Is Australia the ultimate country for foreign students?

“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.

The night of pride


“Watch out for the faggots in town, there will be lots of them there,” says a dad to his son, while Elin Fjelldal and I step off the plane in Sydney, the day before the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. A scary feeling swirls in my stomach after hearing the comment. Will there be riots and haters among the crowd? We have no idea what we are facing. It will be interesting to see how the parade turns out through the eyes of two straight Norwegians.


Saturday 2nd of March is the day of pride, love and change in the streets of Sydney. My friend Elin and I will be among and watch the parade with thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other supporters. Compared to Mardi Gras, Skeive Dager (‘queer days’ in Norway) is a smaller celebration in Oslo with only a few hundred participants. The main focus this year being “you” and your individual rights. Gay marriage was legalised in Norway in 2009. Australia ranked higher than Norway in the title of “where to be born in 2013” but is yet to legalise gay marriage. As a result of this the Australian parade will cover a broad range of important and political messages.


Six hours before the parade commences, Elin and I are amazed to see how many spectators had already lined up along Oxford Street, where the parade will begin. “We should probably buy a rainbow flag or a light stick so we don’t look too straight.” Says Elin while we are looking for a spot to watch the parade. Rainbow flags and pink Australian flags flutter from surrounding balconies. The rainbow is an international sign of gay rights. Even the crossing near the VIP area is painted in rainbow colours to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the parade.


“10 bucks for a box”, a rough voice calls out next to me while walking along the street. Plastic crates are sold everywhere so people have something to stand on while watching the parade. The crowd moves in and we are afraid of not being able to see the parade. Is ten bucks really worth spending on a box we will never use again? People are becoming desperate to get a good spot. They are pushing and stepping on each other, it portrays the same vibe as being at a rock-concert where you need to fight to keep your spot.


After several hours of waiting we hear a loud motorcycle sound roaring further down Oxford Street. Tens of women (Dykes on Bikes) rev up the street with their heavy motorcycles. After a loud bang from the fireworks, the parade officially starts. The military come marching after with their military uniform, right after come the police and firefighters. Most of the participants stop in front of the VIP area, a spot that could be secured early for $100. Gay and lesbian Aboriginals are proudly waving at the crowd holding their national flag in one hand and the rainbow flag in the other. One female participant runs towards me and it looks like she is about to kiss me, but at the last second kisses the girl next to me, who willingly kisses back. I don’t know if I'm relieved or shocked. This portrays mixed feelings inside me, what would it like to be gay?


Hundreds of participants are passing by with slogans like “Ending HIV”, “Freedom to Be Me”, “Living Our Lives”, “All Love is Equal”, and at last “Jesus is gay”, Men are dressed in nun costumes and pink high heels with big smiles on their faces waving to the audience who laugh with them. The most important message in the Sydney Mardi Gras parade is saved until last: the right to marry the one you love no matter what gender they are. The parade ends with a colourful firework and two floats shaped as a heart, one with a gay couple and one with a lesbian couple who pose as they celebrate their marriage. The parade is officially over for 2013.


Everyone walks in different directions, the crowd is intense and you need to push through people to walk around. Some streets away from the crowd we bump into a man dressed in a green suit dancing and singing to How will I know by Whitney Houston. His name is Simon Morgan. He asks us to join the party. His suit has a broad V-neck where he proudly shows his hairy chest. Simon says he was a part of the parade along with his friend Rick “Mardi Gras is important because we are still not treated equal as everybody else.” I ask him if he has ever been ashamed of being gay. “Ehm, not really, maybe in primary and beginning of secondary. I usually showered before the other guys in the gym, because they thought I looked at them. It was in Secondary, I think." This made me realize that it's not easy being gay at a young age.He isn’t sure where to go out later, but wishes us a happy Mardi Gras and continues dancing.


As we walk back to the rainbow crossing a few hours after the parade we see two women taking photos of each other on the crossing. I ask if they want me to take a photo of them. Stephanie kisses Amanda on the cheek when I take the picture for them. Amanda Petkoaska and Stephanie Andersen have been together for three years. This was their fifth time celebrating Mardi Gras. “ We were not a part of the parade, but we are going to one of the clubs here to enjoy the night.” Says Stephanie. I ask them if they have ever been ashamed of their sexuality. “It was uncomfortable in primary. I only told my closest friends that that I was a lesbian, I don’t know why I waited so long. I think it is more acceptable to be lesbian than gay, because straight girls don’t mind making out with other girls and straight guys like that.” Says Amanda. “I didn’t tell my mum until I were in year 10, my mum said she had a clue that I was lesbian because how masculine I am.” Says Stephanie. I ask them what they think of straight people who participate in the parade and if it is accepted.“ I think it is important for everyone to show their support either be part of the parade or in the audience.” said Stephanie. They both agree that the government should legalise gay marriage.


Elin and I walk back to Central Sydney, the bright and colourful costumes disappear, the screaming voices and the joyful vibe turn back to normal. It is as if it had never happened. This makes me wonder why such an amazing culture with interesting people have to be separated from the normal society to be fully accepted. It is like walking into a different world.


The parade was bigger and more peaceful than we expected and the message about legalising gay marriage was repeated. The rainbow crossing got removed from Oxford Street a month after the parade. The crossing was a symbol of gay rights and the Mardi Gras celebration. This indicates that the Australian government is not willing to put in effort towards legalising gay marriage, but rather spending $20 000 on the removal of an iconic sign for gay rights. A few days ago Australia’s neighbouring country, New Zealand became the 13th country in the world to allow gay marriage. Australian supporters of gay marriage hope Australia will be next.