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International students finding way in Australia

To leave your family, your friends, your home and your comfort zone to pursue a degree in a different country can be daunting, but an increasing number of young people are seeking out the opportunities and experiences of an Australian higher education.

Gilbert Siahaan

As of April 2015, there were 433,936 enrolments by full-fee paying international students on a student visa, according to federal education department figures.

Despite these figures, the international student industry remains in recovery mode following the 2009 highly publicized vicious attacks on Indian students and security concerns.

2009, recorded an unprecedented 631,935 international students in Australia - a growth of 16.8% from the previous year.

Since then numbers have been on the rise again, although progress is slow, the industry seems or be bouncing back and international students are finding it safer to study in Australia. 

“International education services is Australia’s third largest export and drives at least 130,000 full-time equivalent jobs around Australia,” said the federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, in April.

But settling into student life in Australia and adapting to Australian culture can prove challenging for some.

“Some people who move to Australia struggle to fit in because they never integrate with the local people and the local culture. You really need to push past your insecurity. Don’t doubt yourself.

– Jason Nderitu, International Student

For Jason Nderitu, age 19, leaving Kenya to study in Australia was an easy decision because of the quality of education, quality of life and geographical location. His advice for other international students is to build connections with locals to help with the transition.

“You can’t adapt to the culture without hanging out with the locals,” he said.

Rebecca Alexander, 19, experienced culture shock when she moved to Australia in 2013. Although Australian by birth herself, Rebecca lived in Qatar for 12 years before moving back to Sydney to attend university.

 “Everything here is so open and public,” she said.

“Coming into Sydney, it was definitely a culture shock, even though I’m an Australian citizen. I felt like a foreigner even in my own country.”

 “I was so familiar with and respected Qatari culture. It was a challenge having to adapt to Australia, but I was glad because you can get tired of how conservative things are there,” she said.

 “You’re here in Australia for a reason, so try and immerse yourself in Australian culture to the fullest, ” she said.

 Vanessa Leong, 19, is Malaysian-born but spent eight years in Bangkok before moving to Australia. She said she only knew one person in Sydney and was eager to make connections, not only for friendships but to broaden her perspective.

“I like to see things from different perspectives. I can’t get things only from myself. I have my own opinions and perspective but that can only go so far. I need to connect with other people to expand my own knowledge,” she said

 For Vanessa, making friends with Australians and embracing the local culture is what makes the whole studying-abroad experience more exciting.

“If you aren’t willing to put yourself out there, you’re just living under a rock. It’s good to experience new things and to meet new people, instead of being comfortable with what you already know,” she said.

For Debbie Tan, 19, who is studying at the University of Sydney to become an English teacher, the key for international students to find success in Australia is “sheer hard work.”

“If you have to work twice as hard, it doesn’t matter. Put in the hard work. You’ll get to where you want to be as long as you put in the hard work,” she said.

Although Australian-born, 19-year-old Kristine De Leon finds inspiration in her mother’s experiences and her determination to achieve success when she migrated to Australia in pursuit of a better life.

“She moved here with no money, had no place to sleep and didn’t know anyone.

“She faced discrimination and cultural differences, but dismissed it all in the light of working hard. Her strong drive is something that inspires me.”

Understanding her mother’s story, Kristine is aware of the difficulty in moving to another country, but says: “It’s important to have the willingness to assimilate. You can’t come to another country and not expect to make changes.”

“Make Australian friends, immerse yourself in that world and don’t exclude yourself. It’s uncomfortable…but that’s what you need to do,” she said.

The Point

International students are adapting to Australian culture by hanging out with locals


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