great cultural experience, Australia a place to study out of the ordinary.” This is one of many phrases that are used in advertisements to tempt overseas students to study in Australia. This article is about how foreign students expectations of Australia are challenged and their experiences of how it is to live in a different country than their own. Louise from Sweden and Ahmed from Egypt are two of hundreds of thousands of students who have been tempted to study inAustralia. Many international students who choose to study inAustralia have expectations of enjoying the sun, surf and chill, without thinking about the difficulties that can occur being an international student. International students are also one of thebiggest overseas earnings in Australia. Prime Minister Julia Gillard believes it is an important source for creating a more multicultural and friendly Australia. But do internationalstudents feel welcomed in Australia and do they feel that they get what they have been promised?
Louise Rosenberg decided she wanted to study in Australiaafter she did year ten in Brisbane. She chose to do her Bachelor in Graphic Design at Griffith University in Gold Coast. The warm climate tempted her study three years inAustralia. The warm climate is one of the main reasons whystudents come to Australia where they can escape and get a feeling of being on a vacation. Although many internationalstudents are searching for a different experience, they tend to bring a little taste of their own culture to the new country. Louise has furnished her room with a sense of Sweden, where all the furniture is from Ikea. Her room is covered with pictures of her parents and friends from Sweden, and a letter from her mother that says “pusser og krammar” which means hugs and kisses. As I walked into her room she asks me to try some of her Godt och Blandat, Swedish lollies which come from the Swedish Goodies, an own shop in Surfers Paradise. This is a shop Swedes in Gold Coast get food and lollies as a reminder of what they get in Sweden.
She was looking for something different and exotic, but at thesame time not ‘too’ different from the Swedish culture. She tells me that Australian people are more laid-back compared to Swedish people who are more organised and stressed. She fell in love with the country and how polite and friendly the people are. She thinks Australia is an ideal country to study because of the ability of learning English combined with warm climate, friendly people and wealth. Louise already knew thatAustralian universities have high standards and it is a goodcountry to study in. She envisioned a student life where she could spend three hours a day at university and have lunch atthe beach or in the park and continue study later on. But she don’t have time to enjoy the beach because of long days at university where she finishing when the sun is down. Many international students may become disappointed of coming toAustralia, because it doesn’t respond to how they imagined it would be in terms of enjoying the chill beach life and theopportunity to travel around in Australia.
Many exchange students arrive with credit points from theircountry. This situation seems difficult for the universities to figure out exactly what subjects they should do in relation of what they have already have studied. Louise has experienced similar difficulties as the University had problems advising on what subjects she had to do since she had credit points from Sweden. She ended up doing first year level classes were she already knew the topic. She tells it was a waste of money, because the administration later told her she could have chosen different subjects instead the ones they first told her to do.
“They expected me to know everything about how theAustralian university works and I didn’t know anything. We didn’t get valuable information, they just tell you to talk to other people instead. No one is there to help you with your problems. They don’t know how to help theinternational students they expect you to know theinformation from the beginning. It seems like they don’t think about the fact that I come from the another countrywhere the school system and culture is very different toAustralia.”
Another problem that may occur in the beginning of studying in Australia is maintaining the language. Learning English isone of the main reasons international students choose to study in an English speaking country like Australia. But it can be hard to switch from mother tongue language all the time. Studying in Australia can be challenging for internationalstudents because more academic language is issued in thelectures and tutorials. Which can lead to not understanding thetopic and students may get left behind. Louise tells me that English has caused her trouble particularly when dealing with administration. She misunderstood some things and got blamed for a lack of communication skills. She tells me she got the feeling that they expected her to know the information and what she had to do from the beginning, even though thissystem was completely new for her. But she tells that she has managed the language well in the actual study.
“The only problem was in the beginning of thecourses, where I couldn’t speak English well. But I haven’t really had any problems in the actual study, maybe in some of the art history courses where they use a more academic language with terms I have never heard before. My English has improved since I came here because I hang with English speaking friends and are surrounded by it all the time.”
Although the English may be difficult in the beginning, this isoften something international students achieve intercession after a while, especially if getting English speaking friends, which can also help them to feel more welcome.
One of the biggest issues and disappointments many international students don’t realise before a few months in thestudies is maintain the money throughout the whole semester.Most Australian students get economic support from thenational payment service Centerlink, where they get around 480$ every fortnight. International students either get loan from their government once a semester or have to fund thestudy from their parents’ pocket, depending on if their government support students to study overseas. Getting thewhole loan once a semester makes it difficult to keep track ofthe economy at any given time.
Louise is lucky to get money support from the government every semester. She get 19.000$ where over half of it goes to paying the student fees and the rest goes to food and rent.
“I don’t really have any money left after I have paid thestudent fee. I feel I can’t spend much money a part from surviving. I don’t have money enough to do exciting stuff with my friends, like going to the movies or theme parks. When I'm really stuck I can use the money from my insurance or borrow from my parents, but that’s only for emergencies. I don’t think I could have studied here if I didn’t have that safety net”
Despite all her struggles Louise is overall happy she chose to study in Australia. So far she said she has had an experience of a lifetime. She feels she has grown as an individual and become more independent. She describes how she can see herself continue living in Australia after graduation, getting married with an Australian and working as a graphic designer in one of the biggest cities in Australia. To achieve the dream of becoming an Australian citizen she needs to get a skilled visa, or marry an Australian. Many international students leavethe country after graduation because they don’t have theopportunity to stay.
