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International Exchange: The University Dream or University Hunger Games?

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University international exchange programs seem to truly offer the opportunity of a lifetime and it is continuing to grow, becoming Australia’s third largest export industry. Chances to make new friends, see new and exciting cultures and travelling the world are all promised and expected! So why wouldn’t students want to participate in such a vibrant and rewarding experience? Hoping to go on exchange next year to either the USA or Europe, I already have envisioned the positive experiences described above, but is this really the case for all students going on international exchange? As we pack up our bags and textbooks, jetting off around the globe, have we ever thought about what the experiences are like for students landing in Australia on exchange, entering our universities and hoping for the same colourful experiences?

After looking into the reading by Peter Kell and Gillian Vogl, I began to understand that international students coming to Australia don’t just experience our sunny beaches or lovely weather. They are subject to language barriers, culture shocks, societal fears and other worries about security and safety. This truly shocked me, as I have never envisioned international exchange as being a negative or dreaded experience. Now obviously, whilst going on exchange, language barriers are most probably expected and research shows that this is incredibly relevant for those international students coming to Australia. Our language, though English, has adopted many different slang terms and colloquialisms, with this week’s reading further elaborating that international students ‘found ‘Australians’ hard to understand because they shortened words. Australians even shortened University to “uni” which tended to confuse students who were used to a more formal type of English’. Now whilst I do agree that this could be daunting, I also believe it can be easily overcome. Patience is key and if both parties, international and Australian alike are persistent, they will find the more they communicate with each other, the smaller the language barrier will become.

But what really unnerved me was that some exchange students feel unsafe. Australian’s have been perceived around the world to be much like Janus, the two faced the Roman mythologic God. We can be seen as the ‘out there’, fun and accepting people, which I like to think that many of us are, but also as racist and ethnocentric, as seen in the mini series, ‘Dumb, Drunk and Racist’.

Now personally, I do believe international exchange can become a positive and rewarding experience for all involved. So, the next time you come across an exchange student, don’t be nervous or worried about awkwardness or any other feeble excuses. Grab hold of the opportunity and use it to grow as an individual and you may find out  that you are no longer just an Australian student, but now also an international student, having understandings and relationships that stretch beyond this great southern land.

– BJS

References:

Australian Education International (AEI), International Student Data, 2013, Australian Government, Canberra, Accessed on 15th August, 2014 https://aei.gov.au/research/International-Student-Data/Pages/InternationalStudentData2013.aspx

Kell, P & Vogl, G 2006, ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, in Everyday Multicultural Conference Proceedings, Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, Sydney, 28-29 September 2006.

Sukhmani Khorana, 2014, ‘Internationalising education – cultural competence and cosmopolitanism’, lecture notes, BCM111, UOW, viewed 15th August, 2014

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