It can be easier for the international students to stay after graduation, if they get a degree that is needed in Australia.Ahmed El Abassi decided to do a bachelor degree in nursing inAustralia where he knew it would give him an opportunity to become an Australian citizen. Ahmed has already a bachelor degree in pharmacy from Egypt, but chose to study nursing inAustralia rather than work as a pharmacist in Egypt. It isbecause he will get better paid as a nurse in Australia. Unfortunately doesn’t the pharmacist degree count in Australiaand he can never work there with the degree he already has.
“ I chose to study here because Australia has one of thebest advanced education systems all over the world plus it’s a new modern country where its easy to get properly educated individually in addition to it being a good placefor having breaks and vacation being touristic and all. I expected that learning would be a guaranteed easy thing to achieve which wasn’t met because it’s a totally different learning approach depending entirely on the student willingness for self learning which is not what I was used to back home.”
Ahmed has a different ethnical background than Louise, andthe Arabic culture is very different than the western culture.Australia has an entirely different lifestyle and different laws than Arabic countries such as Egypt. International studentsmay experience to be treated differently in terms of their ethnical appearance and limited English proficiency. Ahmed has experienced this a few times.
“I had such experience in getting jobs and I encountered one local clinical facilitator during my nursing placement in one of the hospital who failed me cause of wrongfully accusations on false basis which I think because I’m an Arabian, middle eastern and\or Muslim since all otherstudents involved where international students as well but none of similar backgrounds plus she never was around to evaluate me and still failed me on false pretences with no proof.”
Australia is known to be a multicultural country and thereforeforeign students believe they get treated the same way as anAustralian born. One of the biggest differences between Arab and Western countries is the social life. Where in western countries such as Australia where the drinking culture is a major part of the social life. Ahmed experienced this as a major transition from Egypt. He had never drunk alcohol before he got here.
“The first weekend here I was invited to a house party and was a bit frighten about the whole thing. Everyone was drinking goon, which I had never seen or heard about before. I tried it and didn’t like it that much, but it isinteresting to try different things and experience thedrinking culture. I feel I'm allowed to drink alcohol here, although it is not really acceptable within the Islamic faith. It is a choice I decided even after I moved to Australia, it isexciting and I am enjoying a completely different culture than I'm used to.”
Finding a place to stay is a challenge that international studentscan't avoid. Since international students often move very far from home, they usually need to find a place to live before moving to Australia. Many students choose the easiest option which is the universities own student accommodation wherethe rent is usually from 250$ up to 350$. Ahmed lives atUrbanest, the student accommodation in Brisbane. He lives in a tiny room that only fits a single bed, desk and a closet. He pays 250$ every week, without Internet. Paying so much forrent has made him struggle of maintaining the money.
But Ahmed is lucky to have his parents to pay for his study inAustralia, that very few Egyptians have the opportunity to get.There are not many students from Egypt in Australia and theones that are here will not get any financial support from eitherthe government in Egypt or in Australia. His father pays forthe student fee, food and rent. Ahmed tells me that he isanxious of not passing all the courses because he feel he had to do well because his father is paying for his education. Hisfather says he will not pay if he fails any courses.
“There is a huge pressure as my parents are paying too much and losing most of our savings which are about to be depleted in the near future so, there is no room for failure which was about to happen in that placement because ofthe discrimination issue but thankfully it went through and a few lecturers decided to help me which made me and my parents very happy to know that not all have that issue and its not predominant.”
Ahmed explains that because his lack of money he had to sacrifice some of the dreams he had before he came toAustralia where he imagined he would travel around and enjoy social events with friends. The economical standard is higher in Australia compared to Egypt and therefore also hard to deal with constant rising exchange rates between the two countries. Ahmed tells me that he has experienced losing control of how much money he had.
“Not long ago, I realised I had no money in my bank account. I don’t want to remind myself all the time how little money I have. But when I checked I had 0,47$, I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. I called my dad and he told me he had trouble with the bank as well. I ended up borrowing 50$ from my Spanish friend. I didn’t know how long it would take me to get more money from my dad, so I had to live of Black’n Gold can food for 1$ a day. So now I feel how it is to be really really poor. But I survived and got money after two weeks.”
Ahmed’s parents are doing him a big favour by financing hisstudies. He smiles slightly and says he has plans to get a well-paid nursing job so he can pay back his family and help them in the future like they did for him.
Ahmed breathes a sigh of relief with a comfortable smile when I asked him if he was overall happy of studying in Australia. He tells he has grown as a person, socially and academically. He is proud that he took the chance to experience a completely different culture and master the social life and also theopportunity to challenge him to reach his goals ahead in life.
Ahmed and Louise left their country believing in the good opportunity and advantages of studying in Australia, which isknown of being a high-quality education destination. They imagined an active student life where they could travel around and enjoy social events. One of the biggest issues the two among hundreds of thousands other student experience is thelack of money to do what they want, and be misunderstood because of cultural differences and language skills. Not to mention that most international students believe it's worth it inthe end and will lead to benefits later in life. But sinceAustralia is a multicultural country where internationalstudents are one of the biggest overseas earnings they should be treated equally to domestic students.